Guerrilla Creativity: Make Your Message Irresistible with the Power of Memes

Guerrilla Creativity: Make Your Message Irresistible with the Power of Memes

by Jay Conrad Levinson President, Jay Levinson


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The guru of the Guerrilla Marketing series, which has sold more than one million copies, shows small business owners how to cut through the clutter of new information with simple, powerful ideas that customers will find irresistible.

Today, with more than four thousand marketing messages assailing consumers daily, it is more important than ever to create an original, appealing, and memorable message. Marketer extraordinaire Jay Conrad Levinson shows readers how to craft such messages using memes—simple symbols that represent complex ideas.
Memes can be words, such as Lean Cuisine or "Remember the Alamo," or they can be images, such as the Red Cross or Betty Crocker. They can even be actions, like drenching a victorious coach with a barrelful of Gatorade. The best memes can propel a product or service to the pinnacle of success.
As no other book has done before, GUERILLA CREATIVITY shows how even someone who doesn't consider himself creative can make memes that work. Using a variety of examples of memes both good and bad, Levinson guides readers step by step through the process of fashioning marketing materials that result in increased sales, savings, market share, and profits. Along the way he reveals the fifty reasons people buy things, the ten biggest marketing myths, ways to make your message instill hope, surprise, and urgency, and many more wise, surprising notions that readers can readily translate into profits.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618104680
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/26/2001
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

Jay Conrad Levinson is the author of more than a dozen books in the Guerrilla Marketing series. A former vice president and creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising and Leo Burnett Advertising, he is the chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International, a consulting firm serving large and small businesses worldwide.

Read an Excerpt

1 The Purpose of Creativity Not Producing Art but Changing Human Behavior

THE PREHISTORIC MAN Uba spent all day in the drizzling rain trying to catch a fish because his family desperately needed food. But Uba couldn’t grab a fish from the stream, though he occasionally got his hands on one. Frustrated and weak from hunger, he just couldn’t grab any fish firmly enough before it slithered from his hands and returned to the stream. Worse yet, the drizzle turned to a downpour, and Uba was forced to seek shelter in a nearby cave.
When his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he noticed a series of paintings in the cave. One depicted a deer. Another showed a godlike figure.
But it was the third that captured his attention. There on the cave wall was a simple drawing of a man holding a long stick. At the end of the stick, a fish was impaled. Suddenly Uba got the idea! Within an hour he returned to his family carrying five fish, all of which he had caught with a sharpened stick. Uba’s family was saved by a meme.
A meme is a self-explanatory symbol, using words, action, sounds, or, in this case, pictures that communicate an entire idea. Uba may have discovered history’s first meme.
Memes can do a lot more than save a family. Memes can save a business as well and propel it into a high-profit mode. Guerrilla creativity means enlisting the wondrous power of memes in your marketing.
What you don’t know about creativity What you don’t know about creativity subtracts from your potential profits every year. What you are about to learn will add to your profits — now and forever. It’s something as foreign to you as the Internet was back in the 1970s — but every bit as important as the Internet is now when it comes to your company’s profitability.
This book is about creativity in marketing — guerrilla creativity. Creativity in marketing is very different from creativity in the arts. Memes in marketing are about profits. And guerrilla creativity has at its core a meme. That’s why the star of this book, and the key to true guerrilla creativity, is a meme.
The wheel is a meme. The Green Giant is a meme. You’ll become aware of many more memes as you read on, but mainly you’ll discover the astonishing lack of memes in marketing. Bad as this is, it’s a great opportunity for guerrillas.
Guerrilla creativity tells you it’s time for your company to have its own meme. Guerrilla creativity suggests that if you get in your prospects’ faces with your meme, they will make it part of their family.

