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Are we in the midst of a clown crisis or guerilla marketing stunt?


There’s a time and place for everything, especially for marketing purposes. So is now really the time to see creepy clowns popping up in places like schools, parks and woods? The woods and the allegation of unknown persons dressed as clowns luring kids into them may be taking a marketing stunt too far—if it’s indeed a marketing stunt at all. With the new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT set to make its debut in 2017, a white-faced flash mob or other clown takeover would definitely create the kind of buzz marketers look for.

Guerilla marketing can sometimes be controversial, but nobody will argue it won’t jump start a conversation. When it’s done correctly, it can have a tremendous impact that can lead to viral videos, news articles, and tons more awareness. In March 2005, Agency Entourage teamed up with the merry marketing pranksters at NBC for an amazing guerrilla campaign touting, “Omnium finis imminet” (meaning “the end is near”), to promote their since-canceled show Revelations.

Omnium finis imminet guerrilla marketing campaign

It was written on trash cans, flashed on the side of downtown buildings through projection media, chalked on sidewalks and plastered on windows in cities across the nation. Going viral when viral was still relatively a new concept, candid images were uploaded throughout the Internet.

Soon both the real and virtual worlds were abuzz with speculation:

“The misspelled chalk marks would make it an even smarter viral campaign, as would the high probability for copycats that see it and think it’s cool to write “the end is coming” all over everything.”

“While I agree that SOMETHING should be done along the lines of an homage to Orson Welles and the original WotW, I would hope that Spielberg could come up with something better than this.”

“I think it’s a NBC related show for two reasons. 1.) The TV spots have only been on NBC stations and I don’t see why a movie studio would limit themselves. 2.) USA has been running it during every commercial break, leading me to believe it’s got to be a promo spot.”

It engaged people, capturing their attention and imaginations but without ever going “too far.” But soon copycats were taking to the streets with their own “end is nigh” messages, diluting the original idea.

So is the “creepy clown” fiasco really just a series of random pranks, or could it be an idea that started out as a good marketing strategy before it was taken over by outside jokesters?

And if it was a marketing stunt, is our society currently too on edge with today’s social issues to see any humor in it? Certainly, we’ve seen cases where our access to social media and the digital space can result in hysteria; rumors develop quickly and the snowballs start rolling at an unstoppable pace. But we certainly hope those cases are outcasts and not the norm.

One this is for sure, guerilla marketing—when done right—is a strategy that will never get old. As for creepy clowns, we love the idea of being scared a little before a big reveal makes the masses shout, “Ohhh!”

Feeling inspired about testing guerilla marketing? Give our team a call at (214) 414-3035 to get the conversation started!

Image from Thinkstock [DragosCondrea] 476266571

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