Gorilla or Guerrilla? Effective Marketing or What….?

These times in marketing are different than ever before. First there is the economy and the effects it has on businesses. Then there is the new interactional component of marketing. Together they are forming a sort of perfect storm, and one where businesses are trying to figure out how to sell more. So, one question might be, do you want to try guerrilla or gorilla tactics?

“Guerrilla marketing” is a term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book of the same name which was written in 1984. On his Web site, Levinson defines guerrilla marketing as the art of “achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money.” Levinson says, “Guerrilla marketing is needed because it gives small businesses a delightfully unfair advantage: certainty in an uncertain world, economy in a high-priced world, simplicity in a complicated world, marketing awareness in a clueless world.”

 Gorilla marketing is what I am calling efforts that are highly funded, think the 800 pound gorilla, tactics that are more traditional and in your face, like paid advertising. Tactics that cost more, but may not be as effective as some of the more creative and targeted tactics used in guerrilla marketing campaigns. Gorilla tactics are easier to pull off, but may not have the same effect, if done correctly, as the guerrilla variety.

It may sound bizarre, but the following was the scene at several state fairs, trade shows and seminars across the country this year. A part of “Germs Unite!” – a guerilla-marketing program launched by Sani-Professional to promote its anti-bacterial hand wipes goes something like this:

You and your two toddlers are strolling through the state fair one hot, sunny August evening. You’re taking in the sights and sounds and the kids are licking the heart out of sticky ice cream cones. When a drop of vanilla lands on little Sally’s hand, she asks for a hand wipe.

Suddenly, a man and a woman – both dressed in lavishly bizarre costumes – come tearing out from the crowd.

“Don’t use those wipes, kid!” the man shouts.

“Don’t you know you’re killing innocent germs??” the woman cries.

“STOP THE GERMICIDE!!!!” another man screams as he falls to his knees nearby.

The trio – who are dressed as germs, you quickly realize – suddenly erupt in loud chants of protest, raising placards and drawing laughs and confused stares from onlookers. The kids, on the other hand, are a bit freaked out before they realize this is a stunt.

According to the Germs unite! Web site, the “germs” – actors in costume – travel the country staging protests. They also blog and maintain Facebook, Twitter and Flikr accounts. An online schedule shows the dates and locations of the next protests.

“We the germfolks of the world are protesting the senseless killing of our people by Sani-Professional with their products,” the site proclaims. Watch their video of the germ killers in action to see if you agree this is good effective marketing or not.

And, if you still cannot conceive of this, click here to see a video of Germs Unite! in action.

Sani-Professional’s strategy is an example (although a weird one) of “guerrilla marketing.”

So how effective are guerrilla-marketing techniques? Like any marketing technique, the basics still need to be included. The target is important, as is the message, and is the delivery channel.

Germs Unite! recently received an award for best business-to-business integrated online campaign from the Online Media Marketing and Advertising (OMMA) Awards Show. Of course, rewards don’t necessarily translate into revenue. But at least some knowledgeable people think the campaign was effective. Sales increases will tell the true story. This is not one of my personal favorites, but it does provide a good example of a campaign followed through.

Other guerrilla marketing projects haven’t been so lucky. In fact, some have been borderline dangerous.

In January 2007, a number of magnetic light display boxes depicting characters from the Cartoon Network’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” were placed in and around the city of Boston as part of a guerrilla-marketing scheme. When those boxes were mistaken for explosive devices, several streets, subways and bridges were shut down and the boxes destroyed before it was revealed what they were. A potential dangerous and definitely harmful to the business marketing scheme.

So is guerrilla marketing a good idea?

It can be, if the product is right for it, and if it engages the customer effectively and succeeds in communicating the selling points. Contrasting successful guerrilla marketing techniques with more conventional forms of marketing is one way to decide.

You also don’t want your guerrilla marketing techniques to be seen as a cheap publicity stunt. Such was the case with McAfee, a manufacturer of security software, held a partner conference in Las Vegas, and competitor Symantec decided to run a barrage of advertisements at the Las Vegas McCarran Airport to greet McAfee partners as they arrived. According to an article on CRN.com, the amount of advertising was so extreme – and so unfocused – that some solution providers who witnessed it saw it as a “wrongheaded approach.”

“It’s like going to a chocolate convention and being bombarded for ads with vanilla,” the article quoted one provider as saying. “I’m pretty sure that all of the pastry chefs were aware that vanilla existed.”

Moral of the story: Guerrilla advertising can be a good way of getting attention. But it only works if you know your audience and are speaking to their needs. If it doesn’t, it’s annoying and you may feel the backlash in your pocketbook. In other words, sometimes you get the gorilla and sometimes the gorilla gets you.

Ask us at corecubed for ways to go to market that a) fit your budget, b) are effective and c) will not embarrass you but will reap positive rewards for your business.