Buzz for the savvy intellectual

This summer, over five days, in four different locations, big, black boxes appeared on major intersections across Toronto. No forewarning, no media push, just the 20x20 construct with the statement: 'Think outside the box to win what's inside the box' displayed overhead and eight people in black golf shirts milling about.

This summer, over five days, in four different locations, big, black boxes appeared on major intersections across Toronto. No forewarning, no media push, just the 20×20 construct with the statement: ‘Think outside the box to win what’s inside the box’ displayed overhead and eight people in black golf shirts milling about.

Inside? Well, inquisitive passersby who peered through the peephole were rewarded with splashy images of the latest Saab vehicle. Later, curiosity assuaged, they were given a postcard by a golf-shirt-wearing Saab rep and invited to enter to win a one-year lease of the car, the 9-3 Sport Combi wagon, and submit their ideas on how to improve Toronto. This campaign, playfully called ‘Think Outside the Box,’ was the latest guerrilla marketing tactic by the automaker which is developing quite the rep for doing just that.

It first showed up at the ideaCity, a convention uniting celebrated thinkers, of which Saab is a sponsor. Debbie Hawe, Saab’s marketing manager, says the meeting-of-the-minds conference is an ideal association given the brand’s 35- to 64-year-old, well-educated, well-travelled, affluent, slightly anti-status-quo male target. It’s also a snug fit, she adds, as the tagline for the brand for the last three years now has been ‘Move your mind.’

After the conference, box sightings included trendy Yonge and Eglinton, the financial district’s TD Centre and the corner of Yonge and Bloor over two days during the recent Gay Pride Parade. The postcards (about 10,000 were distributed) drove to a Web site, which allowed people to enter the contest as well as submit their ideas on how to make Toronto a better city. And, incidentally, once folks at Toronto City Hall’s Clean and Beautiful City Secretariat heard of the program through the media, they asked that the suggestions, over 3,000 in total, be passed on.

Saab also scores points for sheer creativity. Last year Dutch artist John Kormeling’s Mobile Fun, a 100-ft. functioning Ferris wheel with cars replacing the carriages, made its North American debut at Harbourfront Centre’s The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. The unique structure was not only an exhibit, but was unveiled the night of the Power Ball, an event for the city’s well-heeled set.

Needless to say, much buzz was generated for the brand. This year’s venture was also a success, says Hawe, not only because of the number of contest entrants, but also because of the media impressions generated and more loosely, the increase in sales of the brand during the month of July. (Note: The GM employee incentives campaign began during this time.)

Hawe says these kinds of tactics have been commanding more of the brand’s marketing dollars in recent years. And while traditional marketing plays an important role, she says she’s ‘finding that it is best to take our product to the people.’