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26 May 2024

Guerrilla creativity can win the marketing war


By Jay Conrad Levinson

The concept of creativity is more than 50,000 years old and has always been an inherent talent in Homo sapiens – human beings, as we know them now. It was not an inherent talent in Neanderthal man.

Michael Ray, a Stanford professor who teaches a course on creativity, says creativity exists within everyone. He believes that when people can't tap into their creativity, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Instead, it means that the creativity is being suppressed by what he terms as the voice of judgment – what I term as the inner censor. That's what gets the blame for destroying self-esteem.

Professor Ray believes there are five qualities of creativity: intuition, will, joy, strength and compassion. Four tools stimulate those qualities – faith in your own creativity, absence of judgment, precise observation and penetrating questions. He and I agree wholeheartedly that creativity is not one great eureka moment that produces a brilliant idea. Instead, it is a way of life.

Almost every creative professional knows very well that true creativity is not the result of inspiration, but instead comes from hard work and focus. I've authored or co-authored 29 books so far and not one of them has come from a moment of inspiration. If I waited for that flash of inspiration, I'd still be labouring over page one of my first book. The idea is to be able to create by reaching deep into yourself and not to wait for a bright light to flash inside your head. If you do, you're in for a long, dark wait.


Your job as a guerrilla is to come up with a winning meme – one that identifies your business and communicates something about the quality that you offer,

expressed in terms that suggest a benefit. If you're looking for creativity heaven, you'll find it right inside yourself. And you'll see that as your meme will be the result of your creativity, it will also serve as the nucleus of your creativity for all your future marketing. Would the great artists, musicians, dancers and writers been creative guerrilla marketers? My guess is that they would – because they did not wait for inspiration, but instead, knew where to find it inside themselves.


A powerful meme would be of extreme value to a dotcom company because it would make their offline marketing far more effective at being remembered, motivating people to access a site, and demonstrating the primary benefit that the company offers. But many dotcom business owners are so wrapped up in technology that they are used to finding their inspiration outside themselves rather than within. After all, it's outside of themselves that technology has always resided. But the rules are different with true guerrilla creativity. It resides inside them – if only they'd look long and hard enough. With the telecommunications wars being waged with ferocity and non-stop telemarketing, all the phone companies have been striving for a point of difference.


My guess is that some copywriter in some advertising agency was one of many working to give his or her client an edge. Research showed that one of the benefits that could be offered by a phone company was clarity of sound. That copywriter most likely pondered this concept and then tried to recall how people refer to clear sound. "So quiet, you could hear a pin drop," came to mind. That spurred the birth of Sprint's meme, a graphic depiction of a pin dropping next to a telephone. As with many memes, it did require a bit of explanation, which Sprint did with its television commercials.

Since that time, Sprint has been using its meme wisely and consistently in true guerrilla fashion. Ideally, they'll be able to stay with it for a long time, or at least until research shows that clear sound is now taken for granted. Unlike Y2K, which was a short-lived meme, the pin dropping can be a meme with longevity – the best and most powerful kind.

The tale of Sprint is a tale of creativity in action. You can be certain that the imaginary copywriter was not aiming to win awards or accolades. Instead, the motivation was to communicate a meaningful benefit to consumers, something instantly communicated by the visual of a pin dropping. In just a flash, viewers and readers got the point – no pun intended. This kind of creativity is rare. But it's the kind you'll need in our increasingly competitive marketing environment. Because creativity is so misunderstood in marketing circles, astonishing sums of money are wasted. Truly creative marketing does not have to be attractive, but should come on strong to key prospects, attractiveness be damned. It takes into consideration the lifetime value of a customer rather than the instant gratification of a quick sale.

Jay Conrad Levinson is the Father of Guerrilla Marketing and author of the Guerrilla Marketing series of books