Sunday, August 17, 2003

Creative, cheap ads can work

Guerrilla marketing

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

I have an official announcement to make: I am not a candidate for governor of California.

I did, however, give serious consideration to the idea of running in the upcoming recall election. After all, for only $3,500 - the cost of filing - I could get my name and personal statement included in the voter handbook. My platform, of course, would prominently - and repeatedly - mention my books and Web site. What better way to reach every registered voter in California for $3,500?

Finding similar inexpensive and unique ways to reach potential customers has become commonly referred to as "guerrilla marketing" since the term was popularized about 15 years ago.

While inexpensive advertising is not a new idea for small businesses, the idea of "guerrilla marketing" reached its peak during the dot-com boom when Internet companies spent millions of dollars on attention-grabbing campaigns.

Guerrilla marketing, however, doesn't need to be clever or outrageous to do the job. Here are some real-life examples:

• My niece handled public relations for a New York-based Internet company. She printed fortune cookies with clever sayings mentioning her company, then donated the cookies to Chinese restaurants near the offices of major newspapers and magazines she hoped would write about her company. The cookies were delivered whenever someone from those publications ordered Chinese food.

• Les Schwab, a tire dealership in Oregon, has run a highly successful "free beef in February" promotion for 40 years. Each year, they give away more than $1 million in beef to customers.

• A nearby bank gives free Vidalia onions once a year to anyone who comes in. It's such a fond, and odd, local tradition that the bank gets lots of local news coverage.

• My hairdresser just moved to a new location with few pedestrians. The biggest source of walk-in customers comes from the popular dry cleaner across the street. I suggested he give the owner of the dry cleaner free haircuts in return for putting up a sign with discount coupons on their counter.

• Weekly, a Houston restaurant, donates appetizers for guests at a nearby business hotel in return for putting ads in each room.

As with guerrilla warfare, the problem with most guerrilla marketing campaigns is that they use a scattershot approach, hitting everything within reach. But that means spending lots of time and money on things that never bring real customers. And small businesses can't afford that.

So while you might want to adopt some guerrilla marketing techniques, you should never forget that you still need a disciplined marketing plan.


• Target your customers. Make sure the people you reach are likely to buy.

• Develop an overall budget. Prioritize how you spend your marketing dollars.

• Have fun but don't confuse your message. Be certain each activity is consistent with your image.

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." Register to receive her free newsletter at

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