Lessons in guerilla marketing from Iran

We watched Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with fascination yesterday, not for his comments on nukes or the holocaust, but because he kicked off a firestorm of positive PR for Columbia University. School chief Lee Bollinger, initially slammed by protesters for inviting the Iranian president, began the debate with a 10-minute attack on Ahmadinejad’s views. In the U.S., Columbia U. came out shining.

All of which reminds us of guerilla marketing. When we present alternative marketing concepts to clients, the options typically fit on a flowchart and are evaluated by CPM, or cost per (mil) thousand impressions. Compared to radio, cable or print costs, the cost to make impressions with events, street teams, video people, outdoor projection ads, etc. seems astronomical. Hmm, the client says. That looks too silly, and way too expensive.

When evaluating alternative marketing, consider that it’s not just the impressions, but the word of mouth and viral shakeout that follow the event that counts. At the Iranian president’s speech yesterday, there were just a few hundred seats in the auditorium, but more than one thousand chanted and waved signs outside. The buzz ran on the news nets and the scene was carried in papers internationally. Everyone in the world with a Western inclination heard Columbia University held its own, with a little flair. Run the event against the number of seats in the house, and the CPM looks high. Consider the PR amplification, and it sure looks different.

You can’t buy that kind of buzz. Or can you?

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