What memes do

Memes travel. Memes spread. Memes are viral. In fact, in scientific circles they’re referred to as “mind viruses.” Memes are simple to create. And memes can goose your company’s profitability, not to mention civilization itself.
Memes save you money because they implant a message that’s repeated to the point where people are clear on what you offer and you don’t have to constantly change your marketing campaign. They break through the sensory overload that increases every day. The bigger that overload, the more you need a meme for your company.
Richard Dawkins, an Oxford biologist who coined the word meme in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene, defines it as a basic unit of cultural transmission or imitation. Guerrilla marketers define it as the essence of an idea, expressed as a symbol or set of words, an action or a sound . . . or all of these.
You must know three things about the meme: 1. It’s the lowest common denominator of an idea, a basic unit of communication.
2. It can alter human behavior, and in guerrilla marketing that means motivating people to buy whatever the guerrilla offers.
3. It is simplicity itself, easily understandable in a matter of seconds.
Memes make perfect partners for marketing campaigns, in which ideas must stand apart in an ocean of other ideas and be communicated instantly — or else.
Within two seconds a meme conveys who you are and why someone should buy from you instead of a competitor. It also can trigger an emotional response and generate a desire.
Meme power The essence of guerrilla creativity is creating marketing that has meme power. Guerrilla creativity is dreaming up a symbol or words, actions or sounds, that convey a concept anybody can understand instantly and easily.
Creativity in the arts is about enjoyment, self-expression, and beauty. Creativity in marketing is not about these aesthetic concerns but about profits, selling, motivating. Creativity in marketing is about how your product or service improves lives.
Your profits will rise if you create a simple meme for your business, then promote it for years, decades — centuries if possible.
This can be doone with words (Lean Cuisine), pictures (the Marlboro cowboy), sounds (the “Ho-ho-ho” of the Jolly Green Giant), actions (Clydesdales pulling the Budweiser wagon), or imagery (flames depicting Burger King’s flame-broiled hamburgers). Memes have been the architects of human behavior since the beginning of time. The wheel was a major improvement in transportation and conveyance, but it was also a meme because it was a self-explanatory symbol representing a complete idea. Once you see a wheel, you immediately know how to use it and why it’s so useful. No explanation is necessary.

