“The whole idea of guerrilla marketing is to transform cold prospects into consenting partners.” Jay Conrad Levinson

Levinson´s brilliant article makes analogies between sex and guerrilla marketing…here, I´ll focus on a couple examples where sex was blatantly used to market small businesses in atypical guerrilla fashion. Both examples offended people and ruffled feathers. Why was one a brilliant success and one a colossal failure?

In early May, Chicago commuters were greeted with the following billboard:

It caught the eye of every U.S. media outlet. Lots of people hated the sign, especially those that viewed the sign as actually encouraging divorce. Due to improper permitting, the City of Chicago forced it to be removed, which kept the story in the media for a longer period of time. When a new version of the sign went up, news coverage continued giving the firm even more exposure.

Were there tangible results? The lead lawyer of the firm appeared on network television and the local news stations provided saturation coverage of the story. Alexa shows huge traffic spikes to their website. The firm got links from the Wall Street Journal and the Tom Leykis show. Variants of their ad slogan appear close to 30,000 times in Google. Almost every prospect in their target market likely knows of the firm (or at least the ad) and in an industry where few lawyers create any ads (let alone memorable ones), this firm has grabbed incredible mindshare by advertising with this sexy billboard.

The ad likely resonated with people because it portrayed divorce and the opportunity to be single as a hedonistic fantasyland so far removed from the truth (for most of us) that a viewer can suspend reality long enough to laugh, remember the image/message, and tell all their friends. The word-of-mouth around Chicago must have been tremendous. Through their billboard, the firm has branded themselves as the Chicago divorce lawyers that everyone knows. They should now reinforce their display advertising with SEO / PPC / Social Media Optimization to make their branding as strong online as it is off.

By contrast, I found via SEO-Blokes a story published on an online marketing agency website entitled “How Website Design Got Me Laid” (link no-followed) , which is a textbook example of how not to brand your business with sex.

Now, I´m not totally against the concept of writing a story about a tryst at a SEO conference (which what was done here), providing that it´s clearly fictional and (perhaps) a vehicle that satirizes the unique interpersonal relationships that can occur between conference attendees:

“The look she gave me from across the room made me realize I don´t need to surf Google Images with safe search “off” anymore…she was shallow and superficial, so I nicknamed her ´Mahalo…I never dugg blondes but have always preferred Reddit heads”

Unfortunately, the unnamed author (no name makes the offense even worse) does not make it clear to the reader whether this is parody or truth…and in the small search community, if it could be true, people will start to wonder who is represented in the story and do I know them?

I guess (and I´m reaching for any explanation why this story would appear on a corporate website) that the company in question is trying to brand itself as young and hip. However, casting the narrator in the Dustin Hoffman “Graduate” role and setting the story at SMX just doesn´t work. The story make the narrator look like a total dolt and by portraying the female character as a simple-minded Mrs. Robinson, is extremely insulting to all women.

Along with the book publisher who swiped Google´s laptop, Lifeblue (the agency that published the story) has to be strongly considered for the marketing turd of the year award. I can´t see any positive outcomes arising from this effort.

If you decide to use sex to advertise your small business, be very careful…you might be cutting edge or you just might get cut.

Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon’s Search Engine Marketing Association.

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