Friday, October 30, 2009

Street Campaigns: Is Yours a Good One?

Let’s start with a quiz: A couple of ol’ guys park a pick-up and a sedan on a main road. They prop large photos against their vehicles and then get out their coffee cups and lean against the bed of the pick-up truck and (I’m guessing) shoot the bull. What are they doing?

A. Protesting abortion
B. Filling time
C. Living dangerously as the woman trying to reach the sippy cup that rolled under the seat drives by and almost doesn’t see the guy crossing the street

My son thinks they are selling vehicles and when he’s old enough, he’d like the truck. The signs would be awesome, too, because he could lean them against the truck and make a fort. He’s seven and hasn’t yet noticed the content of the signs.

I love a good street campaign, but this one doesn’t work.

What makes a bad street campaign?

Well, first, no one should know it’s a street campaign, so big signs are out. The ol’ guys with their signs are too obvious and too passive. Go do something like volunteer at an orphanage. Or be a Big Brother. Set an example that others can follow. Don’t stand on the street creating a road hazard.

Never use a clip boards. My husband and I were in California this summer, and a street team approached us with the question, “Do you want to help President Obama solve health care?”

Hmmm. Let’s see. The 20-something held a clip board and looked hopeful in shorts and a ponytail. Does President Obama take advice from shorts and a ponytail?

If we said yes, would a black sedan whisk us around the corner to the federal building for a private meeting with President Obama? Would childcare for our two quite jetlagged children be provided while we worked out the details of healthcare reform? What about food? We were really just trying to get to the hamburger joint.

We said no thanks. Sorry if we let down the President. Or the nation.

Something for nothing doesn’t work these days either. We’re cluttered up and knick-knacked to death. Don’t give people something else to put on their desks or to cram in luggage.

So, What makes a good street campaign?

A good street campaign doesn't look like a street campaign.

So your job is this: don’t let anyone know they’re being campaigned. At the Fourth of July parade, the hockey program tosses candy and the kids scramble to pick it up. While the kids are being cute and the parents are smiling at the memories, they slip Learn-to-Skate brochures in the hands of the parents.

Target an Audience. Give toothpaste samples to dentists to hand out. I was much more willing to order toothpaste called Cha Cha Chocolate and Banilla Bling when my son’s dentist sent home a sample than I would have been if I’d received the same exact sample on a street corner. I mean, come on, chocolate toothpaste? Really? But, it’s awesome. (And not loaded with chemicals like Yellow Nos. 5 and 6.)

Offer Something for Something. To instill a vibe about the opening of a new breakfast joint, the owners printed a bunch of logo mugs and gave them out to their friends and colleagues who’d helped with the planning and remodeling and all the details. They gave extra mugs for those people to give out. You could bring your mug in for dollar coffee forever. Dollar coffee! Before opening day, the buzz had built. The mugs were circulating. The dollar coffee brought people in the door, but the food keeps them coming back. This kind of campaign is much more effective than handing out mugs on a street corner to anyone who walks by (something for nothing).

A Good Street Campaign is More than a Corner Display

Leaning on a truck drinking a cup of coffee while oversized posters reflect sunlight and cause potential traffic accidents is not a good campaign.

Giving “I Voted” stickers (something for something) to adults who vote creates a visual reminder for others who intend—but forget the polls are open—and sets a good example of citizenship. It's a street campaign that gains momentum as the voting day continues.

Without a good--and often rather invisible--plan, a street campaign isn't much more than a road hazard. And if you're running this kind of campaign, watch out for parents trying to reach for a sippy cup.

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