Friday, February 27, 2004


I’ve been conned: The flier I described so long ago was an example of guerilla marketing for the Sci Fi Channel reality show “Mad, Mad House,” in which average joes move in with a modern primitive, nudist, Wiccan, vampire and voodoo priestess.

(I was informed of this almost immediately. All the time since has been wasted waiting for the Sci Fi Channel people to return my phone calls, but I’m giving up.)

Guerilla marketing, or viral marketing, is advertising on the cheap that sneaks past people’s defenses. Handing out T-shirts, holding conversations meant to be overheard, posting intriguing fliers -- all are examples, although such hardcore techniques are all but ignored in available media on marketing. Jay Conrad Levinson’s “Guerilla Marketing for Free” has next to nothing to say on bait-and-switch fliers, for instance, and it’s the No. 1 book on the topic listed at

One wonders if the fliers work. Although I was fooled into talking about them in a more or less public forum, the trail they started faltered immediately: The telephone number listed wasn’t in service. A Google search for the person last connected with that number brought up nothing useful.

Then a couple of weeks passed and new fliers appeared, with a different phone number. Call it and you get a recording of a woman saying the room has been taken -- and a suggestion to watch the TV show. So those wily Sci Fi guerillas give it up immediately, or even faster, if such a thing is possible: The new phone number is 617.206.30124, and the extra digit is an immediate tip-off that the flier isn’t what it appears to be.

Travelocity did much better with its 26-city “missing garden gnome” fliers, which brought people to what was ostensibly some poor guy’s Web site but was actually part of an $80 million advertising campaign. And the “Blair Witch” site, the guiding light for guerilla marketing, never gave up that it was fake, which contrasts with “Mad, Mad House” like a Baked Alaska compares with an off-brand candy bar.

This may help explain why the Sci Fi Channel goes to 78 million households in the United States but “Mad, Mad House” is having so little impact. If it’s the idea of guerilla marketing to create street-level buzz around a product, the show’s mysterious fliers hit a little low. They’re being kicked around winter-ugly asphalt, winding up in gutters with discarded fast-food wrappers.

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