Anti-Advertising but Pro-PR

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Emmy winning hit Mad Men notwithstanding, turning to big agencies has fallen out of vogue. Between that blasted “economy sucks” excuse and the ease of using freelancers and boutique companies, the big time ad dudes are no longer the go-to for marketing needs. More than that, some have even publicly shunned advertising all together.

This little story, for example, from the LA Times profiles how website Tumblr has shunned going the way of Twitter by refusing to succumb to posting ads on their website. These rebels are laughing in the face of the norm which clearly states in order for a website to make money, ads must be posted. End of discussion. Or is it? The Tumblr guys have drummed up all sorts of wacky ways to make the site earn revenue. The blog hosting site which promises faster and easier ways to blog than ever before has done everything from donations to staging elaborate pranks to bring in much needed company cash. Given their lengthy full page Times article, however, the guys at Tumblr are not afraid of  using PR, online brand marketing and social networking to get the word out. It’s a savvy move to market yourselves as rebels and Tumblr’s PR spidey-sense was dead on and landed them major coverage with this angle.

Moreover, many small upstarts are saying buh-bye to traditional advertising for their own personal needs, relying heavily on new media to spark interest. Los Angeles’ much ballyhooed gourmet food wagon trend nicely illustrates this point. At one time last year, trend watchers thought the Twitter-only advertised food truck craze had peaked. After all, how many Korean tacos and red velvet pancakes can one person eat anyway? Besides that the story and PR possibilities for such a novelty were already played out. Yet last month’s Street Feast at the Americana in Glendale packed in over 20,000 hungry food truck followers and wound up on every news station in town, as well as all over the Internet. What’s more, aside from some advertising done by the mall itself, PR for the event was almost entirely Twitter or Facebook generated.

I also think online t-shirt company Threadless has done great anti-advertising for years. Sure they’ll occasionally pop up  in the back of a hipper-than-thou magazine with a glossy ad but mainly Threadless sells itself by promoting their unique concept. Threadless, if you don’t know, has limited edition t-shirts from various artists. Once a design is gone, it may never come back unless enough customers rally via online voting. Threadless’ community decides what’s popular and creates trends.

The  clever and eye-popping images are what brings in the bucks for the company but the unconventional approach to marketing has helped the brand stay relevant. Naturally, the t-shirt peddler is plugged into all things social media but most impressively is their email marketing. Signing up with Threadless informs you when clamored for styles you like have come back in stock as well as full color pics of the latest graphics. On the PR front, Threadless has wisely relied on stylists to get the word out in movies and television.

Surely, it is good to be anti but how much of an impact will the collective poo-pooing of traditional advertising and big agencies actually have in the long run?

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