Before getting to the main post, I’d like to add a quick author’s note. I’ve come to realize that a blog can be a fickle creature – especially when writing one for your business. Write too seldom and you won’t attract many followers or much interest. Write too often and you risk committing a cardinal sin for a budding entrepreneur: mismanaging your time.
Over the past month – I’m ashamed to say – I’ve fallen into the first category and have failed to post anything week after week. Things have been quite busy around the SUM offices and, as a result, our poor, defenseless blog slipped further and further down the list of priorities and has landed where it rests at this very moment: shamefully outdated and teetering on the brink of obscurity.
This won’t do. This won’t do, at all.
To get the lifeblood pumping again, I decided to write about a project we recently undertook that was full of humour and misadventure, but one that also taught us valuable lessons about planning, the dangers of overcommitting, and rolling with the punches.
The client was a gentleman that was organizing Seattle’s first Mustache-themed fun run, the Mustache Dache. He found us through Facebook and after he contacted us and explained the event and what he was looking for, we immediately knew we wanted to be part of the project. Marketing mustaches and merriment? How could we say no?!
We began brainstorming marketing concepts for the event and one particular idea kept rising to the top of the list. It’s a new and somewhat unorthodox guerrilla marketing tactic known as reverse graffiti. We first saw it done in Europe and while it has slowly trickled over to the States, it remains far from mainstream.
Reverse graffiti involves using a stencil and a pressure washer to “clean” a message into a sidewalk or other concrete surface. The pressure washer lifts the grime of long-ignored sidewalks away where the stencil is cut out, but leaves the obstructed portions of the sidewalk untouched. The result is a unique, environmentally friendly, non-permanent design left on the sidewalk.
If done correctly, reverse graffiti can be an extremely effective marketing tool because it’s quite uncommon and does a very good job of catching the eyes of passersby. We had seen it done before and wanted to try it ourselves, but were waiting for a project that would be a good fit. Something as fun, progressive, and irreverent as the Mustache Dache was perfect.
Confident in our ability to iron out any wrinkles that came our way, we pitched the idea to our client. He fell in love with the concept and we were off to the races. Seattle grime, here we come!
What followed was one of the most stressful and challenging projects we have ever undertaken. Had we all the money in the world, this campaign could have been a cake walk. But the logistics of executing this task on a budget ended up being far more difficult than we had anticipated. After countless hours of research and brainstorming, we had finally come up with a game plan that we felt had a shot of working. Following a set of less than detailed directions from a blog post about some reverse graffiti that was done up in Vancouver, BC, we set out to make it happen.
Our journey of preparation took us places no team of marketers and graphic designers feels comfortable…
And after many of the instructions in the aforementioned blog post led to failure, we had scrapped plan A…and plan B, and had arrived at the poorly thought-out and tragically underwhelming plan C. With almost no hope left for success as it was originally envisioned, we were preparing to attack the Seattle sidewalks with concrete cleaner and scrubby brushes. Needless to say, we were a little disheartened.
But then we remembered that a client’s expectations were on the line and that settling for anything less than our most valiant effort at carrying out this task as it was meant to be done, would be unacceptable. So with a renewed vigor and a rekindled sense of hope, we set out on a cold Friday morning with a gas-powered pressure washer, 100 feet of hose, and a particle board mustache stencil. We had no idea where our water was coming from or if the sidewalks would be dirty enough to leave a discernable design, but we were determined to make it work.
What followed was an aligning of the stars that defied logic and led to, believe it or not, a successful reverse graffiti campaign. After procuring a water cover access key (keep that on the down-low), we fanned out across Seattle and cleaned our Mustachioed message into the city sidewalks. The result was a beautiful thing. We ended the day cold and tired, but satisfied with the results and excited to share the news of our success with our client.
We had managed to squeak out a “win”, but our success was based more on good fortune than efficient preparation and experience. And despite things coming together, our journey had taught us a valuable lesson about committing to an untested service, at the risk of letting down a client. Had we been more prepared, we could have saved many hours of work and prevented a few headaches, both literal and proverbial. We had experienced success, but were dangerously close to failure, and when our reputation is on the line, this should not be the case. Luckily for us, lesson learned.