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Guerrilla Marketing Takes a Soft-Boiled Approach

A big U.S. railroad is scrambling up a new way to get its message out.

CSX is launching a safety-awareness campaign that will eschew television commercials in favor of a soft-boiled guerrilla-marketing approach that includes hiring folks to throw eggs at CSX's outdoor billboards.

The billboards, which will be placed in cities around the country such as Nashville, Tenn., Mobile, Ala., and Dayton, Ohio, carry the stark black-on-white words "Cars hitting trains." The eggs smashing against the billboard are intended to demonstrate the impact of a car hitting a train. By drawing attention from local media, the campaign is intended to get people to be careful when crossing railroad tracks. It says 47 people were killed last year crossing CSX railroad tracks. All of the billboards will be positioned near rail crossings.

In the past few years, corporations have embraced attention-getting guerrilla marketing tactics. Marketers such as AT&T Wireless Services, Microsoft and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications have used clever, nontraditional ad pitches such as street theater, wild street postings and brand evangelists, or people paid to spread the word about a product. Now the gimmicky promotional techniques are increasingly being used in cause-related marketing efforts and public-service campaigns.

Safety messages can be "boring and easily overlooked," says Gary Sease, spokesman for CSX. Adds Eric Hartsock, president of Eisner Communications' Eisner Underground, the Baltimore marketing firm that crafted the marketing effort: "We need something that can cut through all the message clutter out there." The Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad concern is spending "well under" $1 million on the new marketing initiative, which also includes radio and print ads, Mr. Sease says.

While marketers have used the nontraditional approach to spark buzz about their products amid the deluge of pitches that bombard consumers, marketers backing cause-related pitches and public-service efforts, which often rely on donated media time, have taken more time to warm up to the in-your-face ad methods. "Many social marketers have been very reluctant to push beyond the tools they have used in the past," says Jeff Hicks, chief executive of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Crispin, of Miami, gained national attention in 1998 with a unique antismoking effort in Florida that included covering an entire train in an ad and having youngsters on board trying to persuade other teens not to smoke.

Companies and groups looking to get out safety messages or promote causes are facing an increased number of other organizations looking to do the same. Spending on cause-related marketing jumped 12% last year to more than $1 billion, according to JAMI Charity Brands Marketing, a New York company that creates cause-marketing efforts on behalf of corporations. "There is so much competition today for donated ad space," says Stephen Adler, chief executive of JAMI. "Companies have to find new tactics."

The Ad Council, the nonprofit group behind such well-known messages as the Smokey Bear campaign to prevent forest fires, has ramped up its use of nontraditional marketing pitches. While the group managed to secure $1.3 billion in donated media time and space last year for its campaigns, the organization says it is increasing its use of newfangled ad approaches because it has become harder to reach some audiences with TV alone. Later this month, for example, the group will dispatch street teams to minor-league ballparks around the country to distribute pamphlets on terrorism preparedness to families. The group has also enlisted the help of the Boy Scouts of America to help spread the word.

"Everyone knows how difficult it is to reach the youth audience and young families today," says Peggy Conlon, chief executive of the Ad Council. "We have to find new ways to reach them."

 

Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal. July 8, 2004.

Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.

 

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