Where memes are born

Memes are born through knowledge and research. They work their wonders by engaging the unconscious minds of your prospects. Although they’ve been around since the beginning of humankind, and even since the beginning of life on earth — since life forms often leave behind meme-like signals such as half-eaten shrubbery, scat and shells, which trigger behaviors in other life forms — memes are relatively new to marketing. I know that meme is a new word to you, but then again, so was the word Internet a scant decade ago.
Right now I urge you to put aside for a moment what you think you know about creativity. Transfer your focus from the kind of creativity it takes to create beauty and splendor, symphonies and literature, dance and sculpture, and refocus on the production of profits.
Creativity in the arts enlightens, delights, moves, and satisfies. Creativity in marketing changes human behavior. Creativity that accomplishes this goal is true guerrilla creativity.
The primary purpose of guerrilla creativity is to instill enough trust and confidence in your offering that people will be motivated to purchase it — the end result being profits for your company. Yes, guerrilla creativity does employ art to accomplish the goals of business. Marketing uses nearly all the art forms — writing, art, design, music, dance, acting — but it uses them for a different purpose than that pursued by a Shakespeare or a Baryshnikov. I believe that the great masters in art, music, and literature might have been geniuses at guerrilla creativity. Still, Ernest Hemingway observed that writing advertising is a lot more difficult than writing for the pure sake of art. It does seem a lot simpler to create something that inspires a person than to create something that will persuade that same person to part with his or her hard-earned dollars.
Creativity of the guerrilla variety combines the creativity of the arts with the science of human behavior and the business of generating profits — all in a quest to get people to change their minds and sincerely want what you offer.
The purpose of guerrilla creativity Guerrilla creativity must inform rather than entertain. In artistic creativity, an error can be covered with white paint and repainted; an error in a music composition can be rescored; an error in architecture can be covered with ivy. But an error in marketing creativity results in the loss of a lot of money. Ivy won’t help.
As with creativity in the arts, guerrilla creativity entails taking risks. It embraces failure as part of the creative process if that failure teaches a valuable lesson, as it often does. Guerrilla creativity must make a deep impression on the target audience. In these pages, you’ll learn how to make that impression. You’ll discover how to marry it to persuasion and induce each of your prospects to participate in the marketing process.
Creativity has often been defined as the combining of two or more elements — with imagination as well as technical skill — that have never before been combined. Guerrilla marketing embraces this definition but carries it further: creativity is causing human beings to change their minds to the point where they want to purchase what you are offering to sell.
The purpose of creativity for many an artist is self- expression. Unfortunately, many who now toil in the creative departments of advertising agencies or companies also create marketing materials for the sake of self-expression, much to the dismay of those concerned with the company’s bottom line.
Making the guerrilla’s job easier The job of the guerrilla who creates marketing materials is made immensely simpler when he or she enlists the power of a meme. Memes make it easier for prospects to understand why they should become customers. Uba the caveman didn’t have to engage in much deep thinking before he got the point of the meme he saw in the cave. These days I view far too many television commercials and print ads that force me to engage in seriously deep thought just to determine who the heck the advertiser is, what the company makes, and why I should give it my business. The fact that I have to think so hard to grasp those commercials suggests that their creators didn’t think enough about the things guerrilla marketers must know well.
The birthplace of guerrilla creativity is knowledge. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more knowledge you have, the more inspired you can be. The more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to succeed at the true purpose of guerrilla creativity.
Where is a guerrilla to seek knowledge? From his customers, to be sure. Also from his prospects. He seeks it from his competitors, from his industry, from his community, and from the events of the day. He seeks and gains even more knowledge from the economic trends of the times, from businesses like his own, and definitely from his product or service. Certainly he seeks it from successful marketing in the past, from the current status of the media, and these days more than ever, from existing technology. The Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge for those who would engage in guerrilla creativity.
Rembrandt as a guerrilla Do you think Rembrandt would have employed computer technology and the Internet to create his works of art? I think he would have. And so would Shakespeare and Mozart and many of the other masters of fine art. One of the keys to creativity has always been curiosity, and I can’t help but believe that the creative geniuses of the past were highly curious people. My guess is that they, just like the guerrilla, had a well-honed sense of wonder. Most of them learned that the more in touch they were with the world around them, the more creative they could be.
Like the guerrilla marketer, they probably had an unquenchable and instinctive desire to learn. But nevertheless, they had it easy compared to you. You have to get people to write a check, take out their credit card, or put in a purchase order. Do that and you’ve earned your creative wings.
Guerrilla creativity may not unleash that creative genius said to be lurking within your mind. It may not give wings to your soul. It may not astound people with the sheer beauty of your creation. It may not inspire thoughts of love, of holiness, of the magnificence of humankind.
Those are not its tasks. Its task is to create a desire for your product or service. Beauty alone cannot accomplish this. Artistic prowess cannot either. In my career in advertising agencies, I had the singularly unpleasant task of firing many multi-talented artists and writers who were blessed with an artistic muse but totally clueless when it came to altering human behavior.
“I hate to tell you this, Mr. da Vinci, but your Mona Lisa, pretty and mysterious as she is, does no more than a hill of beans when it comes to selling insurance. But don’t worry — I’m giving you three months’ severance pay.” Had Leonardo portrayed Mona Lisa cupping her hands in front of her to show you’re in good hands with the insurance company she was promoting, I probably would have promoted him to senior art director.
So here I am, imploring you to understand that creativity in marketing is quite different from creativity in the fine arts. But I’m not going to leave you out on a limb. Instead, I’m giving you a method, a nearly magical method, for accomplishing guerrilla creativity. I will show you, step by step, how to create a meme to make your job of generating profits easier, to make your prospects’ job of wanting to buy what you are selling easier, and to put a wide grin on your accountant’s face when he or she reviews your financial records.

Why genius is not necessary

You need not be a creative whiz to exercise dynamite guerrilla creativity. You don’t have to be a fine writer, an accomplished artist, a killer photographer, or a superb playwright to be a successful creator of marketing that beautifies your bottom line.
All you must be is a clear thinker, a tireless researcher, and a realistic person. You must be passionate as well, not about beauty and art, but about your product or service. It also helps a lot if you care more about profits than about compliments and awards. Sound mercenary? That’s my point. The pursuit of profits has rarely, if ever, been the prime motivator for a great artistic master. But it is the central ambition of a master of guerrilla creativity.
Roy H. Williams, known as “the Wizard of Ads,” reminds us of the differences between some writers of radio commercials. Tell ’em, Roy: “Average writers position the listener as an uninvolved bystander. Good writers position the listener as an interested observer. Great writers involve the listener as an active participant.” To this I would add: “Guerrilla writers motivate the listener to deeply crave whatever it is they are writing about.” Guerrilla writers know how to instill trust and confidence in the minds of their audience. They create marketing that doesn’t really sound or feel like marketing.

