Guerrilla advertising past and present: Talking with Miami

Despite having been around as long as advertising itself, guerrilla advertising and ambient ads seem to be a little like cinderella, the step child who only gets invited to the ball because the prince is desperate. Often it seems that the guerrilla stunts are haphazardly thrown together as an after thought within a branding campaign. So I called up Miami, the ad agency who's main business is guerrilla and unusual stunts to talk about the past, present and future of these ads outside of mainstream media.

(Photograph by Karim Hatoum )
Miami advertising are located in Gothenburg, Sweden and we've previously done a spotlight on Miami. They've worked for clients as varied as Ikea and the politicial conservative party, clients as large as Mitsubishi Motors as well as small like local Spanish tapas bars. If anyone knows what they're talking about it would be Fredrik Olsson, far right above. (more inside)

db: Everyone asks this question so I can't not do it (how's that for a double negative?). Can one do an entire branding campaign with guerrilla advertising alone? People always ask things like "can you launch a brand with word of mouth alone" and "can you launch a brand with Internet advertising alone" etc?

Fredrik: Sure you can, but building a brand from the ground up with guerrilla alone demands a lot of energy and the right attitude from the company. The guerrilla thinking, the philosophy and the whole alternative way of thinking must be at the core of the company. One must also be aware that building a guerrilla brand in general takes a little more time and passion than if you launch through traditional media, such as TV, newspapers and billboards. To get the maximum effect out when you've created unconventional campaigns and appear at places where your competition is absent you need to have a well thought PR strategy and have befriended the journalists and media that you want. But, sometimes guerrilla is not just the road less travelled but the only road left for a brand new brand who enters an over established market, if they don't have the economic muscle to challenge the old competition. Don't out-spend them, out-smart them. Employing guerrilla under these circumstances also sends positive "underdog" signals to the consumers, who often have had bad experiences with the brand giants.

db: good points. I recall one brand which was born and grew strong before employing the big guns (TV & Cinema), namely Red Bull. Still today Red Bull have a lot of guerrilla in their roots and their marketing, they sponsor happenings, show up on race cars and even managed to get what looked like royal endorsement when they sponsored a competition that Prince Carl-Philip rode in. Can you name a Swedish/Scandinavian brand who might be "Sweden's answer to Red Bull".

Fredrik: Red Bull have been very active on the guerrilla-front, no doubt about it. A good example is the Swedish bike brand "Kronan" who have launched and grown big by way of guerrilla ads. Another one is Gregers brand "we" who have done a lot with their "Superlative conspiracy".

db: I just thought of another one, remember the Gevalia "when you have unexpected visitors" campaign? That was an ancient campaign and tag line which was getting all predictable, and suddenly they had buses slamming through Spy bar and...

Fredrik:...trains coming up from the underground. Yes that's right, they were quite active and very well thought out for a while there. Another example is what Åkestam & Holst has been doing for Pause.

db: Yes, giant speakers and all that. When we were talking the other day you were sharing some terrible examples of established ad agencies half-hearted attempts with guerrilla advertising. Why do you think that full service ad agencies think its so much fun to slap together "something guerrilla/ambient" seemingly with their left pinky. Is it their lust for advertising award metal perhaps? I mean, why don't they do something strategically sound while they are at it? What do you think? Is it the clients, the agencies or the agency employees fault - or perhaps is it a problem with the medium?

(Miami's campaign to keep your dog leashed in parks in Gothenburg)

Fredrik: That the conventional agencies want to do guerrilla ads is only natural today. It's a small discipline that has gone from being hip to becoming more common. This means that more and more clients are getting interested in it, and start asking for alternatives. And presto, the "communication malls" will have to open up a new department just so that they can still call themselves "full service". If you check your rear view mirror, the trend is obvious. Internet/web was an area that small specialist agencies took care of when needed, today most major agencies have that skill set in-house. Action marketing and Event Marketing are other examples. It's likely that guerrilla will go the same way, since the discipline itself is popular with the large agencies creatives as it has a lot of freedom and fits fresh thinking. You get the opportunity to try something new and invent or try new channels. The campaigns are often noticed in the trade press, and the creatives like that. From the ad agency brass' point of view guerrilla advertising is a way to show off to their competition, and keep their own creatives cool so that they don't pack up their portfolios and piss off to a more "crazy" creative agency. Sadly, guerrilla advertising is seldom used in a serious way but often ends up as the "fun" cherry on top of a bland campaign sunday, as an afterthought. Naturally, the alternative activities should be planned into the branding strategy from the very beginning, and the ideas hatched at the same time as you fine tune the message and sort out the media mix. Thats when it is the most relevant nd helps strengthen the rest of the communication for the brand.

db: You know, that bit about using or inventing new channels is interesting, but sometimes it seems as if that is the only thing you do when you "do guerrilla". Nicorette did these really nice enamel signs in the London Underground ten odd years ago, where they were placed right underneath the non smoking signs. Nicorette's sign read: "it's times like these you need Nicorette" (or words to that effect). There, the new channel is perfect for the target group but sometimes you see new media invented just for invention's its sake. Could you name a "right" channel and a "wrong" channel, and how does that happen?

Fredrik: Yes, often you see that people mess it up just by throwing out some fun happening at a town square without thinking. The key word is relevance. Then you'll meet the target group where it is so incredibly spot on. If for example, you are going to create advertising in the toilet it's an advantage if the company and the message has something to do with shit. And all that. SMS advertising is something that I personally don't believe in much.
Advertising on the back of parking tickets isn't always good either, although right now were actually doing something where an extremely relevant message would fit nicely on a ticket. Those "home made" notes that are stuck everywhere and are difficult to remove aren't that much fun. I was never a big fan of "wild posters" either. What I do like are things like our "price tag" for hyresgästsföreningen, as it was distributed via the members magazine and they themselves put the tags up on their doors to engage other people in their building. There's been an inflation in post-it notes and I don't want to use that again no matter how relevant it might be.

db: right. So if you had to choose one of your competitors campaigns, could you name the best - in your opinion - guerrilla campaign out there?

Fredrik: Ah. The most powerful and longest running guerrilla campaign in Sweden was for SBAB created by some crazy nutters at TBWA. The crew that did that campaign have since moved on to another agency, I think Johan Öhlin who is now at Le Bureau was one of them.

(Photograph by Karim Hatoum )
db: Ok, I'll take that as a challenge to send these questions on, I'll see if I can get a hold of Johan at Le Bureau from the SBAB group for more guerrilla advertising talk. Thanks for the chat Fredrik, and good luck with more Miami stunts. *holds up martini glass in toast*

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Robblink's picture

A Swedish agency named "Miami Advertising"?
Reminds me of the Spanish agency named "Welcome to Orange County".

Very U.S.A.-ish...

Dabitch's picture

Ha, WTOC was formed by Swedes, Danes and one exiled American. ;) In Spain!

Robblink's picture

Yikes! Welcome to the United Nations.

aiiobo's picture

Great inteview, and may I add, great photos!

adscam's picture

Well, DaBitch asked me to have a look at the Swedish guerilla mob thing, and all I can say is Yes

deeped's picture

Knowing Fredrik, Johan and Gustaf there is probably no fake in those bottles...
And hey, wake up listen to the music - the best Swedish advertising isn't produced in Fathult (aka Stockholm).