Advertising tricks revealed

CHOICE reveals the latest tricks companies use to catch our attention and open our wallets.
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  • Updated:26 Mar 2009

03.Ways to spread the word

Viruses campaigns

Icon of speach bubblesViral campaigns rely on word of mouth, or more commonly “word of mouse”, working on the theory that if a customer likes something they will be more inclined to share it with their friends online. Ideally, the consumer is recruited involuntarily to spread the message through online interactive games, emails or videos.

One such success is Queensland Tourism’s latest web campaign which reached 162 countries, attracted 34,000 applicants and gained broad international media coverage. Their “Best Job in the World” competition invites job seekers to apply via video for the chance to live rent free on the Barrier Reef for six months. When the campaign launched, the host website crashed with the sheer amount of traffic on the site.

Other viral successes such as “Dancing Matt” – a video featuring a guy dancing in locations all over the globe – started off as a genuinely non-commercial activity but has since attracted high-paying sponsors, such as Visa, keen to catch a piece of the viral action.

Whisper campaigns

Have you ever sat captive in a salon chair while your hairdresser attempts to make talking an Olympic sport? While you chat about the latest TV shows, books or movies, you may not realise your hairdresser, shop assistant or even your personal trainer is actually part of that product’s marketing mix.

Sydney-based MINT PR’s Monique Haylen says she has thousands of “style influencers” on her books. “Whisper marketing is what we refer to as generating authentic word of mouth,” she says. “When we started doing word of mouth it was originally about getting people to talk. We don’t pay but we provide product to people we think it’s appropriate for, or give them information and hope that if they like it they’ll talk about it.” Haylen says determining who should spread the word depends on the client. “If it’s Channel Seven with a preview of a new program, we would probably use hairdressers. They can talk about how they’ve seen an exclusive preview; word of mouth is about engaging people and having a dialogue.”

Haylen also uses other techniques to build brand awareness by stealth. “We’re currently promoting a brand of jewellery by placing it on the hands of bar staff in certain upmarket bars. We might choose style ambassadors such as newsreaders, magazine editors or stylists and give them product to wear. It’s a cost-effective way of getting a message out about a brand and can work well with other kinds of marketing.”

Guerrilla marketing

Icon of person with coat and hatThe phrase “guerrilla marketing” was originally was coined by business author Jay Conrad Levinson in 1984. He defined the technique as achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money. These days, guerrilla marketing is commonplace as part of the marketing and advertising mix.

Monique Haylen is the founder of MINT PR, a Sydney agency that specialises in unconventional campaigns using techniques such as ambient media and “brand ambassadors”. According to Haylen, “the challenge for us is how do we interrupt someone’s normal life without being offensive so they can pay attention to a brand? Humour works, creativity works.”

Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier says humour and creativity can work well for the right market. “One of the most successful campaigns we did was for a streetwear brand where we played on the misconception that advertisers brainwashed people,” he says. “We had events where we hypnotised people in public and pretended that they would become brand advocates for life. The media were totally outraged by it and the whole thing was a joke. This doubled the distribution of the brand, sales went up and we won an award at Cannes [advertising industry awards].”

Coke Zero: zero response

Coke Zero banner

While it may seem that many of the tricks used on consumers are unfair, experts we spoke to were unanimous that consumers have never been better positioned to bite back if they don’t like something – and advertisers who aren’t quick to respond will get savaged. In 2006, Coca-Cola anonymously launched a new product in Australia, Coke Zero, by setting up the “Zero Movement”, which appeared to be a grassroots street campaign using chalk drawings, pamphlets and a blog of the same name – none of which directly linked back to Coke.

While the campaign created buzz, it was for all the wrong reasons as consumers quickly discovered who was behind it and hit back with a blog of their own, attacking the brand and drawing negative media attention. Within weeks the original material on the blog was removed, with Coke admitting that the campaign “wasn’t for everyone”. “The greatest benefit of technology has been that it empowers consumers to talk back,” says QUT’s Gayle Kerr.


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