Monday, May 15, 2006

The World is Ending! And All Diamonds are 30% Off at K's!

K’s Merchandise Mart, a store that may fighting for survival in the Springfield retail arena, deployed a team of human billboards yesterday to draw attention to a jewelry sale targeted at forgetful or procrastinating offspring. Two gentlemen of the scruffy variety were stationed along Wabash Avenue, holding up signs announcing the sale. Their posture seemed to indicate that they weren’t being paid high dollar for their services and they exuded a level of excitement that can be expected from someone doing a job that requires all of the skills of a wooden stake. Although I wasn’t persuaded to stop into K’s 70s-style showroom, I still found it to be an effective form of marketing.

The sign toters immediately drew my attention because I thought they might be protesters. And if there is anything more interesting than a group of people so infringed upon that they are willing to make signs and take to the streets, it’s a lone protester, someone whose cause is so personal and possibly deranged that he couldn’t find a single other person to join him in his call for justice. Not to belittle our country’s rich tradition of public demonstration, but the spectacle of the seriously aggrieved falls behind only car crashes and sorority-sponsored car washes in their ability to elicit rubbernecking from passing motorists.

The thought of sidewalk hawkers and their sandwich board signs touting great deals on RCA Victor TV Consoles seems nostalgic. But as it becomes increasingly difficult to get noticed through the traditional means of advertising in the modern era, we’re starting to see some alternative forms of marketing.

The local Quizno’s outlets have gone the alternative route by forcing an employee into a large-Coke-to-go costume and shoving them outside of their sandwich shops. Unlike the lethargic K’s sign posts, the Quizno’s paper cups have been instructed to wave at passing motorists. Fans of Comedy Central’s Reno 911 are probably instantly reminded of the episode in which a giant soda cup is beaten with night sticks after smarting-off to two of Reno’s dimmest. If Quizno’s could stage a similar performance of street theatre, I might be persuaded to buy a sub between acts.

One of the hottest trends in guerilla marketing is orchestrated word-of-mouth campaigns. Marketing agencies such as BzzAgent enlist thousands of volunteers to spread the word on their clients' products. The volunteers try a sample of the product and are given a tip sheet on how to talk it up. Then when they are out in public, at a store or in a bar, the casually slip a mention of the product into conversation in what seems an unbiased endorsement.

After reading the article that introduced me to the concept of word-of-mouth campaigns, it occurred to me that I might have been the target of one of these buzz agents. Standing at the dairy case at Meijer, an elderly gentleman made mention of the fact that Brummel & Brown butter spread was selling for a remarkably low price. He also commented on the delectable taste of the yogurt-based concoction. I just pegged him as a friendly man with uncommonly strong margarine loyalty.

It would take an in-depth sociological study to determine just why so many people are willing to volunteer their time promoting products. It might take an in-depth psychological profiling to determine the motivation of Floyd Hayes.

Hayes specializes in the field of “voicevertising.” In a nutshell, he promises clients that he will yell out their products name every 15 minutes for a week, regardless of where he might be at the time. The makers of Halls Fruit Breezers took him up on his offer, appropriately enough.

Other strange marketing vehicles in recent years include selling advertising space on a suit of clothes, a forehead, and a pregnant belly. The motivation for these walking marquees is obvious, some easy cash. It’s doubtful that they will attract many paying customers once the novelty of their service has waned or full gestation has been reached. But it does illustrate just how desperate companies are to cut through the glut of marketing messages that consumers have conditioned themselves to ignore.

So sign-bearing strangers will continue to attract the desired attention until we wise up that they aren't Marshall H. Applewhite acolytes, but regular guys carrying crummy ads.


1 comment:

The 26th Man said...

If it weren't so unwieldy, Uncommonly Strong Margarine Loyalty would make a great band name.