Life on the Street

Guerilla marketers are no strangers to the streets. While some traditional agencies are more likely to have clients appear on TV screens, radio, magazines and newspapers, more non-traditional agencies talk to you while you’re walking the dog, catching a movie, or running to the restroom. What’s the matter? You don’t like it? Don’t you think they’re clever and appreciate their value? Whichever side of the fence you fall, there’s no arguing that when used correctly, these non-traditional tactics do work.

Countless street level campaigns are executed successfully everyday, but it’s when campaigns make the news, via stealth marketing, vandalism and trespassing, that agencies and the public alike sit up and question the method to the madness.

Recent examples of questionable campaigns have involved penguins, cell phone/cameras, and most recently, butterflies.

Aside from the “can you believe they did that?” quality of these campaigns, there are other explanations for the attention given to them: Our heightened level of security has made people leery of taking & receiving materials from strangers, regardless of how friendly and attractive they may be. Even law enforcement is taking measures to curb some of these tactics - additional security details at office buildings and sticker-proof paint on street signs & lampposts are just some examples.



The truth is, whether it’s a slap on the wrist for littering, a summons for permit violation, or uproar in the press, the negative impact of these campaigns is completely avoidable. Believe me, it’s not that hard to use spray chalk instead of indelible marker or paint, and the folks at the permit office might be friendlier than you think. Either way, it sure beats having to include line items for “fines” or “bail money” into your budgets.

One of the most effective (and legal) forms of a street campaign is sampling – hand to hand distribution. The advantage of sampling, besides it being legal, is that it allows for one to one communication, the purest form of direct marketing. When used correctly, there are few better ways to talk to your target audience, deliver a marketing message in an unexpected way or place, avoid or even eliminate waste, and avoid being seen as obtrusive. To a marketer, such methods are a godsend. And when they are taken seriously and not abused, they can truly provide a mutually rewarding marketing experience.

Here are some friendly tips on how to best achieve your street-distribution goals:

Make the piece small – the smaller it is, the easier to put away in a pocket or purse. I can’t tell you the number times we’ve seen people hand out full sized, 8½ x 11 flyers only to reach the corner and see them piled up in the trash next to coffee cups and newspapers (and, those are the ones that actually make it to the trash can).

Get a life – shelf life, that is. Why hand something out that gives people no reason to hold onto it? One piece we love to use is the “Z-card,” a credit card-sized piece that unfolds to a full 8½ x 11 page. When fully unfolded, one side is used for the branding or marketing message, and the other side is something functional like a subway map, thereby giving recipients a reason to hold onto it.

Make people want to take it – The person handing out your stuff is equally as important as what it is that’s being distributed. Someone standing there, expressionless and motionless isn’t going to make me come over and see what you’ve got. However, a friendly, attractive, outgoing individual, who’s dressed & trained in the brand - now that’s a bit more inviting.

It seems that non-traditional tactics such as street distribution are becoming more and more commonplace these days. Like anything, there will be some that work and some that don’t. Some will cross the line of what’s considered “safe,” while others won’t. It’s what helps make the industry so challenging. There will always be that non-English speaking woman on the corner handing me a flyer to a barber shop that I don’t think even exists anymore – but, it’s when I spot a van giving away free cans of Starbucks new espresso that I feel glad I walked to work that day.

Jonathan Margolis is a partner and co-founder of the michael alan group. He can be reached at

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