Leads. Data. ROI. It can all seem so hard-edged and boring. Yet to the playful marketer, brand outreach and customer engagement doesn’t have to be a slog through spreadsheets — it can actually be a lot of fun. In this post, we’ll explore five lessons from several recent grassroots brand initiatives, defined here as any campaign that takes a brand beyond its logo by formulating a storyline and injecting it into the workaday world. It’s also known as out-of-home (OOH) advertising. The positive spirit of these campaigns is reflected in the recent ReOpening Day campaign this week in Baltimore, where Orioles baseball buffs recreated a vintage fan night celebrating the team. Of course, the celebration means much more than mere togetherness in light of recent civil unrest. The point is that the best out-of-the-box PR campaigns bring people together and find joy in simple moments. How might your brand entertain and inspire?
1. Follow the rules
We promise this is a fun piece. But the first order of business with any grassroots campaign should be to understand what you can and can’t do under the law. A case in point is Snickers’ humorous sticker blitz highlighting design gaffes throughout New York City, Adweek’s AdFreak blog notes. Examples included a door lock trapped behind a door handle and misplaced decorative wall tiles. (The post has complete photos.) One snag: Animal New York reports the campaign also constitutes vandalism, a claim Snickers agency BBDO politely disputes. On the other side of the coin, brands can quickly become the subject of grassroots defacing campaigns. For example, in London frustrated commuters have staged such an effort against bikini-sporting ads from Protein World, a fitness and sports nutrition company, which is staging its first outdoor ad campaign. Opponents argue the ads are an insult to women; the company, meanwhile, stands by its campaign and has voiced its dismay with “extremist” vandals. In a similar manner, billboards aren’t off limits to public ire: Just watch as New York-based KATSU defaces one with a drone in plain view. Damage aside, brands would do well to think creatively about their campaigns while respecting the public’s tastes and, you know, the rules. Fines and time behind bars mean less money to promote the brand you love.
2. Be genuine
For positive inspiration at the grassroots level, be sure to check out these examples from SXSW 2015, as compiled by Creative Guerrilla Marketing. From Hootsuite’s happy hour-themed owl bike to book-reading squirrels, brands stepped outside the box to engage conference attendees. Animals ruled the day, as evidenced by the cats and dogs. Speaking of dogs, make sure your grassroots campaign isn’t so clever it crosses the veil between fiction and reality. Dutch airline KLM took heat for its heartworming (er, warming) yet purely imaginary video ad featuring an adorable beagle who returns lost iPhones at the airport, The Washington Post reports.
3. Review your options
Lest you forget the flash mob, Business2Community presents this important reminder that plenty of options are available on the cheap to grassroots marketers beyond anthropomorphic pets and Snickers-style stickers, including treasure hunts and undercover promotions. You can even go grassroots on social media. For example, Facebook can be a great tool for intensive business networking, particularly when combined with email and other touchpoints. And Facebook or LinkedIn can be conducive to seeking business insights and solving problems with prospects.
4. Set goals
Let’s return to the drab world of analytics for a moment to understand a simple yet powerful truth: Mobile devices have digitized grassroots marketing, making it possible to analyze success from afar. Consider the fact that campaigns you stage in the real world are picked up in smartphone-captured photos and shared across cyberspace, notes Crain’s Chicago Business. Good lists of actionable steps for grassroots campaigns can be found at FilmmakingStuff.com, which is targeted at beginning movie makers but widely applicable to nascent marketing launches. Tips include writing down target audience demographics, setting goals within a three-month window and revising your brand website for maximum traffic related to the campaign.
5. Have fun
Grassroots campaigns naturally are exhausting because they require feet on the ground, literally or virtually. Yet time invested at the front end can produce entertaining results while furthering your brand name and mission in the public eye. Consider the winding path of Golden Road Brewing, which built its craft-beer-in-a-can atop grassroots. Now, the fun continues through unique opportunities such as product placement on Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” and prominent appearances at charitable functions, Entrepreneur reports. So grab your trowel and a glass of water and head into the backyard. Get inspired with these classic grassroots campaigns compiled by Hubspot, then start digging. You never know where your brand’s creative roots might take you next. Nate Birt is a multimedia journalist, social media enthusiast and copy editor with experience at a variety of print and digital publications, and a Certified Journalist at the Visually Marketplace. Follow him on Twitter at @natebirt.