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To Your Stealth

Send your PR operatives and undercover product lovers deep into customer territory.

Big companies, typically slow to adopt cutting-edge marketing strategies, are flocking to low-cost and high-visibility street marketing. Also known as "stealth" or "undercover" marketing, what was the domain of entrepreneurs is now in the hands of giants. When IBM had its logo spray-painted on sidewalks for the "Peace, Love and Linux" campaign, it raised eyebrows (and the ire of public works departments) and got a lot of media hype for a little cash.

"Brands are finding [street marketing] programs are cost-effective and lend credibility," says Kelly Weinberg, senior vice president of sales and marketing for RPMC, a marketing and promotions agency in Calabasas, California, that has created street events for Levi Strauss and 7-Eleven.

A 30-second TV spot may deliver millions of eyeballs, says Sam Travis Ewen, CEO of Interference Inc., a New York City marketing agency, but a well-executed street campaign creates "evangelical" customers.

Consider how these companies influenced people where they live, work and play:

  • Beer.com produced 50,000 bottle caps featuring its name and left them in bars during peak party times such as Mardi Gras and spring break.
  • MainSpring, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, e-business consulting firm, planted subway riders with newspapers featuring fake back-page ads for the company. The idea was to give the impression the firm is well-established and very successful.
  • A vodka company hired ad agency Big Fat to place young hipsters with nice cheekbones at bars throughout New York City. Their mission? Sing the praises of vodka cocktails and oh-so-subtly get patrons to sample the spirit themselves.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To Your Stealth.

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