Guerrilla media

In their pursuit of a hip youth market, clients are starting to adopt subversive media strategies. Damian Lanigan reports on the new marketing terrorists and asks, how far can they go?

In their pursuit of a hip youth market, clients are starting to adopt

subversive media strategies. Damian Lanigan reports on the new marketing

terrorists and asks, how far can they go?

Advertisers are engaged in a constant struggle to hijack the attention

of apathetic consumers, yet some of the groups whose awareness is most

valued are the least keen to offer it.

Youth audiences in particular have become advertising literate to the

point of cynicism and are increasingly resistant to conventional

marketing glossiness. To make them take notice, some major advertisers

are supplementing their conventional advertising plans with ‘guerrilla

media’ tactics to lend grit and currency to their brands. If such

activity takes them outside the law, then that is a risk worth taking.

Traditionally, guerrilla tactics have been synonymous with flyposting,

and the music business in particular has been a heavy user of this

medium for decades. Guerrilla media, however, are moving on. The term

now refers to any number of activities undertaken outside the

conventional paid-for communications channels, and they derive their

power from flouting the constraints of conventional methods.

The Tango man’s luminous presence on London’s College Green during last

year’s Tory leadership campaign was a classic legal example of guerrilla

tactics. Emma Jenks works for Howell Henry Chaldecott and Lury’s

Environment Marketing Group, which specialises in ‘non-paid-for’ media,

and helped devise the stunt. ‘Guerrilla media is just another term for

new media. The intention is to hijack existing media events for the

benefit of your brand,’ she argues. ‘It’s a crowded world. We are

reaching saturation in the conventional media. You have to take steps to

cut through.’

‘It’s all about generating PR for a brand usually to increase the effect

ofÿ20a limited budget,’ Katherine Almond, a board level media planner at

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, adds. She cites the example of Kiss FM’s

launch, where a flatbed truck was chartered to drive around London

filled with people dancing live to highlights of Kiss’s launch playlist.

Inevitably, the truck suffered a temporary breakdown outside Capital

Radio’s HQ on the Euston Road.

The commercial effect of stunts like these is easy to guess, and

nowadays most consumer launches are accompanied by similar types of

event. But the increasing acceptance of PR gimmicks won’t tempt Almond

to put more legally dubious methods on to her clients’ media plans.

‘You don’t have to break the law to do guerrilla media well. I think it

is irresponsible to suggest to clients that they resort to illegal

activities such as flyposting or sabotage,’ she says.

Others are less fastidious. If you were in London’s West End recently,

there is a good chance that you saw metre-long speech bubbles containing

the words ‘Blah Blah Blah’ pasted over prime poster sites. The satellite

channel, MTV, was about to launch a music magazine called Blah Blah

Blah, and had been flyposting extensively to announce the fact. It is

understandable that flyposting, the accepted medium of the music

business, would be appropriate for the launch. But the speech bubble

campaign amounted to criminal damage. Why did MTV take the risk?

Michelle Poole, the UK marketing manager of Blah Blah Blah, argues:

‘It’s all really good fun, and done very tongue in cheek. One of the

things we’ve done is hang the speech bubbles from tannoys at Victoria

station, which we did in conjunction with Railtrack and Maiden. The

whole campaign is designed to tease and to reflect the edginess of the


What about the edginess of advertisers and contractors who had their

sites defaced? ‘Yes, we have had comeback from advertisers, and removed

the stickers as soon as we were asked,’ Poole says. ‘I don’t want to

sound patronising but I think the speech bubbles can actually help

advertisers by drawing attention to otherwise unremarkable ads.’

Another recent example of sabotage involved the tactical spray painting

of the M&C Saatchi ‘anti-Northerners’ poster campaign for Courage Best.

The graffiti was unbranded and made to appear the work of the local

spray-can-happy wag, but the organised nature of the escapade was

betrayed by the widespread nature of the defaced sites and the

recurrence of certain lines.

For example, one poster with the headline, ‘If the North’s so great how

come the Queen doesn’t live there?’, was regularly enhanced with the

rejoinder, ‘Because she doesn’t drink beer.’

While it’s relatively easy to think of a number of Northern brewers who

might have had a vested interest in such activity, nobody’s saying

anything. Boddingtons’ media agency, Motive, states emphatically: ‘We

don’t know anything at all about that.’

One of the aspects of guerrilla activity is that it is so ephemeral and

elusive it can allow advertisers to derive benefit without having to

admit responsibility.

Several Mills and Allen sites were targeted in the Blah Blah Blah

campaign. David Pugh, M&A’s marketing director, says: ‘To use the phrase

‘guerrilla marketing’ is to dignify unlawful activity with a management

name-tag. We take a very serious view of this recent activity. The costs

to us are considerable. MTV has sent us a grovelling apology and we will

send it a bill for the costs incurred. I find it surprising to see some

of the people who get involved in this type of thing. Some very strange

decisions are being made in marketing departments.’

Good old flyposting is a medium with a future for mainstream

advertisers, according to Nigel Dalley, of the guerrilla media

specialist, Trinity Street. ‘Conventional advertisers are getting

involved. It’s all about getting to be in the places where the kids

are,’ he argues. ‘Flyposting is the only medium that can reach the

really bad kids, the ones who hang around bricked-up toilets on Barnsley

housing estates.’

