Home Articles Unusual ways to use humans as the marketing medium

    Unusual ways to use humans as the marketing medium


    I received an email the other day from one of our contributors who recently bumped into an interesting entrepreneur operating out of Rialto Tower in Melbourne.

    Evidently, Kate Kay is bootstrapping… quite literally, offering her shoe-shining services to the many business men and women who pass by. But there’s a twist. Shine Shoe Shine can also be hired for special promotions where Kate engages her customers – a captive audience – in conversation about the brand/product.

    Now, I don’t like it when a hairdresser carries on with extended chit-chat, so my first reaction was to wonder why anyone would want to be pitched to while their shoes were being shined. But then again, if Kate does her job well (I gather she does), isn’t that better than being shouted at by someone in a TVC, or spending precious time scouring a web page trying to figure out how to close those dastardly pop-up/down/out ads?

    It got me thinking about other unusual advertising mediums. By comparison, shoe-shine pitching is actually pretty tame.

    Here are a few that come to mind.

    ‘Where to, guv’nor? D’ya need a phone?’

    In the late ’90s, German electronics giant Siemens launched an initiative to pay London cabbies 50 quid a week to drop positive mentions of the company’s new mobile phone model in their conversations with passengers. According to a spokesman from Impact FCA (the agency that hatched the scheme): “If a conversation is already going, the driver could say something like, ‘Did you see the football last night? Well I missed it, but I kept in touch with the score by phoning my wife for updates on my mobile phone.'” It certainly brought new meaning to the term “The Knowledge“.

    I wear your shirt

    Pretty self-explanatory. You’re a brand looking for cut-through. Jason is a dude who likes wearing shirts. There are 365 days in the year. Call him.

    The forehead billboard

    A few years back, a few entrepreneurial extremists hatched the colourful idea of offering various patches of their own anatomical real estate for advertisers to tattoo with their messages (highest bidder wins). It began with ankles and biceps, but given that the value of the stunt was commensurate with the amount of media publicity it attracted, the stakes began to rise.

    dnews Golden Palace.com forehead tattoo
    Kari Smith auctioned her forehead branding to an online gaming company, to pay for her son's education.

    In 2005, Andrew Fischer of Nebraska, USA set the advertising world buzzing when he used eBay to sell his forehead as a one-month billboard. The winning bidder paid US$30,100 for the right to place an impermanent tattoo above Fischer’s brow. He certainly knew what he was doing. He built a website to help publicise his triumph and even tried selling his forehead again the following year.

    Less of a marketer’s lark… in 2005, 30-year old Utah mother Kari Smith auctioned her forehead space for a permanent tattoo. The winning bid of US$10,000 came from Goldenpalace.com, a Canadian internet gambling company. She went through with it to pay for her son’s education after a run of misfortune: a failed marriage and deaths of several family members. When questioned by a reporter about her motivations, Smith said: “I really want to do this. To everyone else, it seems like a stupid thing to do. To me, $10,000 is like $1 million. I only live once, and I’m doing it for my son.”

    Baby branding

    What better way to get your company’s message out than by branding another human being? Even better, why pay when you can get it for free? Parents have always used baby names to define their child’s (and their own) individuality. Unfortunately, individuality and creativity don’t always ride together. Hence, we now have thousands of children named Siemens, Panasonic, Symbian, Pentium, ESPN, L’Oreal, Chevrolet, Armani, Infiniti, Chevy, Celica, Denim, Courvoisier and Canon. But it’s hard to imagine that these kids will grow up into loyal ambassadors for their more famous namesakes.

    ‘Everything I got, it’s all for sale’

    In the spirit of “if you’ve got it, use it”, companies have popped up offering to broker the rental of aspects of people’s daily lives to advertisers. For example, Springwise recently wrote about Everyday Models, a British company that provides a platform where people can rent out branding opportunities on their clothes, car, house, etc. Clay Shirky was right.

    Next time you’re getting a shoe shine or a haircut, catching a cab or sharing an elevator, and you walk away with the urge to buy a bottle of Coke, a fancy mobile phone or a new car, ask yourself whether you’ve been placed under the spell of an agent’s surreptitious soft sell. And do you care?

    Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine.