About 10 years ago I used to run a small mobile content and marketing company. We’d created a “true tone” delivery system that a large percentage of record labels in the UK used to sell tiny pieces of their music to people to use as ringtones. As the music industry wasn’t as lucrative as it could’ve been, we’d use our mobile expertise to run marketing campaigns as well… Guerrilla marketing as it was called back then.

One such campaign was for a street artist called Banksy – at the time relatively unknown by the mainstream press but very well known to my team and I, as we were based in Banksy’s hometown, Bristol.

Bristol has always been a big music and art city, and, as it’s a small city, everybody pretty much knows everybody. So, when we got a call to see if we were interested in doing a mobile campaign for the artist we jumped at the chance…

Of course the typical small business money-bomb dropped, as it often does – “we don’t have any cash”, “could you help us out”, “is there something we can do?”, “this is very cool”… blah blah blah. Sound familiar?

This time, we didn’t immediately turn it down, which is what we’d normally have to do. We really liked Banksy’s work and the statements that he made. Yes we’d seen art like his before (Blek le Rat was doing a pretty similar thing at the time), but Banksy was local and frankly, “sticking it to the man”.

Their idea was to put a 20 ft, 3.5 tonne bronze statue, protesting the British legal system, at a secret location in London and they needed to create awareness as quickly as possible to get people there. This sounded perfect for us. It was very similar to the way that raves in the UK were organised in the 90s and we’d had a fair bit of experience in the rave scene…

What we needed to figure out was how this could help our business, instead of just being a charitable donation that we really couldn’t afford at that point.

We procrastinated for a while and then decided that we’d do the job and absorb the cost. Banksy’s management offered us two paintings, which at the time had nothing like the monetary value they do now (more on this later)… This sounded pretty good to me and my marketing partner, Seth, as we both loved graf art so much.

We sent out 15,000 text messages guiding people to the secret location. The “event” was a success and attracted a whole lot of media attention.



Flickr: The Banksy Pool

So why did we do it for free and what did we get from it?

We’d already done “cool campaigns” and we knew that these appeal to the early adopters, the evangelists (or the bandwagon jumpers, depending on your view) and the “niche experts”.

These people love to be the first to know and the first to tell others, usually in their specialist subject. These days you can see them on Twitter and Facebook posting their new discoveries relentlessly.

We figured that Banksy’s appeal was wide and not just to the graffiti artists or underground musicians. We felt that his appeal reached professionals, students, business owners, marketeers etc, and being part of the machine that helped push these messages forward would help us to extend our reach into other businesses.

Measuring this was nigh on impossible but in conjunction with the other things that we were doing, we were building our brand, creating statements of intent and attracting the kind of people that we wanted to work with.

We learnt that aligning with certain types of client, even at a loss (and oh my god, what a loss), helped us acquire other clients that wanted to be associated with them and use the same principles as the “cool kids”. The direct monetary ROI is irrelevant in this case, as it helped make the sale on multiple clients further down the chain. We were marketing ourselves as well as the client.

I’ve taken this approach for all of my businesses ever since. It’s a very simple concept. I’m sure the social media “gurus” of today have amazingly intelligent names for this type of marketing…

Essentially we helped a client, wrote off the cost, used it as marketing for us and attracted clients that wanted to align with the same values. We were both winners.

But what about those two paintings we were promised? Well, we never did receive our Banksys, but look what cropped up on the wall of the Simpleweb office earlier this week… 😉


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