The heart of a message

Creativity of the guerrilla persuasion has as its final message something that deeply impresses the audience. They are not impressed with the words or the pictures, with the music or the special effects. They are not impressed with the celebrity endorser or the eye-popping photograph. Instead, they are deeply impressed with the idea. Uba didn’t grunt one word about the art in the meme he discovered in that cave. But he was moved to take action by the idea. That’s always the highlight of a guerrilla marketing message. If you don’t communicate an idea, you’re communicating the wrong things. You’ll always find persuasion at the heart of a message created by a guerrilla.
Guerrillas know that marketing is a fancy word that means selling, and selling is a fancy word that means persuasion. If you can’t persuade, you can’t sell. If you can’t sell, you can’t market. Persuasion is a crucial talent if you have a business and a fondness for the things that money can buy.
Many people who think they can’t succeed at marketing because they can’t persuade seem to do a dandy job of persuading their spouse to be on time, their kids to do their homework, and their associates to accept the idea they’ve just put on the table. The moral? There are a lot of closet persuaders out there, and you’re probably one of them.
Guerrillas rev up their powers of persuasion with two kinds of insight: insight into their prospects and customers combined with insight into their own product or service. Without those insights, you’re a dead duck. With them, you’re a guerrilla, poised for victory and profitability.

Whom to persuade?

So whom should you persuade? That may be the toughest question your business must answer. The right answer can lead to the attainment of your wildest dreams — and you don’t have to tell me how wild those dreams are. But when you know who it is you are going to persuade, you are only part of the way home. You must also know what is important to them.
Here’s a flash: persuasion can be straightforward. Most business owners, and even those who create marketing for them, think that persuading has a lot to do with pussyfooting around and playing needless games. Even if they know exactly whom they should be persuading, they don’t know the hot buttons that ignite that person. No wonder they’re pussyfooting! There’s not a lot to be candid about.
I’m the first to admit that not every persuasion attempt you make will work out the way you want. But I’m here in these pages to remind you to realize why some attempts succeed, to realize why some fail, and to recognize the difference between the two.
Guerrillas ask themselves questions after successful persuasions. “What was the critical insight that I used?” and, “How did I use it?” Of failures, they ask: “What insight should I have seen?” and, “How did my attempt miss it?” Frequently, failures are caused by persuaders failing to understand the person they are attempting to persuade. The deeper you probe into the head of your prospect, the more persuasive you will become because of the broader scope of your understanding.
Within that understanding resides your power of persuasion, your guerrilla creativity. If you become a better persuader, you become a better salesperson. If you become a better salesperson, you become a better marketer. You become a guerrilla — one who achieves conventional goals with unconventional methods.

Just ask Uba

Guerrilla persuasion is knowing your customers and prospects so well that it’s a cinch to connect their goals with yours. Just ask Uba. He’ll tell you. So now you know the truth. There is no magic in persuasion. There is simply research time and your own energy.
Back in the 1900s, the ad great Claude Hopkins said — and I hope you’ll excuse his sexism — “The advertising man studies the consumer. He tries to place himself in the position of the buyer. His success largely depends on doing that to the exclusion of everything else.” The keys to persuasion are in shoes and eyes. Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes and see things through his eyes.
Guerrilla persuading and guerrilla creativity mean connecting intimately with consumers. The connection begins in your own mind — and it continues until a sale is made. Gentle persuasion can be as powerful as pressured persuasion. Slow-motion persuasion works better than high-speed persuasion. I don’t have to remind you who won the race between that swift hare and that plodding tortoise. And I’m pretty sure you understand that all persuasion begins with connection. Knowing that, all that remains is for you to know what to be creative about. And that’s just what you’ll learn in the next chapter.

Copyright © 2001 by Jay Conrad Levinson. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Table of Contents


1 The Purpose of Creativity 1 Not Producing Art but Changing Human Behavior 2 What to Be Creative About 14 Your Offering Can Make Lives Better 3 The New Key to Creativity 34 Understanding the Omnipotent Meme 4 Where Creativity Is Born 63 Simple Research Can Result in Invaluable Knowledge 5 A Technique for Being Creative 74 Transforming Yourself into a Creative Genius 6 The Myths of Marketing Creativity 94 Eliminating Ten Obstacles to a Successful Marketing Campaign 7 The Truth About Creativity 110 Invisible to Most Marketers, Including Your Competitors 8 Breaking Through the Clutter 121 Creating Dynamite Marketing Materials 9 Creative Positioning and Enduring Patience 145 Owning a Position That Lives in the Minds of Your Prospects 10 Why You Need a Meme Now More Than Ever 162 The Importance of Starting in the Right Place Sources 192 Index 193 Continue Your Guerrilla Training with the Guerrilla Marketing Newsletter 207

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