Without a doubt, the rough and tumble world of marketing has grown more fierce, and frankly more creative.
In today’s world of information, where people are inundated with advertisements and information overload, marketers are using every trick in the book to get noticed including writing a few new ones.
For instance, while I was enjoying a quite beach side meal at a trendy caf‚ in Rio de Janeiro, a gang of delivery vans speed up to the caf‚’s entrance, blocking all but a tiny bit of the road in front of the caf‚. Before the caf‚ goers realized what was happening, a mob of green and yellow clad break-dancers emptied out of the trucks into the street. Pieces of cardboard and a stereo appeared, and within seconds a battle scene reminiscent of the 80’s cult movie Breakin materialized before our eyes.
The dancers were not locals asking for a few dollars in exchange for entertaining the hip dinners. No, these were professionally dancers hired by a large Brazilian beverage company to pull our attention away from our tenderloins while creating buzz for their new soda.
Consumers can expect more of this kind of approach, as traditional forms of advertising lose their punch. This new era of buzz marketing has evolved because marketers are finding it increasingly difficult to reach busy consumers. Essentially, buzz marketing targets a few trendsetters in hopes that they will influence the decision-making process of the masses. Putting it another way, buzz marketing is like a chain letter – one person receives a bit of information and then passes it along to another person or ideally a group of people and before long the message is out. Think back a few years to the release of the independent film Blair Witch Project.
Buzz that seemingly came from nowhere, quickly transformed what should have been a niche movie into an overnight sensation.
Given how powerful buzz marketing is, marketers are not leaving buzz creation up to chance. The attractive, impossibly thin commercial models that pitch us everything from beer to automobiles are literally climbing out of the television and cruising bars and cafes as planted pitch people to drum up buzz. Vespa scooter importer Piaggio USA famously used a biker gang to create buzz around Vespa. Piaggio sent out a group of sleek Vespa riders to hang out, like regular patrons, at caf‚s in Sunset Plaza, Melrose, and the Third Street Promenade in and around Los Angeles and chat with people about Vespas. The goal of Piaggio’s “secret agents” was to seek out tastemakers in LA and subtly push them into talking up Vespas to their friends and admirers.
Like home makeover shows, buzz marketing has even gone extreme.
“We like guerilla,” exclaimed Leslie Stevens cofounder of Laforce-Stevens, a marketing communications firm, “sometimes you have to take chances and come up with new ways of getting your message out.”
To generate buzz for Laforce + Stevens’ hair care client Salon Selective, Stevens stationed a group of women wearing Hillary Clinton mask in Chappaqua, NY where Hillary Clinton was voting and armed them with signs reading “Blondes Fully Pumped for Hillary.” The bold stunt created a media blitz and got the attention of Mrs. Clinton while creating inexpensive buzz for Salon Selective.
Unconventional marketing is not new to Stevens, a striking woman, who could just as easily be a model representing the product as she could be the marketing wizard creating the concept. Stevens co-founded Laforce + Stevens in 1995 with marketing veteran James Laforce.
Last year, Laforce + Stevens worked with retailer H&M to launch its new line designed by legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld. Before the major store launches in Paris and New York, Laforce + Stevens put the buzz machine in motion by planting seeds in the media and creating a word of mouth campaign among trendsetters that had consumers thinking “here is their chance to get Chanel at H&M prices”. On the day of the store opening in Paris and New York, excited shoppers lined up around the block to get their hands on Lagerfeld’s designs.
This type of success has companies more willing than ever to push the envelope to get consumers attention. To this day, people are still debating whether the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident was really a wardrobe malfunction or a stunt to create buzz for her album. Either way, the singer sold millions of her new album, a remarkable feat considering her aging image.
While buzz marketing tactics are growing more questionable, their effectiveness is not. According to a 2001 report by Mckinsey & Company, 54 percent of sales are affected by buzz or lack thereof. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, provided additional support for buzz when he brought home how a small number of consumers-if they’re the right ones-can turn a snow ball into an avalanche.
So remember the next time you tell someone “Hey, nice shoes” you just might have taken the bait of savvy marketers fishing for buzz.