Should Programmatic Embrace Guerrilla Marketing Tactics?

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Programmatic advertising appears to epitomise all that is scientifically predictable in marketing. Aided by sophisticated algorithms, we are able to construct online campaigns that can accurately target an audience at a fraction of the cost that hand-picked media buying delivers.

It’s a proposition that has proved overwhelmingly persuasive to marketers and their agencies; eMarketer predicts that around 70% of total digital display ad spending will be via programmatic this year.

Yet, it’s still a subject that invites substantial debate. Does our collective love affair with programmatic mean that we have tipped marketing too far towards the numbers? Are we missing opportunities for creatively planning a campaign in a way that only humans can?

To achieve optimum results from programmatic, marketers and brands need to integrate research in to the creative process – producing programmatic creative which is evidence-based in its appeal. Campaigns need to be personalised and relevant to individuals throughout their customer journey, and also stand out from the crowded advertising landscape. We can’t rely on robots to do this just yet.

This is where the seemingly unlikely alliance of programmatic with guerrilla marketing comes in. For some brands, this is a way they can have all the cost and accuracy benefits of programmatic with the added spice that only ‘guerrilla’ tactics can provide.

Guerrilla marketing focuses on unconventionality; surprising (or even shocking) consumers into taking notice and posting up pictures or comments for their digital communities to see. Like its namesake, guerrilla warfare, these type of campaigns are also often designed to directly sabotage rivals.

Using guerrilla tactics against competitors is becoming more accessible for brands, but guerrilla marketing in the age of programmatic isn’t just a one-off glorified outdoor PR stunt, as it may have appeared in the ‘90s.

This type of activity should simply be a tactic employed as part of a wider strategy, encompassing intelligent behavioural targeting based on insight, automated solutions, engaging formats, cross channel flexibility, and compelling, dynamic, relevant content – producing a complete end to end journey for each individual consumer.

We worked with car hire company Avis to create a campaign that was programmatically-driven but incorporated a guerrilla element. We planned for digital ads in the ‘Unlock the World’ campaign to appear next to negative social mentions of rival brands, or positive mentions of Avis.

Fitness First’s ‘Weighting for the Bus’ campaign in the Netherlands is a good example of how guerrilla tactics can be individually customised. The gym chain converted a bus stop seat into a weighing scales to highlight people’s weight in kilos in bright lights for all to see – hoping to convince them of the merits of going to the gym.

Guerrilla marketing has its place within the outdoor/experiential environment, however, with programmatic it is more about brands being hyper relevant allthe time. The new guerrilla marketing isn’t only limited to experiential work either. At its best it moves between a variety of formats. Brands can track their competitors marketing and create digital ambush campaigns to sabotage their competitor’s proposition and generate conversations and social buzz.

Guatemalan shoe store Meat Pack’s ‘Hijack’ campaign shows how guerrilla tactics can be complemented by data-driven insights that customise a campaign for each consumer. It created an app using GPS tracking technology to recognise potential buyers entering a competitor’s store, and triggering a special notice offering a promotion for Meat Pack. The discount started at 99% and decreased by a percentage with every second that passed.

The countdown sent people rushing to the Meat Pack store – the faster they got there, the better discount they received. Now that is creative and actually a pretty simple idea. Not many brands are thinking as innovatively as this and delivering in such a fun, engaging way.

But what happens afterwards – once you have bought a pair of shoes from Meat Pack? Is the rest of the customer journey as engaging and innovative? For example, next week when they check the weather on their mobile, do they see an ad promoting appropriate footwear according to the weather in their location? This would have been a programmatic/personalisation blend at its best.

My belief is that we are just at the start of the second phase of programmatic. Having delivered its early cost and targeting benefits we can now start to look at how we can use the technology to enhance some more creatively-driven work. But the real success will come with focusing on end to end personalisation, not guerrilla stunts.

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