Commentary

Anyone Know Who's Doing Non-Traditional Marketing?

Anyone got a dictionary?

The holiday season is upon us, which means spending time with friends & family. We’ll talk about our lives, loved ones, and of course, work. And, if you’re like me, you’ll try your hardest to explain to everyone what exactly it is you do every day.

Explaining job function takes on an added degree of difficulty when you come from what’s called a “non-traditional agency.” Everyone knows and can relate to print, radio and television, but when you mention words like “grassroots,” stealth” and “guerilla,” your audience’s eyes glaze over, and their heads start spinning.

It’s true that more and more people are seeing and reading about crazy marketing stunts these days. But, if my frustrating conversation with my uncle Harold is any indication, there are plenty of questions that still need answering.

Does anyone know who’s doing non-traditional marketing? Do those people know how to define the crazy marketing stunts? Are the stunts executed by an ad agency or PR agency? Or better yet, maybe it’s the client themselves handling the execution. Do you call it traditional or non-traditional? And, is there a way to determine the precise difference between the two?

When we refer to non-traditional tactics these days, we’re talking about bar & restroom advertising, wild posting, and street marketing. But, what makes those tactics non-traditional? It’s certainly not their age, because some of the oldest forms of marketing and advertising would be considered non-traditional by today’s standards:

Some may remember that newspapers used to give bars & restaurants their papers for free, provided they could leave the papers open to a particular ad in the restrooms. Boxing promoters favored gluing their posters to sides of buildings to promote their upcoming bouts. And, don’t forget the medicine man – like Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson in their video for “Say Say Say” – going from town to town promoting his latest wares.

It’s funny how some of the oldest, most “traditional” tactics are categorized as non-traditional marketing – while the newest forms of media, including radio & television, are considered more traditional. Isn’t that funny? Ha ha ha.

One of the interesting things about the “non-traditional” segment of the marketing and advertising industry is that we don’t work within an established set of rules like other ad agencies do. That helps us, but it can also hurt us. There’s no agency – no set of measurement tools – no established rate card we can all work from.

Lately, many ad agencies which used to handle only traditional forms of media are crossing over and working to come up with ways of utilizing mainstream media in more non-traditional ways. Frequently, though, that involves the agency outsourcing the non-traditional components to a more non-traditional firm. And in turn, those non-traditional agencies are always striving for that “next new thing,” diligently working to remain relevant in any advertising or marketing climate, working hard to provide the newest, most innovative form of non-traditional marketing and advertising. As these agencies are expending their business models, it makes for a very interesting mix. It also breaks the once concrete barrier between the two types of agencies.

Perhaps, as time goes by and the two types of agencies work more and more together, such non-traditional tactics will become more accepted and we’ll start seeing “official” definitions of buzz words like guerilla, grassroots and stealth. Perhaps there will be a governing organization which will standardize non-traditional tactics and campaigns, and create precise tools for the measurement of their success.

But, isn’t the standardization of the advertising and marketing world what brought about non-traditional and guerilla tactics in the first place? Doesn’t our own work prevent us from ever establishing set guidelines, definitions and measurement tools? If we’re all the same and standardized, then how do we stand out?

I think our own preference for change and oddity prevents us from ever establishing a formal set of rules and guidelines. In other words, we’re merely a product of our own environment, and will continue to defy convention to get attention because that’s what makes for good marketing.

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