Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Is Ambient Marketing Good for Customers?

Posted by Becky Carroll on April 9, 2007

binoculars.jpgI recently attended a luncheon seminar at the San Diego chapter of the American Marketing Association.  The topic was ambient marketing (quick definition: also called guerilla marketing or place-based marketing by some, ambient marketing is marketing or advertising wherever customers happen to be, part of the immediate surroundings).  Presented were thought-provoking examples of good, and not so good ambient marketing campaigns.  There was also a panel of three smart ladies who discussed their views on the campaigns: Marlee Ehrenfeld, MJE Marketing Services,  Michelle Edelman, NYCA, and Maria Kniazeva, University of San Diego.  The panelists shared that ambient marketing campaigns should be entertaining, non-intrusive, and meaningful.  They also should provoke emotions, and according to Michelle Edelman, should provide an experience for customers.  I wanted to share a few photos from campaigns that stood out and share my thoughts as well.  Here we go!

clams.jpgSpar Restaurant, Mumbai, India

This campaign had giant clam shells scattered on the local beach.  When you open the shell, you find a piece of paper marketing the restaurant’s seafood festival.  The panelists liked this campaign, as it involves the customer in the experience.  It is also meaningful and relevant to the restaurant’s seafood festival.  Some feedback from this campaign was that it was too intrusive on a beach, almost like litter. 

watch.jpgBig Pilot Watch, Berlin, Germany

This campaign is a great experiential campaign, as the customer gets to “see” the watch on their own wrist!  The only question here: would someone in the market for this watch (priced around $11,000) ride the bus?

Vijay Sales

bbq.jpgThis sewer grate says, “NEED A NEW BARBECUE?” next to it, with a BBQ fork attached to the side.  Although it looks clever, the association of a sewer with food may turn stomachs.  It may also turn off some customers! Some of the panelists were concerned that someone could even trip on the BBQ fork.  This could be considered “urban spam” by some marketers.

My take: As I viewed the presentation and listened to the panelists debate the campaigns, my mind kept coming back to one idea.  How would these campaigns sit with existing customers?  The blog Shaping Youth had a recent post on how some ambient marketing can have negative repercussions, especially to youth.  I believe that certain ambient marketing campaigns can have negative impact on current customers, especially those that are very flashy or don’t seem relevant.  Customers may wonder why so much money is being spent on a “spectacle” rather than being spent on an improvement of the product or service experience.   Other ambient marketing campaigns can be very entertaining and meaningful, even strengthening the brand experience.

Before you consider ambient marketing, think through the impact it will have on prospects and current customers.  Provocative and exciting campaigns, good.  Engaging visuals, great.  Cool experience?  This is in the eye of the beholder.

Other links: The blogs adrants and branddna often give examples of ambient marketing campaigns.

(Photo credits: binocular photo by andresr; campaign photos courtesy San Diego chapter of the AMA)

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9 Responses to “Is Ambient Marketing Good for Customers?”

  1. As media producers in the ad industry, it constantly amazes me how little thought is given to the trickle down impact of ambient advertising on children. Exposure to media kids can’t “turn off” like some of the billboards, displays, signage and trashy merchandising we’ve called out in our Shaping Youth category called “damaging drek” leaves a stain on the soul far beyond any ad buy.

    The ad industry needs to be keenly aware of the cues we’re sending to kids on a much deeper level in terms of what we ‘value’ as a society. Responsibility and accountability go hand in hand, with outcomes that cannot be ignored.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Amy! Kids are highly impressionable, which will work in the favor of those marketers who reach out to them in an acceptable way. “Damaging drek”, as you call it, is marketing for company needs, not for customer needs. Kids don’t need to enter the consumer age earlier than necessary!

    Some ambient marketing is fun, and my teenage son enjoyed looking at some of these examples. He has not seen the potentially damaging campaigns you have called out recently in your blog, thank goodness. Teaching him responsibility and accountability is challenging enough without these types of influences.

    One of the areas that bothers me about ambient marketing is the attitude of some marketers to “ask forgiveness rather than ask permission”. Again, this can ultimately have a negative impact on current (and future) customers, including our youth.

  3. Excellent commentary, Becky. And you are soooo right on the forgiveness rather than permission line. Guerilla tactics can be impactful/fun & informational (think Live 8/MTV’s Rock the vote) but marketers need to stop being so self-serving and sales driven and get a clue to do the right thing from the get go.

    No one is saying ‘don’t market’ whatsoever, that’s unrealistic; Shaping Youth is saying be mindful of the methodology, messaging, and harm that comes from zero accountability! No amount of media literacy and critical thinking skill sets will help kids filter toxic drek that’s put out there solely for ‘shock value’ and sales.

    Responsibility and accountability in our industry is sorely lacking…

  4. Thanks for being a voice for youth, Amy!

  5. Hi Amy –

    First off, great read! Your article was well balanced, informative and gave great examples of what can happen when a ambient campaign goes from being a fun, positive experience where people are living, working and playing, to one that is intrusive and uncomfortable. It sounds as if the ladies in attendance on the panel that evening truly knew what they were talking about.

    Our company has conceived and executed hundreds of ambient-driven programs to-date. Most of them have been extremely successful and did exactly what they were suppose to do- blend in with, and add-to, the positive experiences within one’s day. A few, however, well…let’s just say that we’ve learned a valuable lesson on what can happen when a person is not prepared for a “covert brand message.”

    I have always believed that people should not be marketed to 24 hours a day. But in the same breath, I will say that there are a multitude of fun, positive, and most importantly, ethical, ways of connecting consumers to the brands they love.

  6. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your comment and insight! The intent of my post was to get people thinking about how ambient campaigns affect not only prospects but also current customers. They can either reinforce brand preference or damage it. As you point out, there are many fun, ethical ways this can be done to impact consumer opinion in the positive. Let me know if you want to share some examples with us!

  7. [...] read my article about harmful ambient advertising to kids, and continued the conversation on her own blog, opening up various points of view and probing further into the marketing [...]

  8. [...] is it that some ambient advertising seems harmlessly amusing (ok, downright entertaining) and some feels destructive and commercialized [...]

  9. [...] FUN post on “Customers Rock” On Ambient Advertising (great examples!) [...]

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