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Guerrilla Marketing Goes Tweet

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Sam Ewen's firm is called Interference, and that's a pretty good way to describe what he does. In a digital age, Ewen's form of guerrilla marketing manages to break through the media landscape with real-life events. For instance, in 2007, Interference caught the attention of jaded New Yorkers by offering free parking on behalf of Vespa, the scooter company. More recently, Interference set up a window display on behalf of GE Healthcare with terms like "cancer" and "death panels" that lit up whenever someone mentioned those words on Twitter. That effort promoted a "pop-up symposium" in New York last month about healthcare. Ewen is best known to people outside marketing for his 2007 stunt in Boston for Cartoon Network that made national news after police thought that electronic light boards waving middle fingers were actually bombs. Ewen discussed that incident plus the current state of guerrilla marketing.


Brandweek: Do you consider what you do guerrilla marketing?
Sam Ewen:
At this point, I consider the term "guerrilla marketing" a little misleading because there are so many people doing so many different types of nontraditional marketing that there's a sort of blurring. People are looking at alternative media and the stuff you can't buy via traditional media outlets to create experiences that people talk about. We still talk about guerrilla, and it's still on my business card, but I think people talk about guerrilla the same way they talk about experiential and the same way they talk about viral.

BW: What are some of the more interesting programs you've done recently?
SE: We've been focusing on how do you bring interaction into the media space. People are focused on social media; they're walking around with their smartphones and updating their statuses and tweeting. The more we give people opportunities to do that, the more exciting it is, such as creating art at an event where people can save it to their profiles...The more we can incorporate social technology into real-life events, the more people get excited about it.

BW: Do you find that social media amplifies what you do? Might something that you did in, say, New York, have more of a national impact now?
SE: Yeah, it's interesting. Two years ago, we did a promotion for Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and a friend of mine sent me a screen shot with someone else's Facebook status, which mentioned the promotion, with something like "I'm walking down Broadway and I saw this." That person may have 1,400 friends, and so 1,400 people have now gotten exposed to it. There's a real social currency aspect where people want to be the first to tell everyone else about it. If you give them something that's out of the ordinary to talk about, you're giving them a reason to post.    

BW: How do you go back to your clients and show ROI?
SE: We work on how many people saw it, and how many people did you engage with. And there's a multiplier effect. That's another metric. Now with search and blogs, there's another element -- how many people talked about it online.

BW: How is the business right now? Are more marketers going for guerrilla because it's less expensive than, say, TV?
SE: There have been a lot of great nontraditional shops that have closed down lately, so I think that everyone's hurting. We saw about a year ago a lot of people afraid to spend money in general. Over the last six months, we're seeing a lot more interest again. At the beginning of the year, it was all about social media, and that's all that anyone wanted to talk about.

BW: Is it more difficult now to pull off live events because people have their iPhones on or their iPods? Is it harder to get their attention?
SE: It's hard to get people's attention because people -- depending on the market -- are jaded. You can walk through Times Square in a clown suit, and you wouldn't get any attention anymore. The benefit we have is people who have iPhones have cameras. So if we get their attention, they can spread it. I still think that a lot of brands focus on top markets like New York or Chicago, for example, without realizing that you can have a lot more success in secondary markets, like Philadelphia, Boston or Cincinnati. People there haven't seen that stuff as much.

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