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How to Compete on a Small Advertising Budget

By: John Malmo

John Malmo began an advertising agency on a cardtable above a delicatessen in 1967 and built it into the largest in the mid-south. He also owned a travel agency, a clock shop, and a snack food manufacturing company. He is president of Koenig, Inc., Management Consulting, specializing in marketing, and he writes a weekly business commentary column for The Commercial Appeal. His 45 years of marketing experience encompass, virtually, every business category. Email him at:

The increased level of media advertising finally has reached the tipping point. It has created generations of consumers who just tune it out, and it has made it impossible for small advertisers to compete.

So, a new tactic is increasing in favor. For more than 100 years it was labeled "publicity stunt." For the past 30 years it fell under the title, "guerrilla marketing." Today, it is known simply as "buzz."

Buzz solves both problems. It grabs the attention and imagination of blasé consumers, and itís affordable on a modest budget.

Buzz is promotional action that neither looks nor sounds like advertising. It may be bold and audacious, a juxtaposition of elements or location. It may be packaging innovation, or veiled commercial messages delivered as news. Buzz often involves humor. Heaven forbid, buzz may be created even in advertising.

Buzz is designed to turn consumers themselves into the medium that delivers the promotional message to other consumers, as in "buzz, buzz, buzz."

Swiss Swatch Watches were introduced in Germany by a 500-foot watch suspended from the top of the tallest skyscraper in Hamburg. Everybody in Hamburg and millions all over Germany got the message.

An auto body shop bought refrigerator magnets that look like bandaids, printed with "Ouch" and the shopís name, to slap on dented fenders.

A marinade brand hired kids to tie tin cans behind their cars and paint "Just Marinaded" and the brand name on the trunks, and drive around town.

Pharmaceutical companies hire star athletes to talk about their ailments on radio and TV talk shows, and about the medicines they use.

A law firm put its name, phone number and "Personal Injury Attorneys" on yellow, plastic barriers and placed them on broken sidewalks and wet floors.

This is buzz, where innovation and clever thinking replace dollars.

With some products buzz just happens. The Harry Potter books are so engaging that it would have been impossible to suppress the buzz.

Thatís the exception. Most successful buzz campaigns are carefully conceived and executed by highly experienced pros. The VW retro Beetle was conceived to create buzz for Volkwagenís entire line. The Beanie Baby craze itself was pure, unadulterated buzz.

Tickle Me Elmo became a Christmas blockbuster in 1996 because a public relations agency sent one to Rosie OíDonnellís son, and Rosie played with the doll on her show, setting off a publicity mushroom.

The Goodyear and Snoopy blimps are buzz tactics. The guy who used to dress up as Mr. Peanut and hand out free peanuts in front of the Planters Peanut store on Main Street was buzz.

Every product or service brand can use buzz as a cost-efficient and effective promotional tactic. Success requires real imagination, discipline, and a lot of picky, follow through.

Ever wonder who to credit for those huge, white H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D letters that youíve seen a million times? Just call him "Buzz."

© Copyright 2001, John Malmo

Other Articles by John Malmo

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