Guerrilla marketing means to accomplish an advertising goal without spending very much money. (I think I’ve made it clear that I am into “free” whenever I can get it, right?) When I started my film company, there wasn’t very much money – more like none.
When I was trying to help the ski club sponsors of my feature length ski films, they never had any money either. So to promote their shows I gave them at least 100 posters, a dozen different press release stories and some photos to get placed in their local newspapers. Also in my free “press kit,” as it is called now, were one- and three-minute 16mm news clips that they could try to get on local television free. The key to the free coverage was a lot of hustle by the ski club members and a 12-page outline supplied by me of free marketing ideas.
One of the early marketing tools was to get three or four ski shops to sell tickets for shows in exchange for a booth in the lobby. The Cascade Ski Club in Portland, Ore., led by Howard Hermanson, was most successful at that and eventually made as much money on their ski shop booth displays as they did selling tickets to the movie.
In another location, a ski club sponsor got into a women’s ski outfit and with old-fashioned steel roller skates nailed to the bottom of his skis was pulled through town during the lunch hour behind a motorcycle. Stretched out on the towrope between the two of them was a double-sided banner announcing the movie name, date, time and location. They also used a loud speaker that could be heard for at least a block away to announce my movie was coming.
In a market as large as Los Angeles, paid advertising is way too expensive to afford for a one-night show and so those sponsors depended on their small local newspapers for free editorial space and anything I could personally promote on TV. In the 1970s, there was a weekly ski TV show in the Los Angeles area and the MC, Tom Malone, could use some of my free programming, so I usually gave him a couple of my ski resort promotional films to use.
The best job of guerrilla marketing I ever saw for one of my shows was in Corvallis, Ore., in the early 1950s. A member of the ski club that sponsored the show was also a good mountain climber. He rented a room on the top floor of the tallest hotel in town and the first thing he did when he got to the room was to tie a nylon mountain climbing rope to the bathroom plumbing. He then called the local television station and said he was going to jump out of the top floor window of the hotel and commit suicide. As soon as the crew showed up and had their cameras unpacked he called the police and watched the crowd grow in size from his top floor room as the sirens came screeching to the front of the building. Then he opened his hotel window and started rappelling down from the top floor. When he got a signal from another club member in the crowd that the TV cameras were rolling he pulled a ripcord in his rucksack and a 25-foot long banner fell out announcing my movie that night at the local high school. The audience that night was one of the first standing-room only crowds that I ever had.
Unfortunately, the other audiences who saw the promotion on TV in other cities could not drive to Corvallis in time to buy a ticket to the show.
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