thirty years since the term “guerrilla marketing” was first coined, and tactics
have changed since then. Today,
flashmobs are filmed and broadcast on TV as advertising content, demonstrating
that guerrilla marketing has come far from its roots as an option for SME’s on
small budgets. It is a mainstream
marketing strategy for even the biggest brands.
on the recent Cheltenham Festival, it is interesting to see what different
brands do to achieve cut-through. There
is huge competition for coveted sponsorship deals at such a high-profile event
and inevitably not every brand can be accommodated. In this respect, The Festival typifies the competitive
environment where guerrilla marketing can be highly effective.
companies offer a good case study.
Ladbrokes has two betting shop concessions at Cheltenham Racecourse, Betfred
has three and other brands – like William Hill – sponsor specific events or
races, too. Yet betting companies vie
for the attention – and spend – of racegoers long before they arrive at the
bought billboard advertising space at Cheltenham train station, so it was the
first betting brand seen by racegoers as they stepped off the train. Leaving the station, racegoers will have come
across a pub re-branded as the “Betfair Arms”.
Passing by the park, they will have seen blue balloons rise into the
air, promoting Blue Square.
We could call these tactics guerrilla marketing, yet these
brands know that it is important that brands do not infringe upon our ability
to protect the rights of organisations who pay to be officially associated with
an event. Typically, the brands we work
with are keen to strike a balance. Yes,
they want to gain cut-through for their own brand. They will be creative and disruptive, but
they will not trespass upon the rights of our official sponsors. They keep their distance and deploy their
tactics within Cheltenham town, not at the racecourse, because they would not
want another brand to turn the tables and spoil their official sponsorship of a
In addition, the safety of horses, jockeys and spectators is
paramount and everything at Cheltenham – including the sitting of marketing
activities - is organised to optimise safety and reduce risk. We work hard to ensure that horses are not
distracted by anything superfluous or unexpected within their line of sight as
they go around the course. The last
thing anyone wants to see at a racecourse is a seriously injured or dead horse
or jockey, so we prefer to know what brands have planned in case there is an
impact on safety.
In my opinion, guerrilla marketing can easily turn into
gorilla marketing, destroying value instead of creating it, if that convention
is ignored. If a brand’s guerrilla
tactics at a racecourse create a disturbance that results in injury or death,
how can that create positive or fun associations for the brand?
Similarly, if a brand pays to have exclusive rights and they
are not protected, that brand may not be prepared to underwrite the event in
the future. Other brands won’t step into
fill the breach if they believe their rights won’t be protected, either. If brands pull out, funding is reduced, prize
money falls and the horses, trainers, owners and jockeys that make the event what
it is may also fall away. That
inevitably will have an impact on audiences.
Eventually, the brand which has used guerrilla marketing to try to build
value for its own brand at the expense of other brands officially associated
with the event, will find that it has destroyed the value of the event for
itself, too, when there are fewer people to witness their stunts.
I have no problem with brands trying out different
strategies away from the racecourse. I
do wonder what more we can do to protect the rights of existing sponsors when
our venue is so open. I wonder whether
we should establish formal protocols for brands that want to undertake
marketing around Cheltenham, so they do not transgress the nature of the events
or impact the safety of horses or jockeys. I’m interested in hearing about any
strategies that work for other venues.
As a marketer, I understand the desire to build a
brand. I do not want to stifle
creativity. But marketers need to
consider whether their activities make them Guerrillas who are creating brand
value in a positive way or Gorillas who just seek to undermine the value of
events and official partnerships for their own short term profit – and to the
long-term peril of everyone involved.
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