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Guerrilla marketing tactics put to the test by Beats

In an astonishing short period of time, oversized headsets with a bold red "b" have taken over the high street. From fashionistas to athletes, celebrities to DJs, these colourful accessories seem to be everywhere. Since Beats was first established in 2009, this simple headphone manufacturing company has become one of the most iconic brands in the world of music, sports and fashion. Worn around the necks of superstars, it is no surprise that fans now want a pair for themselves.

Founded by hip-hop artist Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine, the brand had ‘street cred’ from the start. Although Dr. Dre already had a worthy reputation in his industry, this alone cannot account for the massive success of his headphone company. Over the years, Beats has utilised some aggressive and noteworthy marketing tactics which eventually resulted in the recent $3.2 billion buy-out by Apple - one of the biggest deals in the electronic industry. How did they grow so big in such a short time?

Lebron James wearing beats

Source: Audio Fry

Guerilla marketing is considered unethical by some, but it is definitely an exciting and cost-effective way to get the biggest bang for the smallest buck. Rather tactlessly, the term originated from guerrilla warfare, which employs unconventional ways of combat such as ambushes, sabotages, raids and most of all, elements of surprise. A similar philosophy is used by guerrilla marketers. Ideally this type of marketing is for small businesses that do not have a large budget but want to make an edgy introduction to the public. Occasionally, larger companies use guerrilla marketing to their advantage too. The ultimate goal of any guerrilla marketing tactic is to get as much media attention as possible for the least amount of money. 

Admittedly, some of Beats’ marketing techniques are simpler than others. For example, they are known for regularly gifting their high-end audio gear to famous individuals. These individuals in turn wear it to their public appearances, which ultimately results in media attention. As they recently expanded from the hip-hop industry to the electronic music scene with the aid of the famous French DJ, David Guetta, their celebrity reach is even wider.

At the Olympic Games

The official audio partner for the 2012 London Olympic Games was Panasonic. Expecting the athletes to wear their product and show it off to the world, Panasonic distributed their premium headsets. But their strategy backfired when Beats sent free headsets as gifts to all the lead athletes such as Michael Phelps & Tom Daley. Beats ended up getting more airtime than their rival sponsor who also had to put up £64 million for the sponsorship. Reportedly, sales of Beats equipment soared during the Olympics.

Beats sighted at the Olympics. Credits: The Brand Gym Blog

Credits: The Brand Gym Blog

At the FIFA World Cup

Sony was the official sponsor at the FIFA World Cup this year. Consequently they distributed free headsets for athletes to wear. But Beats headsets kept springing up during the event. It was so distracting that Sony decided to ban players from wearing Beats equipment at matches and media events. But star players such as Neymar and Suarez were spotted wearing Beats to practice matches and outside the stadium. The banning worked out perfectly for Beats because as Ellen Leanse, a former executive at Google and Apple noted, "Beats isn’t a sponsor, so the message is more authentic and credible."

Neymar wearing beats during FIFA. Source: Canadian Reviewer

Credits: Canadian Reviewer

Even though the Beats officials at FIFA refused to comment on this strategy, it is clear that this was a well planned one. A few days prior to the event Beats released "The Game Before The Game," a five-minute advertisement featuring players like Neymar, Suarez and Persie all donning their gear.

These are only a few examples of the guerrilla marketing tactics put to the test by Beats. And as evident from the amount of uproar each tactic has caused, they definitely worked. So much so that even Apple sat up and took notice.

For inexperienced marketers interested in trying this out, be wary. This approach should come with a few warnings.  Apart from generating instant irritation from your competitors, guerrilla marketing techniques that are not thought through can ruffle the feathers of consumers, result in fines or prison sentences, or back-fire altogether. But Beats proves that, if used wisely and creatively, guerrilla marketing can be a great way for any company to cost-effectively market a product or a service with a "bang.”

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