How can your startup get attention when people are so inundated with pitches that it’s nigh impossible to penetrate? Considering what SEO consultants can cost, investing in guerrilla marketing shenanigans may be a great way for you to get some significant attention. Here are a few ideas that worked:
Prank the Competition
WePay made quite a statement in 2010 when it dropped a 600-pound block of ice in front of a conference by competitor PayPal at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The ice was filled with the frozen message “PayPal Freezes Your Accounts” and that you should “unfreeze your money” by switching to WePay. The stunt involved a fork-lift truck and close calls with security.
Content collaboration platform Huddle commandeered coverage away from Microsoft at the 10th annual SharePoint Conference in 2012. The tactic: sending a 120-member marching band through the doors of the Anaheim Convention Center. It was all fun and games until the police were called in to remove the musicians, a flag team and cheerleaders. The authorities be damned, though: Huddle netted coverage on the likes of TheNextWeb and TechCrunch.
Offer Something People Want
Tout, a mobile video publishing app, encouraged entrepreneurs to wow basketball great Shaquille O’Neal with a 15-second elevator pitch. The winner was announced at 2013’s South by Southwest. The prize: Shaq would provide seed money for the best idea and make introductions to the right kind of people. Besides being high profile, notably tech savvy and the holder of an MBA, O’Neal also used Tout to announce his retirement from pro ball in 2011, which earned him a seat on the company’s advisory board.
The winners were Beam, a smartphone to desktop and back communication app, and Speakerfy, an app that allows multiple devices to play music in sync.
Lyft, a startup that offers ride-sharing in cities across the U.S., gave 2013 SXSW conference goers piggyback rides. Users who logged into its app could access the services of 20 Lyft “piggybackers” who happily transported them around the festival. As if carting healthy adults to and fro didn’t get enough attention, Lyft carriers arrived wearing pink mustaches and carrying pink balloons.
In 2011, India’s Groupon rival SnapDeal received an unexpected sweetheart deal when a local village was renamed from Nagar to Snapdeal.com. On the surface it sounds like a pretty common marketing stunt, but in reality it was an unexpected result of the company adopting the impoverished community as part of a good-will campaign. (The company built local wells and made improvements to the school and hospital.) Village elders changed the name on their own to embarrass officials who’d been indifferent to their plight. Countless international news outlets picked up the story.
AirBNB, which describes itself as “eBay for space,” made headlines in 2011 with its rental listing for the entire country of Liechtenstein. For a paltry $70,000 a night (minimum two night stay), the website promised “highly customized settings for events, corporate retreats, conferences, and more.” Among other things, customers would be able to rename city streets or create their own currency. The ploy blew up the Internet and made its way onto news broadcasts across around the world.
TaskRabbit, a startup that helps you find local people to run errands, pick you up at the airport, mow your lawn and pack your moving boxes, handed out ice cream from a giant, furry rabbit on wheels during SXSW 2013. The rabbit truck was undeniably cute, picturesque and pettable. Bloggers and news sites featured photos and footage of the bunny rolling around Austin, and never once failed to hype the company behind it.
A Cautionary Tale
A jaw-dropping lesson in bad taste: At SXSW 2012, global advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty outfitted homeless men with Verizon MiFis and T-shirts announcing, “I’m (insert homeless person’s name here), a 4G hotspot SMS HH (name) TO 25827 for access.” Users were asked to pay a suggested donation of $2.00 for the privilege of using a homeless person to access the Internet.
While BBH achieved stunt-queen status, SXSW-goers were outraged and the company was hit with a glut of awful press and thoroughly disproved the marketing adage “all publicity is good publicity.” The company avoided promotion at SXSW 2013 and declines to discuss its 2012 adventure.