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Intrusive marketing has advantages, but slippery slope

Posted Monday, April 9, 2012, at 11:15 AM

Intrusive marketing gets a bad rap. It's often thought of as overly invasive and a turnoff to customers. Done thoughtlessly and in poor taste, it certainly can be. However, savvy brands understand the power of taking your prospective customer off guard and breaking through all of the advertising clutter competing for their attention.

A form of guerrilla marketing, intrusive marketing is known for both its placement in a customer's personal space and the startling or unexpected nature of its message.

With intrusive marketing, you're not necessarily targeting the consumer at the point of purchase, but because the advertising channel and message are unexpected, a good intrusive campaign drives action nonetheless.

Online shoe retailer Zappos is known for its guerrilla marketing strategies. Travelers mindlessly going through the motions at airport security are surprised to find Zappos ads at the bottom of the nondescript grey bins they never thought twice about.

One ad reads "Place your shoes here. Buy your shoes at Zappos.com." This ad is in the consumer's personal space -- as they wind up carrying the ad through security -- and is optimally presented when they are actually thinking about their shoes.

When you're taking your shoes off, you may notice how they are worn out or out of style. Shoes on the mind, coupled with airport WiFi access and wait time, allows for a prime opportunity for travelers to shop Zappos.com.

Feed the Children deployed an intrusive marketing campaign in grocery stores across America by placing an ad in the bottom of shopping carts. The ads featured an engaging three-dimensional graphic of a needy child who seems to be sitting right in your cart reaching for the can of food you're placing inside. The message on the cart handle includes a call to action to donate to the organization through its website.

While Zappos and Feed the Children have a handle on executing consumer-friendly intrusive campaigns, there are plenty of examples of intrusive marketing disasters.

Charmin took a social media campaign a bit too far by placing "Charmin Ambassadors" in Charmin-branded public bathrooms to greet and entertain visitors and blog about those experiences.

Visitors were interrogated after their restroom visits with intrusive questions, the answers to which served as fodder for the brand's blog. Some of the least shocking of the questions asked were: "What was the most enjoyable part of your bathroom experience?" Or, "How much Charmin did you use?" Or, "Can you tell me about your technique?" Ambassadors even offered to sing a little song to entertain visitors while they finished up. This clearly goes beyond intrusive to invasive marketing. It's hovering over marketing's proverbial toilet bowl.

While intrusive marketing has its advantages, it can be a slippery slope. Your goal is to engage in a surprisingly positive way.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN. www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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Guerilla Sales & Marketing
Lori Turner-Wilson
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Lori spent over 15 years leading corporate marketing and communications divisions in the financial services, hospitality and franchise restaurant sectors. As Director of Target Marketing for the Hampton Hotels brand of Hilton Hotels Corporation, Lori managed promotional, direct and Web marketing, as well as custom publishing, for the brand's franchise system. In her role as Vice President of Employee Communications and Development for First Horizon National Corporation, she managed the corporation's internal culture initiatives, communications, and employee recognition programs. Other positions held include Sr. Communications Director/Corporate Editor for TCBY Enterprises, Inc., and Vice President of Marketing for First National Banking Company. Lori is a founding sponsor and member of the Board of Directors for LaunchMemphis -- an organization committed to developing an entrepreneurial community in Memphis comprised of investors, entrepreneurs and local organizations. In addition, Lori is on the Board of Directors of the Sales and Marketing Society of the Mid-South and on the Advisory Board for the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County. She is a sought-after speaker in the Memphis area, delivering sales and marketing keynote addresses and workshops to organizations like: the Memphis Chapter of the American Advertising Federation, the Sales & Marketing Society of the Mid-South, LaunchMemphis, EmergeMemphis, the Memphis Regional Chamber, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Lori holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in addition to having completed the University of Colorado's School of Bank Marketing and Management. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards including local and district Addy's, Communicator awards, and a Telly. She received recognition as one of the Memphis Business Journal's "Top 40 Under 40" recipients in 2009. Lori also served as a contributing ghost writer for the renowned "Complete Idiot's Guide to Guerilla Marketing." Beyond her passions for marketing and dogs of all shapes and sizes, Lori is an avid traveler, runner and foodie.