This past week the New York agency BBH made headlines when it turned homeless people at SXSW into “Homeless Hotspots”. The general consensus was that it was degrading to give human beings the function of a an inanimate object. There were choruses of “Have we lost our humanity?” “How could they do that to homeless people, haven’t these people suffered enough?” “Just because they are homeless, doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings!”. Essentially, the campaign made people uncomfortable, angry, sad and horrified. According to BBH’s Saneel Radia, the Head of Innovation, the campaign’s intent was give the homeless a way to make money without begging. Ultimately, I imagine it was also intended as a way to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless.
When guerrilla marketing is executed correctly, it can be one of the most effective ways to create buzz and drive awareness, especially in today’s world of having that helping hand of social media. Unsuccessful guerrilla marketing is not conveying your message, executing on your objective and creating bad press as a result.
Main Fail: people were so upset they felt uncomfortable participating and paying for the “Homeless Hotspots”. Which was the campaigns main objective: to give the homeless a way to make money besides begging.
But, it begs the question, what does it mean to do guerrilla marketing effectively?
It creates the right buzz and the right awareness that helps meet your objectives.
A great example of this has been First Bank’s “Helpfulness” campaign which they first started implementing through guerrilla marketing in 2010. Their latest effort was a free skier shuttle bus between a FirstBank sponsored parking lot and the base area of Copper Mountain in Colorado. They turned the bus into a helicopter while on its sides are the message: “Heli-Skiing. Now as affordable as Free Checking”.
What made this successful? First, the bank literally demonstrates how they are helpful: by shuttling skiers to and from the mountain base. The stunt was simple yet meaningful. Secondly, they also knew how to connect to their target audience by turning the bus into a helicopter and the subsequent joke that now everyone can afford heli-skiing with the First Bank “heli-bus”. You come away with a clear message that First Bank is a bank that wants to really help their customers.
In conclusion: it is possible to drive buzz and awareness effectively without offending people. Know your target. Don’t lose track of your message in your stunt.