It was a sunny day in Austin, Texas. The sun was cracking the flags, culture-hungry Texans were roaming the streets in search of their next eye-opening experience, and one of the world’s biggest tech companies was parked up in a van, handing out cupcakes to promote its new photo app.

A perfect scene right? Nevertheless, it’s one that clothing company Zappos – driven by a strategy from ad agency MullenLowe – fancied disrupting. Up popped a pint-sized Zappos-branded booth – seemingly controlled by one man – to hand out gifts which could only be bought with one of the cupcakes being handed out by the ‘giant tech company’ just around the corner.

This example of Guerrilla marketing is very interesting, and certainly worthy of analysis, as you will see below:


The power of comparison

Among the first things to hit you when watching this ad, aside from the Quentin Tarantino-esque music and man-powered makeshift booth, is the use of the phrase ‘giant tech company’. It shows absolutely no fear on the part of Zappos. There’s this ‘giant tech company’ (everybody now knows it was Google) in its fancy van, and along comes Zappos’ makeshift gift distribution facility. I don’t think this ad would have had the same effect if the Zappos booth had been a glamorous promotional vehicle like the Google truck. It seems as though here Zappos is trying to show how innovation can win through, even if the other ‘player’ has a big fancy truck. Yep, everybody loves an underdog.

It is not until the crowds start to gather around the Zappos truck – cupcakes in hand – that the real effect of this comparison becomes clear. Not only are they intrigued by the message stamped onto the front of the booth (Insert cupcake. Be happier.), but they also show no hesitation in handing over their free cupcakes to Zappos. The clothing company capitalised on the footfall created by Google’s promotion, and did it very well.

Also of note here (although you may say it is a fairly obvious point) is the fact that Zappos has crashed the promotion of a company that occupies a completely different sector. In this way, there is no comparison of products, and no risk of someone holding on to their free belt or scarf due to the fear of perhaps getting something inferior in return. And that brings us nicely on to the next point.

It had to be cupcakes

Regardless of how MullenLowe found out about Google’s cupcake promotion, it is crucial that they did; it offered the perfect platform for this bit of marketing magic. They managed to find a huge company, in a completely different sector, handing out treats that people would not hesitate to give away. I mean everybody loves a cupcake, but they are not exactly worth a lot of money. As can be seen in the video, the passing Austinites (that might be what they’re called) didn’t think twice about trading their cakes in when met with the simple promise that it would make them ‘happier’.

The music

There is no doubt that every element of this advert has been thought through, and the music is no exception. Zappos is essentially playing a character here – the rebellious vigilante who won’t hesitate to break the rules for the good of the people, and who is not scared of the big bad villain.

The cupcake truck person

So alluring was the site of the Zappos booth that a worker from the Google truck made her way, very enthusiastically, over to the box to trade in a cupcake for who knows what. This occurrence, and quite rightly so, was pounced on by the marketing minds behind the project. In the ad, a huge arrow can be seen pointing to her and proudly announcing her as the ‘cupcake truck person’. It is certainly worth making the viewer aware of the fact that even a member of the promotional truck’s staff could not resist the temptation of the Zappos booth.

Flirting (successfully) with danger

The advertising company behind this stunt was very clever. Although the tech company is kept anonymous in the video, they made sure that the stature of the company was so grand that word would spread like wildfire. In this case, it was definitely a case of…. the bigger the company, the bigger the splash – and Zappos left little water in the pool!

The advert concludes with the Zappos booth scuttling away, accompanied by the line ‘thanks for the cupcakes, giant tech company’. Chalk another one up for the little guy.

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