Monthly Archives: October 2008

Shoe String Marketing – Half.com’s Urinal Screens!

A new post category. This actually originated as a separate blog, but months of negligence suggests that this can have a much better life as a category within this blog. The lofty aims which the blog (and this this category) intended to fulfill were (are) the following.

Most of us see marketing (at least marketing that would be effective) as something which is only in the reach of those who have big money. Yet there are so many startups, entrepreneurs and smaller companies which need marketing on a shoe string budget to reach out to their customers, yours truly included. This is what I call Shoe String Marketing. Recognise that Shoe String does not imply a limit on the distribution. If you manage to make it on to national television through some wicked spoof  – it’s shoe string. If you manage to become an internet phenomena by a YouTube video shot on your personal camcorder – that’s shoe string too.

The idea is to catalogue and (in due time come up with) shoe-string ways to reach out to your customer. Perhaps in the process I’ll better understand thing like defining a target audience; aim for frequency or reach; tracking a campaign (very very tricky) and more.

Thus, I will attempt to collect, review, analyse and suggest such shoe string marketing possibilities or activities and related stories – starting with the pretty old but some nevertheless innovative activities which half.com tried. Source: http://redeye.firstround.com/2006/03/get_your_fouls.html

half_oregonHalf.com in their time evidently got a town to change their name to Half.com, had the audacity to put up Urinal Screens with the text ‘Don’t Piss away all your money, shop at half.com’, and even get a chain of fortune cookie providers to put a coupon on the back of the fortune cookie.

A couple of observations – first, was this really shoe string marketing?  To get Halfway, Oregon to change their name, some amount of VC money must’ve been spent which apparently included “options such as six months of subsidized Internet access for the town, stock in Half.com, free giveaways at the annual rodeo, or a call center located in the town”. The fortune cookie company might have been convinced by the free coupon – or might have charged an advertising fee. I guess only the urinal strategy most definitely was shoe-string in terms of the expenditure. Beyond the manufacturing cost – there was no inventory cost that they must’ve paid (unless they have laws in the US about advertising inside urinals!).

half_urinalHowever, when you look at the amount of media coverage and customer attention (much more than a lazy look at a magazine ad for example) – the distribution of each of these marketing activities must’ve far exceeded the money that went into them.

I guess their very unique positioning – to be able shop for anything at half the price – helped them increase the potential means to market themselves (and of course the potential taglines).

However, that does not mean that you cannot find a something related to your company’s niche that might serve as a perfect channel for a campaign, and more importantly – until you find a way to differentiate and position yourselves accordingly – it’s hard to come up with a unique marketing message.

(Note to self: Jargon alert – which means understand these better > distribution,frequency/reach, positioning.)