Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Taking your marketing to the streets.

A few weeks ago, Black Sheep saw the Banksy film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Of course we did! Banksy is basically the Dalai Lama of attention-grabbing, thought-provoking, guerrilla marketing tactics. Okay, maybe not marketing, per se, but he certainly sends a message in an unexpected way, and he’s been the source of inspiration for many Black Sheep projects.

What? You’re not familiar with the greatest street artist of all time? We’ll fill you in.

You get the idea.

Anyway, the movie chronicles Banksy and several other esteemed street artists like Shepard Fairey, Neckface and Space Invader as they undertake amazing, brilliant and often dangerous pursuits of street art, all through the eyes of an amateur “filmmaker.” As time progresses, the filmmaker decides to become a street artist himself, and he produces one of the largest exhibits ever featuring knock-offs of his more famous predecessors, leaving the audience to question his talent, his passion, and ultimately the plausibility of the entire film.

So even though the message rang true to us, half the fun of the movie was to see the outrageous products of the street art movement and the reactions of the people passing by. And while, perhaps, Banksy’s work lies in somewhat of a “legal gray area,” the ideology is something the most upright citizens can learn from.

Take chances. Our best clients are the ones that say, “We’ll try it! If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we’ll try again.” As with business entrepreneurship, a risk is always involved, and the reward is usually directly proportional. I’m sure at some point Banksy wheat pasted something to the side of a building, and either got caught, got chastised or ripped his papers and failed at the venture entirely. It happens.

Expect dissent. Not everyone is going to like everything you do, especially if it has a strong message or meaning. Don’t worry about it. These people are not your audience. If you look back on the greatest ideas of all time, they had their naysayers too, so don’t let the possibility of criticism hold you back.

Bask in glory. Creating something big that catches people off-guard – a performance marketing stunt, a protest, a mural on the side of the wall or an underground grassroots campaign all over town – will get noticed. People will stop, take pictures and tell their friends. Those friends will tell their friends. Nothing is more valuable than a memorable experience, and when you use a “shock and awe” approach, you’re giving the people something they’ll not soon forget.

Don’t be a copycat. If you watch the film we mentioned above, you’ll see that in the street art world, imposters are not welcomed. If you’re going to do something that gets a lot of attention, make sure it’s thoughtful and original.

Wise up. Performance marketing requires a little humor and a little silliness too, but it also needs to be smart and insightful. Connecting emotionally and intellectually with your audience is essential to the success of any campaign, and this arena is no different. If you notice Banksy’s work, it’s not just meant to get a laugh or distract – there is a serious, often political, message attached to every piece of art. It is this jarring, poignant quality that makes his work so renowned.

Street artists find inspiration in the things around them. A wall is not just a wall – it’s a canvas. A sidewalk is not just used for traveling – it’s an artist’s playground. Try to find creative outlets in the unordinary, and take chances when you have the opportunity. Oh, and definitely go see Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mind the Generation Gap.

Like any great movement, Black Sheep’s unorthodox approach to marketing has been met with dissent from time to time. And that’s okay! We definitely appreciate feedback, but we’re also confident in our progressive attitude and our anti-formulaic “formula.” We’ve proven it works time and again... and again. But, in the interest of open discussion, we thought we’d explain why our practices, while a bit mischievous and unpredictable, are also enlightening and transparent. We’re by no means subversive, irreverent or maniacal, we just identify with our peers and know how get their attention. So listen up, naysayers! You just might learn something from the younger generation.

A lot of people tout their “20 years of experience,” and while it’s certainly commendable, in this day and age, if you aren’t adapting to the new frontier of marketing, it is also somewhat irrelevant. What may have worked on the baby boomers doesn’t stand a chance with millenials or gen x-ers, and those tried and true tactics are proving ineffective. This group of young adults is often termed the “unreachable” generation because our attention spans are fleeting, we’re not easily impressed, and we have a different set of values. And while 20 years ago we were being dressed by our parents and listening to New Kids on the Block (aahh, Joey…), we’ve grown up, and we’re responsible for a significant part of the disposable income in this country, a portion that is only growing since the boomers are retiring and becoming more spendthrift while we continue moving upward.

This generation is a complex one, and there are lots of factors to be considered when marketing to them. Trust us, we’re speaking from experience.

We want to save the world. Our generation will spend more money if a product is greener, if it comes from a better company and if it serves some greater purpose than its utilitarian one, and we’re the only set who’s embraced that movement. Our businesses, actions and decisions as consumers are more socially responsible. We’ve created TOMS shoes, we’re taking classes in social entrepreneurship, and we’re EXPECTING businesses to follow suit. This means that existing companies need to show us how they’re doing their altruistic part, and they need to do it well – this generation can see through faux philanthropy pretty easily.

[Image via Adlicious]

We don’t think technology is a novelty.  Actually, we don’t think anything is a novelty. Just ask Mark Zuckerburg, the inventor of Facebook, Chad Hurley from YouTube and Matt Mullenweg from WordPress. These guys don’t even remember a time before Web 2.0, and for the rest of us, we wouldn’t know life without these platforms, much less smart phones, text messaging and Google Maps. While you’re gawking over how fast it’s moving, we’re complaining it’s not fast enough. While you’re just figuring out this whole “social media thing,” it’s second-nature to us, and we’re ready for the next big thing. So, if you think you can impress us with what you can do and how life-changing your product or services is, think again. We’ve already researched your company and moved on. To get our attention, you have to show you understand us and appeal to our emotions and our sense of humor.

We appreciate love irony. Betty White. Beards. Vintage and/or sarcastic t-shirts. Loving bad movies and even elements of indie rock. This generation is totally self-aware, and we like it that way. We’ll create a trend just because we think it might be funny. We’ll wear ridiculous outfits for the sake of being ridiculous. We have so many inside jokes, you can’t even begin to catch up, and nothing can be taken at face value. Wanna get our attention? Join the crowd. Embrace our ironic, hipster-influenced sub-culture, and use imagery, verbiage and attitude that we can appreciate. If you can be absurd and clever, your business (whether you’re selling toothpaste or color printers) could catch on in a big way. But, while some people are under the impression that absurdity is itself the key, the REAL solution is using this tactic strategically. What may seem silly on the surface must be backed up with intellect and purpose. Then, and only then, will these trendy approaches work. 

We’re into theatrics. We’re not a shy generation, and we’re happy to dance in streets, make fools of ourselves and sport outrageous costumes. You think we care what you think? We don’t. Which is why, for our generation, publicity stunts and other unexpected marketing performances are always well received. (We don’t mean getting married and divorced within a week to obtain celebrity status – this is not the kind of publicity stunt we’re talking about.) We mean hitting the streets, causing a scene and using our devil-may-care attitude to get people to take out their earbuds and listen. But what happens next is the best part – the people join in. They dance or sing or carry on because they think it’s smart and fun, and heck, they’ve got no pride either. Keep in mind, we’re not impressed by much and our attention spans couldn’t be shorter, so some ranky-dank show isn’t going to phase us. We expect big. We want something to tell our unshakable friends, and we want something to blog and Tweet about.

We’re not perfect, and truthfully, we’re big fans of a lot of the things your generation brought us. The Beatles and Woodstock and civil rights movements… all awesome. We’re giving you props, so take the plunge and give us our due credit as well. There’s something to be learned from everyone, and who knows, you might just have a little fun doing things our way!