By Adrian Johansen

With so much advertising trying to get consumers’ attention, what breaks through the noise? Disruptive advertising is all about breaking through that monotony, pulling the prospective consumers’ attention, and creating a revision in their perspective.

Being daring or interesting enough to alter someone’s perspective in a short ad is a tall order. While “disruptive marketing” is a newer moniker and we have new forms of media to assist us with disruption, it’s hardly a new concept. Disruptive marketing has long existed, especially in the realm of pop culture.

What is Disruptive Marketing?

Disruptive marketing tends to not only make the viewer stop what they’re doing, but to engage and participate directly, often with their emotions. Disruptive marketing can take the form of a simple black and white advertisement, a three-dimensional video stopping someone in the street, or guerilla marketing tactics, such as flash mobs. All of these examples have the potential to garner attention in fascinating ways, though many of them are now digital.

Specifically, disruptive marketing is identifiable as:

  • Accessible: Things that were once inaccessible to most people due to financial inequity or lack or technology are now available to many, making the product and the means of advertising it disruptive.
  • Innovative: Fresh and new, innovative products require four components: scale (a critical mass using them), frequency in use, an actively engaged audience, and diversity, valuing the contributions of customers as community members.

War is Over: A Classic Example of Disruptive Marketing

In December of 1969, Yoko Ono and John Lennon launched their famous “War is Over!” campaign in twelve cities. The messages, posted on billboards, said:


If you want it

Happy Christmas from John & Yoko”

This message delivered:

  • A disruptive statement, which seemed factually untrue: The United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and many people who read the sign wanted the war to end.
  • A means for the audience to achieve what’s being advertised (end of war): This is a promise and an invitation for participation in anti-war activities, but it doesn’t initially ask the participant to do much more than change their mindset.
  • A closing of goodwill: The message is intended to leave the viewer with kindness, regardless of their feelings on the advertisement.
  • A personalized and emotional connection: Most knew who John and Yoko were, and their brand already brought with it feelings, visualizations, and familiar sounds.

Additionally, it’s designed to be disruptive in a minimalistic fashion, presented in an uncomplicated way with sans serif font.

Disruptive Advertising: Personal and Local

The old dog of disruptive marketing has learned some new tricks since John and Yoko’s famous billboards. Available technology now bombards consumers with more ads, but also presents unique opportunities for disruption.

Augmented reality (AR) is one such arena for advertising that is both personal and local. Let’s take a look at the free-to-download AR game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, taking place in the famous Potterverse created by J. K. Rowling.

Wizards Unite utilizes geolocation tracking to present gamers with challenges superimposed onto their real-world phone cameras. When they look at a park bench when the game is active, for example, they might find an evil wizard standing on it, challenging them to combat. This experience is incredibly personal and tailored to the player’s location; the entire experience also draws on a decades-long attachment to the Harry Potter book series and movies.

With this game, the user can become immersed in a world that also evokes sentimental feelings, and possibly feelings of empowerment. Now for the sell: local businesses can appear in the game as respites for the gamers, providing them with free in-game resources. AT&T Wireless stores show up this way, causing gamers to not only head towards those physical locations, but to associate the AT&T brand positively with their beloved favorite, Harry Potter.

This creates an innovative brand association for AT&T as well as repetitive engagement with AT&T stores. Combined with innovation and engagement, this memorable brand experience and positive association creates a successful disruptive marketing strategy.

How to Plan and Execute a Disruptive Marketing Campaign

Since the end of “Game of Thrones,” we all understand the magnitude and impact of the series on our viewing habits and pop culture, but let’s think back to the 2011 series debut. Audiences were just getting used to video streaming services (even Netflix had started with DVD delivery) and the idea of being a geek all about dragons wasn’t entirely cool back then.

HBO changed that. In addition to encouraging consumers to embrace HBO Go for its premium content, they employed dramatic marketing techniques. Like the Potter game, the technology was disruptive, and so was the marketing that went along with it.

Press contacts received immersive press kits with in-world items prior to the launch of the series, and HBO didn’t stop there. By the time the series finale premiered in 2019, HBO co-sponsored a Bleed for the Throne blood drive and a worldwide scavenger hunt. Again, these events were exciting, participatory, engaging and, you guessed it, disruptive.

How did HBO start with a show based on a book series enjoyed by a niche group of fans to marketing one of the most culturally pervasive and popular series of all time? They had a careful, long-term marketing plan that even expanded their core base by making it cool to like dragons.

Behind the scenes, this only happens when marketers communicate well internally, adequately manage sensitive information (no spoilers!) and standardize their process for success. While each marketing effort seems quirky and creative, it’s clearly the result of careful in-house communications and strategic partnerships on HBO’s part.

From a black and white ad in the late 1960s to AR wizards and worldwide scavenger hunts for items of Westeros, disruptive marketing works best for innovative technologies and cultural touchstones. These disruptions help audiences form emotional connections with innovative brands, clearly communicating the nature of the products or services advertised and engaging audiences in the use of forward-thinking technology with thought-provoking messages.

By Adrian Johansen

Sourced from PromotionWorld