Marketing Jujitsu

If no marketer has yet to coin the term, let me be the first: Marketing Jujitsu, or Corporate Jujitsu, if the former term is taken.

JUJITSU: An art of weaponless self-defense developed in Japan that uses throws, holds, and blows and derives added power from the attacker’s own weight and strength.

If no marketer has yet to coin the term, let me be the first: Marketing Jujitsu, or Corporate Jujitsu, if the former term is taken.

The basic premise of the concept came to me when I was aimlessly strolling St. Mark’s Place in NYC and noticed a slew of ‘statement T-shirts’ that teens/young adults were sporting as de rigueur fashionista accessories. Some of these T-shirts were idealistic (No More War), others were a bit more lewd or comical (I’m Not As Think As You Drunk I Am), and others still took a slanted view at mainstream logos and corporate branding.

For instance, Intel’s logo of ‘Pentium Inside’ was parodied to read ‘Satan Inside’ while still keeping the main Intel brand identity intact. The famous Adidas leaf logo was made to look very similar to a pot leaf, and in lower-case typography iconic to Adidas was written ‘cannabis.’

On the surface, these anti-corporate fashion jabs might seem like a bad thing for a brand, until I overheard two teens talking about the Intel shirt hanging in a storefront. One of them said: ‘I don’t get it,’ while the other explained that ‘Intel has Pentium microchips in almost every computer, and they’re really powerful chips, and they dominate the market, which I guess consumer groups don’t agree with.’

That was when it hit me: the kid just delivered the perfect marketing pitch to his peer, who will now know that Intel’s chips are omni-present and an established part of his computing experience.

Hence Marketing Jujitsu: taking negative corporate brand perception and making it into a de facto brand enhancer – or at least starting conversations that, for better or worse, uniquely market a particular brand.

Another fine example of jujitsu happens on every Monday Night Football telecast. John Madden is one-half of the show’s announcers. One of the top-line sponsors for MNF is AE Sport’s Madden 2003 football game. In fact, ABC has even gone so far as to demonstrate key plays on the field using graphics from the game! Some will cry OVERKILL, and they’re absolutely right. Madden’s presence, shtick and product placement on MNF is ubiquitous, to say the least.

Enter Ace Hardware, who came up with two popular tongue-in-cheek spots where Madden shamelessly pitches Ace products while delivering play-by-play commentary from a set that looks very much like MNF. Again, Marketing Jujitsu is at work: take a negative perception of overkill and make it work for you in a positive – and highly effective – marketing slant.

Marketing Jujitsu is not corporate spin control, and it doesn’t work for just any brand. Remember, jujitsu’s defensive artistry and power is derived from the attacker’s own weight and strength. And for the most part, overt anti-corporate attacks are coming from young people with a wide spectrum of psychographics, from those teens and young adults who confronted teargas in Quebec City to those St. Mark’s kids who bought a cannabis T-shirt.

At Gearwerx, we regularly remind our corporate clients to ‘embrace their corporatism’ when marketing to youth. Never mask your intentions, be unassuming and forthright, have a sense of humour. Most importantly, use your branding and budgets to push next-level and exciting marketing, not sleight-of-hand or stereotypical campaigns. A novel marketing concept will always outplay bad corporate perception.

Nike used Marketing Jujitsu in Australia last year, hiring operators to protest against Nike’s latest soccer shoe launch in that country. The multi-national – a major target for labor-rights advocates and anti-corporate activists – put a self-mocking and pre-emptive twist to their launch.

After canvassing Sydney and Melbourne with posters announcing the shoes, they created a mock advocacy group called Fans for Fairer Football which went out and defaced the Nike posters with protests against the shoe maker. The group protested and picketed in major urban centres trying to ‘Ban the Boot.’ The protesters even had their own Web site and manifesto. In reality, this was all a tactical campaign used to co-opt the real anti-Nike corporate jammers and introduce the line through a unique marketing approach.

Too bad Nike Canada didn’t use Corporate Jujitsu in Toronto for its Presto line launch when it opened a Nike-sponsored gallery/showroom/ club in Kensington Market – an anti-establishment hotbed – in the hopes of getting that ever-elusive ‘alternative’ culture on-board.

The move backfired quite quickly. A headline in Now, a free weekly in Toronto, accused Nike of trying to ‘buy instant street cred.’ Protesters took to the streets, the liberal press blared their trumpets, and corporate spokespersons deflected the heat with ‘everyone has a right to feel how they want’ responses – not very Corporate Jujitsu at all. More like, perhaps, Corporate Buddhism?

Max Lenderman is partner and CD at Gearwerx, a youth marketing company based in Montreal. He can be reached at mlenderman@gearwerx.com.