How to Sell Guerrilla-Style

With less money for traditional ads, Czech companies are embracing guerrilla marketing

When tram driver Pavel Patěk reached the end of the line, he went to check the empty tram and instead of sleeping people, which he mostly finds, he found a book. When he opened the book, he found a message: this book escaped, please contact the [escaped books] website. Mr. Patěk did exactly that and ended up on a Facebook page, upon which he left a message: "At the end of the tram line in Kobylisy I found a Grandmother [a famous Czech children's book]. It was not an ordinary Grandmother, it was an escaped Grandmother."

The Facebook page features around 200 messages from people who also found "escaped" books. They enthusiastically "reported" the escaped books and waited to see what happened next. Soon they received a message: "Go to this place following the coordinates 50° 4' 55.082" N and 14° 25' 33.626" E."

"We hope that they will never forget where our store is and will remember it whenever they pass by," says Jiří Padevět of Academia, the publishing house behind the project. "And we hope they will tell other people about [the campaign]."

The escaped books project is, in fact, a textbook example of guerrilla marketing.

It was Jay Conrad Levinson who coined and defined the term in the 1980s. In his book of the same name he writes: "Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional way of performing marketing activities (primarily promotion) on a very low budget."

Many small businesses were struggling in the US in the mid-1980s and guerrilla marketing was a way they could promote themselves without the need for a big advertising budget.

Czech small businesses keep growing in number but their marketing budgets have been shrinking, largely due to the economic crisis. "How much did the campaign cost us? Nothing," says Padevět triumphantly.

Of course, there were some costs involved, but only minor ones: vouchers for the people who found the books, and the cost of having 400 books delivered to cafés, fitness centers and shopping malls. One finder was pleased to come across a copy of La Ciociara (Two Women) by Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, which is known as Horalka in Czech. Horalka is also the name of a popular Czech candy bar, so the "escaped" book's finder took pictures of a Horalka bar and posted them on Facebook. "This kind of ad is capable of prompting people to take action, which hardly ever happens with regular ads these days," says Padevět.

A survey conducted by Factum Invenio agency proves Padevět's point: "As a result of the growing number of advertisements, people are increasingly unwilling to be exposed to advertising. It is more and more difficult for the creators of ads to get people interested in the advertised product." The percentage of people who think there is simply too much advertising keeps growing year by year.

In September 2009, a Prague police patrol stopped by a tunnel going to Letná, where they found three climbers hanging on a wall spraying something. The police discovered that the young men were only using water sprays, so there was no need for them to interfere. The sign on the wall read: "Copenhagen 2009 = CO2". The aim of the project was to draw attention to the Copenhagen summit on global warming, which was taking place at the time.

Going guerrilla
The total amount of money invested in media ads in the Czech Republic dropped by one third in 2009, compared to the previous year. According to the media buying agency OMD, the biggest declines were in print media (36%) and in television (27%). Over the same period, Kantar, a media market research company, reported a slightly less dramatic decline.

Ad budgets had been steadily growing for several years but the beginning of 2009 saw a reverse in that trend. Even major companies have begun looking for cheaper ways to promote their products.

Among them was Telefonica O2. The firm hired the Club Mark Czech agency, which came up with a relatively restrained guerrilla marketing campaign. If you're a biker, you may have noticed bike paths marked with little arrows bearing the Telefonica logo this past summer.

Some firms, such as Kofola, dare to go more "guerrilla". The company that makes the popular cola-like drink managed to get stickers printed with the slogan "I don't love" put on police cars. In this case, Kofola didn't have to pay a fine but other companies haven't been so lucky. A 2006 Vodafone campaign serves as a warning to other would-be guerrilla marketers. The company was sued after placing antlers on its rivals' billboards ("to have antlers" is a popular Czech saying meaning that someone is being unfaithful to you) and was forced to publish expensive formal apologies to its competitors. In its apologies, however, Vodafone again used antlers. The joke is thought to have cost the company around 500,000 crowns.

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