Joshua Tehee

Joshua Tehee: In the world of disruptive marketing, we’re all consumers — and marketers, too

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Disruptive marketing — designed to break through the clutter — is becoming more common.

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At SXSW, the movie “Ex Machina” used the hook-up App Tinder to lure unsuspecting users.

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H&M was victim to an elaborate prank involving fake metal bands.


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The buzzword for this week is disruptive.

As in, disruptive marketing; the subversive, alternative advertising method du jour.

“Social media has made a very smart consumer,” says Sam Hansen, the director of marketing with the Fresno Grizzlies and a guy with some knowledge of the form. He recently reappropriated the Sacramento River Cats team logo as a bit of good-natured rivalry. His version reads “Wackramento,” and features a cartoonish-looking Grumpy cat. “You’re not just going to put up a billboard or take out an add in The Bee,” he says, with apologies to my employer.

Modern consumers see billboards and newspaper ads, even television and radio spots, as so much clutter. The key to any brand awareness, Hansen says, is breaking through that clutter.

There have been some stunning recent examples of that kind of disruption.

Take the science-fiction film “Ex Machina,” which debuted at the South by Southwest film festival last week. While at the festival, marketers used the Tinder hook-up app to pose as an attractive 25-year-old woman named Ava.

Ava is the name of the artificially intelligent robot in the film.

Users thought they were interacting (even text messaging) with a real woman (whose responses were a bit robotic), until Ava sent them to her Instagram page. It had photos and videos of the film and a link to the movie website. For those who got duped, the whole thing was offputting, no doubt.

Not all marketing of this kind comes from corporate shills.

The hip clothing retailer H&M recently fell victim to the disruptive marketing of a group of Scandinavian artists and musicians, who successfully convinced people the store was selling jackets (and jeans and T-shirts) festooned with the logos of neo-Nazi metal bands.

H&M recently started selling clothing inspired by metal music. While the store licensed logos from actual metal bands like Slayer and Metallica, it also used several generic logos from bands that don’t actually exists, assuming that no one (even those buying the patched-over jeans) would notice or care.

Strong Scene Productions used the opportunity to stage an elaborate prank. It created full back stories for the fake bands, essentially making them real, in the sense that they now had show fliers, album covers, even montage music videos. Some of the videos even had comments from fans claiming to have seen the bands live.

As a result, H&M looked like it was trying to trick its consumers (and supporting neo-Nazis in the process).

After several days, the group released this statement on its website: “We are not a label, but a one-time improvised, collective art project in the vein of Spinal Tap, Monty Python and the Yes Men with no intentions on anything except for art.”

And they marketed that art well.

Neither campaign directly targeted consumers with a product to buy. In the case of H&M, there wasn’t a product at all.

“Ex Machina’s” Tinder profile likely did zero to convince anyone to see the movie.

It did get a fair amount of press on advertising and film blogs, and in social media. In the same way, the H&M story made its way around the metal music sites and had everyone talking about Strong Scene Productions.

Both stories no doubt wormed their way into a few face-to-face chats, too.

That is the key to disruptive advertising; forget the product. Become the conversation.

It’s something to ponder.

As a writer, it would be folly to think my career doesn’t depend on those reading my words. I do, after all, have a product to sell.

In the world of disruptive marketing, we are all consumers. We’re all potential marketers, too.

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