Guerrilla Marketing

Getting a bigger bang from your marketing

By Frank Demmler

This is the first of an occasional series of articles on one of my favorite topics: Guerrilla Marketing.

To the best of my knowledge, Jay Conrad Levinson coined this phrase in the early 1980s. It refers to the need for entrepreneurs to employ imaginative tactics to get more than $10 of value out of every $1 that’s spent. There’s a series of books on the topic, of which my favorite was “The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook.”

“As advertised in TIME Magazine…”

Jay told the story about the owner of a new San Francisco furniture store that wanted to establish an identity and credibility by placing an advertisement in a national magazine.  The cost of a full-page national four-color ad was on the order of $60,000. That was a non-starter for this entrepreneur.

He then learned about Remnant Advertising.  Most publications rarely sell all of their advertising space. In order to fill all of the space, the open slots are sold at significant discounts just before press time.

He paid $1,395 for his advertisement in the Atlanta, GA regional edition of TIME Magazine! Yes that’s right.  His store was in San Francisco, CA and he ran an ad in the Atlanta, GA edition of TIME Magazine. What was he thinking?

He was thinking REPRINT. He ordered reprints of his ads with a prominent banner that said, “As advertised in TIME Magazine.”

Instant credibility!

Gorilla Marketing

Before he became Allegheny County Executive, Jim Roddey was a successful entrepreneur, and very generous with his time for civic activities. This story comes from that time.

I used to be involved with an annual conference that was the predecessor to The Entrepreneurial Growth Conference presented by the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center.

Knowing that Jim was a superb salesman and marketing guru, I called and asked him to speak at the conference about Guerrilla Marketing.  He agreed, as he usually did.

Come the day of the conference, Jim showed up promptly for his presentation and as he approached the stage, he handed me a single slide (that will give you a sense of how long ago this was). I marched to the projector, took the carousel, remembered to put the slide into the carousel upside down and backwards, and waited for Jim’s cue.

He strode to the podium, and began his presentation.

“I don’t know how Frank knew that my family owned a small zoo in the South.  During the Depression things got pretty bad and we had to close the zoo. We sold everything from the zoo, except for one thing… Frank, show the slide.”

As the projector light came on, Jim said, “We sold everything but the gorilla. Now let me tell you about Gorilla Marketing!” and the picture of a big old gorilla came into focus on the screen.

Turning $3,000 into $250,000
(probably $10,000 into $1,000,000 in today’s dollars)

After the laughter subsided Jim then launched into a series of anecdotes that were excellent examples of Guerrilla Marketing. This is my favorite.

Jim and a few of his business associates purchased a low rated radio station in a Southern community. They changed the station’s format and were confident that once people tuned in, they would stay, increasing listenership, increasing advertising rates, and make the station a commercial success.

The challenge was to get people to go to the station in the first place.  The traditional way would have been to spend lots of money on billboards, concert sponsorships, remote broadcasts from the local grocery stores and auto dealerships. Jim and his friends didn’t have a lot of money, and they didn’t think the old methods would work.  The South was changing and the station had to change with it.

So, this is what they did.

They sponsored a contest.  The prize would be a college scholarship (which in those days cost about $3,000 for the state college). In this town, it was the first generation that had college aspirations and parents who supported their children building a life for themselves that didn’t necessarily include staying on the family farm.

The rules of the contest were something like:

For three months, cars were driving all through the community with the call letters and frequency of the radio station heralded by their paint jobs.

After the contest, it was calculated by the advertising and promotion metrics of the day, that it would have taken $250,000 to create an equal number of impressions by conventional methods!

Frank Demmler is Associate Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Previously he was president & CEO of the Future Fund, general partner of the Pittsburgh Seed Fund, co-founder & investment advisor to the Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund, as well as vice president, venture development, for The Enterprise Corporation of Pittsburgh. An archive of this series of articles can be found at my website.