Pros and Cons With Intrusive Marketing

By Lori Turner-Wilson

Intrusive marketing gets a bad rap. It’s often thought of as overly invasive and a turnoff to customers. Done thoughtlessly and in poor taste, it certainly can be. However, savvy brands understand the power of taking your prospective customer off guard and breaking through all of the advertising clutter competing for their attention.

A form of guerrilla marketing, intrusive marketing is known for both its placement in a customer’s personal space and the startling or unexpected nature of its message.

With intrusive marketing, you’re not necessarily targeting the consumer at the point of purchase, but because the advertising channel and message are unexpected, a good intrusive campaign drives action nonetheless.

Online shoe retailer Zappos is known for its guerrilla marketing strategies. Travelers mindlessly going through the motions at airport security are surprised to find Zappos ads at the bottom of the nondescript grey bins they never thought twice about.

One ad reads “Place your shoes here. Buy your shoes at” This ad is in the consumer’s personal space – as they wind up carrying the ad through security – and is optimally presented when they are actually thinking about their shoes.

When you’re taking your shoes off, you may notice how they are worn out or out of style. Shoes on the mind, coupled with airport Wi-Fi access and wait time, allows for a prime opportunity for travelers to shop

Feed the Children deployed an intrusive marketing campaign in grocery stores across America by placing an ad in the bottom of shopping carts. The ads featured an engaging three-dimensional graphic of a needy child who seems to be sitting right in your cart reaching for the can of food you’re placing inside. The message on the cart handle includes a call to action to donate to the organization through its website.

While Zappos and Feed the Children have a handle on executing consumer-friendly intrusive campaigns, there are plenty of examples of intrusive marketing disasters.

Charmin took a social media campaign a bit too far by placing “Charmin Ambassadors” in Charmin-branded public bathrooms to greet and entertain visitors and blog about those experiences.

Visitors were interrogated after their restroom visits with intrusive questions, the answers to which served as fodder for the brand’s blog. Some of the least shocking of the questions asked were: “What was the most enjoyable part of your bathroom experience?” Or, “How much Charmin did you use?” Or, “Can you tell me about your technique?” Ambassadors even offered to sing a little song to entertain visitors while they finished up. This clearly goes beyond intrusive to invasive marketing. It’s hovering over marketing’s proverbial toilet bowl.

While intrusive marketing has its advantages, it can be a slippery slope. Your goal is to engage in a surprisingly positive way.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (