Display Marketing: Guerilla or Gorilla?

On the Web, small ads pop up like guerrilla warriors leaping out from behind a tree to attack. Funny product videos spread from video-sharing sites to Facebook to individual email boxes like viruses threatening to overwhelm a healthy organism. At the height of the “holiday season”, it is nearly impossible to even walk down a street, much less into a retail establishment, without being bombarded with “holiday music.” Inside retail stores, massive LED screens looping advertisements hang at perfect eye level, everywhere. IPads scream “Try this App!” from corners and aisles everywhere you turn. “Black Friday” announcements are shouted from the rooftops like warnings of the apocalypse.

Do these sound like familiar situations? As consumers, they’re what we see every single day. As marketers, they’re what we inflict on our audience for a living.

Yes, I said “inflict,” and I meant it. I’m a consumer, too. Believe me, if I hear “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” one more time with an ad spliced into the middle of it, I may just lose my mind. And it’s not even December yet.

Guerrilla marketing, the term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in the 1984 book of the same name, referred to using unconventional tactics to raise brand awareness and make sales. As a concept, it revitalized both the advertising and marketing industries. The term “guerrilla” was a reference to guerrilla warfare, in which small, generally less equipped groups used limited resources to attack a larger, often highly organized, force. Guerrilla marketing was reactive and effective, and spread quickly in the marketing world to become standard operating procedure. It remains so today.

In doing so, it changed from being the “guerrilla” to being the standard. Massive corporations used their extensive resources to create small, flexible campaigns. As guerrilla marketing tactics became common, the guerrillas became, in effect, the larger force. The big, powerful pushy force. The bully. The Gorilla In The Room. Yet at the same time as unconventional tactics were becoming conventional, the tools needed for a business of any size to create effective, far-reaching campaigns were becoming more accessible, easier to use, and, most importantly, less expensive.

What this means is that we, as marketers, have all the tools we need to get our points across to millions of consumers quickly, easily, and cheaply both virtually and in “real life.” The question is, does this mean we can, metaphorically, stop jumping out at them from behind trees and treat them like willing partners instead of victims? After all, they’re looking at our ads, visiting our websites and bricks-and-mortar stores because they want or need to buy things. Consumers are truly not going to be surprised by the fact that vendors are trying to sell them something, so maybe it’s time we stopped trying to sneak the concept by them?

Today’s consumers are a savvy lot. Thanks to the internet, many of them have as good a grasp of marketing techniques as many marketers do. Which means they understand the psychology behind color, placement, repetition, and so on, and generally understand exactly what marketers are trying to do to them. I’ve been shopping with non-industry friends who made comments like, “Oh, don’t buy that, it’s on an end-cap, they’re just trying to push it.”

Yikes. Makes a guerrilla marketers heart quail, doesn’t it?

Display Marketing, as an industry, is by its very nature pretty “in your face.” It’s about Displaying Products to Consumers (hence the name). As display marketers, we need to ultimately do two things in order to make sales: first, get seen by potential customers and second, convince those potential customers that there is a compelling reason for them to buy our merchandise instead of someone else’s.

Do we really need to keep jumping out of trees and blindsiding our audience to do those things? Or have we just turned into Gorillas because that’s what everyone else has done? Will having a flash mob appear on the sales floor sell any more leg-warmers than a big, beautiful ad for them, or even a bright sign pointing to them? Have we as display marketers moved from selling our products to pushing our campaigns?

Don’t get me wrong, I love marketing. I love the creativity, the challenge of it. And somewhere along the line, I worry that the guerrilla marketing trend became more about the methodology than about the products we were ultimately marketing.

There are so very many wonderful ways out there now to let customers know about your products:

  • Tablet displays can run applications that let consumers try out software live in the store, that can take an instant picture of the person viewing it and show them how they would look wearing that makeup, that dress, those shoes, even how that car would look in blue, or with a racing stripe.
  • Wide-screen LEDs show advertisements in sizes that rival theater screens. They can hang from a ceiling, in a window, or even roll around a sales floor as needed.
  • Store racks can be made from light, flexible materials that can appear invisible, or be shaped and colored to perfectly match existing branding.
  • Printed signage can come off the press ready to insert into lightweight sign holders that can be set up in nearly any configuration needed.
  • Display cases integrate lighting, color, and can be matched to any décor imaginable.
  • Lightweight (and energy-friendly) LED signage can create custom neon displays that change as needed.
  • Even store mannequins have come a long way from the motionless forms once used for static displays…

Basically, the options are endless. The tools and equipment available to us as display marketers today give us opportunities to reach consumers and potential customers in ways that were unheard of thirty years ago. I say we use them.

And let’s use them as marketers would, to showcase and (gasp) display merchandise to our customers, use them to find the tipping point that makes a potential consumer into buyer into a repeat customer.

Our customers know we want to reach them. They know we’re hiding behind that tree. Maybe we don’t need to be such guerrillas any more. Or gorillas, for that matter.

Post time: 07-13-2017