Dalley even goes as far as to suggest that flyposting performs some

valuable social function for these ‘khazi kids’. ‘They don’t read, they

don’t even watch much telly. They use the flyposting sites as sources of

information about what their favourite bands are up to. It’s the only

way to get to them.’

Perhaps as a consequence, major advertisers who want to target younger

audiences have turned to this once-anarchic medium - Boddingtons, Sol,

the Children’s Channel and Coca-Cola’s Fruitopia have all been spotted

on the boarded-up shops and flyovers that are prime flyposting sites.

The activity has become so mainstream that some already feel a need to

go deeper into guerrilla territory.

Chas Bayfield, a creative at Howell Henry, notes: ‘It’s a bit crass now

- the first thought if you’ve got a youth brand is ‘let’s do some

flyposting’. The aim has to be to hijack attention, but you have to do

it out of context.

‘It’s very hard to be more dramatic than a drama programme, for example.

When Tango sponsored The Word, Howell Henry went the other way. Instead

of trying to be kitsch and disgusting like the programme, we went for

stuff that was cute, warm and friendly.’

Bayfield cites some further examples of going beyond flyposting to

create the guerrilla effect: ‘To relaunch Still Tango we did a strategic

litter dump of Still Tango bottles at music festivals to get people

talking. We’ve even covered a van in orange fur. It’s about trying new


Jenks points out: ‘Guerrilla ideas have to be relevant to the brand.

Stunts and surprise are an integral part of what Tango’s about so it

works for us.’

Andy Macintosh, a media planner at Abbott Mead, looks at the

appropriateness issue from a different perspective. ‘I noticed a poster

for the band, Goldie, on a Mills and Allen poster site the other day,

and to my mind it worked against the message - a slightly left-field

band seemed out of place on a conventional site. It would have been much

better flyposted.’

Dalley develops this point: ‘It’s important for the flyposting business

to keep the real mainstream stuff out. As soon as you get organisations

like the banks involved, the medium loses all its credibility. At

present, the music business accounts for 90 per cent of turnover. The

medium must retain cachet with this user. The growth among conventional

advertisers must be carefully managed.’

The growing prominence of guerrilla activities, and the increasing

amounts of money involved, has resulted in a greater professionalism.

Tom (not his real name) has been involved in the flyposting game for 20

years, and runs a team of ten ‘operatives’ in and around the London

area. He fondly remembers a time when everything was simpler: ‘In the

old days it was more of a laugh. Stick your posters up, cash in hand,

easy as that. Now it’s all campaign strategy, get the posters up at the

right time in the right place, monitoring sites. It’s got a lot more


Tom and his team work from 4am until mid-morning, hours which allow them

to avoid traffic rather than to avoid trouble. ‘That early is the only

time you can get round to all the sites,’ he explains. ‘We never get any

hassle. The Socialist Workers are the only people who really piss us

off, because they stick their stuff up anywhere.’

Tom’s choice of sites obeys a rather subtle code of propriety. For

example, illegal 48-sheet sites are OK whereas boarded-up buildings

awaiting refurbishment are not. On the illegal 48-sheet issue, Tom

estimates that as many as 30 per cent of all sites in London are illegal

and that makes them fair game. ‘They leave us alone,’ he adds.

The undisputed champion of generating PR coverage out of nothing has to

be the Monster Raving Loony Party. With experience of mainstream

marketing from its tactical rebranding as the Official Monster Munch

Raving Loony Party for Walkers at the Perth and Kinross by-election in

May 1995, it has advice to offer the UK marketing industry in its

relentless pursuit of exposure.

Alan Hope, Monster Raving’s chairman and deputy leader, explains:

‘These people seem to be taking themselves too seriously. We’re the

biggest piss-take in the world, that’s why we’re successful.’ ‘Take the

piss.’ Could this be the next marketing buzzword? It’s certainly got

more of a ring to it than ‘think global, act local’.


Flyposting is a civil rather than a criminal offence. In practice it is

very difficult and time-consuming to prosecute someone for flyposting,

and it almost never happens. Once the local council has determined who

is responsible (not at all easy), that party has to be notified of the

precise address of the offending site and is then requested to take the

poster down. If the poster is still visible 48 hours later, a fine can

be levied. One way of making a poster invisible, of course, is to paste

over it with a new one.

Sabotaging other companies’ poster sites potentially carries the

criminal charge of criminal damage. There is no history of prosecutions

taking place in this area, partly due to the difficulty of gaining

evidence, partly because the effects of this type of sabotage are short

term and easily reversible. There is also the potential damage to an

advertiser’s image if it is seen to be heavy-handed with hip,

‘outrageous’ guerrillas.

Marginal tactics such as littering and stickering are difficult to

classify. It is possible to secure permission from the relevant property

owner or local council to legitimise such activities. Again, if the

effects are easily reversible, and the responsibility for the clean-up

is taken by the ‘guerrilla’, there is unlikely to be any follow-up.

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