Guerrilla or Jackass?

Everything is marketing and marketing is everything. And if you subscribe to the theory of Guerrilla Marketing, virtually anything that is unexpected and full of surprise can give you an advantage. Actually, the purpose of guerrilla marketing is to give your product or service an advantage, better yet, an unfair advantage.

I learned this first-hand in the 80’s working in the golf industry. Our company was a start-up, desperate to gain a toehold in the market. Perhaps a lot like your business or a business you frequent in your hometown. Perhaps a lot like the business I witnessed today using what they may think was a guerrilla marketing tactic.

Guerrilla or jackass? While it may seem obvious, the distinction is subtle.

It’s war out there. Grabbing the attention of a potential customer is a battle. Between limited funds, onerous governmental restrictions, worldwide competition through the internet, and the massive amount of other advertising, businesses today have resorted to unusual means to gain attention.

While it may not be that unusual today, not long ago a young man or woman on a street corner dressed in costume and spinning a hand-held sign while dancing was unusual. Now it is ubiquitous. From pizza to pawn shops, what once stood out is now commonplace. We drive right by noticing these former guerrilla markers no more than we do car alarms.

But today was different. Today I witnessed this technique being used in a way I had never thought of before, much less seen before. And I can assure you we will all begin to see this technique used for better or worse.

It is one of the busiest intersections in our town. Thousands upon thousands of cars drive through daily, many of them more than a couple of times a day. As a natural location for retail establishments, the area is flooded with signs of all kinds. The buildings located slightly off the corners have bigger, higher, more noticeable signs to be seen from a distance. All in all, a lot like any busy intersection in America.

Just off the northeast corner of the intersection, just a couple hundred yards back stands a building with a franchise location of a “gently used clothing store”. We’ll call this store Competitor A. While we have had thrift stores in our town for a number of years, two different used clothing franchise stores have opened in our town in the past two years. Up until now, everything I’ve described is normal.

On the northeast corner of this intersection stood a young man holding a sign. Not unusual until you notice the sign has a big red arrow, seemingly directing you to go to the right bearing the company name of a competing national franchise “gently used clothing store”. That’s right, Competitor B has camped out with sign in hand in front of Competitor A’s store.

While I’ve seen companies buy billboards in front of a competitor’s location, I always thought that was fair. If the local company wanted to prevent it, all they need do is buy the billboard.

But how does one stop a jackass? In the past people didn’t want to be jackasses. They cared about their public image. But today society doesn’t punish someone for being a jackass. Many like the idea they’re so brash.

So am I being too harsh? Is Competitor B a guerrilla or a jackass? I’d love to hear your thoughts.