Last Wednesday, the “Fearless Girl” was installed on the eve of International Women’s Day by McCann NY, an advertising agency. Over 20,000 people walk down Wall Street per day, and the statue has generated earned media in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Reuters, and other major publications. The hashtag #FearlessGirl reached an estimated 250,000 people in less than one day, per TweetReach. The installment, created by artist Kristen Visba, is a pertinent example of effective place and environment based messaging.
Think about the last time you were in an ad-free environment. It seems almost impossible, since ads go anywhere and everywhere people do. Today, companies sponsor hiking trails, and ad banners flutter behind aircrafts as they fly over sunbathers. Organizations have even prognosticated about the possibility of launching billboards into space. This isn’t science fiction. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space released a background paper entitled “Obtrusive Space Advertising and Astronomical Research.”
Using the environment as a promotional tool has its advantages. Campaigns are often cheap to execute – a well-placed sticker or a paintjob to a park bench can quickly go viral and generate word-of-mouth brand exposure. The most creative campaigns are often picked up by local and national news, snowballing into major brand-awareness campaigns.
However, organizations must be careful to ensure that their message is unambiguous. A lack of clarity can affect audience interpretation. Also, organizations need to carefully consider placement to ensure maximum exposure, while avoiding irritating people or breaking laws. Variables such as weather, noise, and theft must also be considered. If poorly executed, place-based messaging can backfire with disastrous results.
To break through a saturated media environment, organizations need to push beyond what we think of as traditional promotional strategies. Of course, media outreach, social media, and partner engagement remain cornerstones of an effective outreach strategy. But, the democratization of information has made it easier than ever for organizations to reach their audience. The real challenge is to sustain their attention and command action. Using audiences’ environments to draw awareness to an organization’s mission can be an effective, organic way to engage in a meaningful way that drives action.
By installing the “Fearless Girl” statue on the eve of International Women’s Day, its creators ensured that passersby understood the message. Environment, timing, and an outstanding work of art united to create a powerful installation with a clear message. It was a disruptive use of place-based marketing, and reinvigorated creatives and businesses alike to think outside the box to reach their clients.