Guerrilla marketing: Kenneth Cole, and Agency or Porn

Guerrilla marketing: Kenneth Cole, and Agency or Porn
Written by: Karl Sakas

Have you heard the classic guerrilla marketing story about fashion designer Kenneth Cole? It bears repeating, as you think of ways for your agency stand out against the competition.

When Kenneth Cole launched his company in 1982, he couldn’t afford to rent a booth at the Market Week trade show in New York. He wanted to set up a trailer on the street to hawk his shoes to the corporate buyers inside the Hilton New York Hotel and stand out from the 1,100 other shoe vendors. But there was a problem…

The Birth of a Shoe Company

When Cole went to the city to get a permit, the Mayor’s office said only two companies can park trailers on the street: utility companies… and film production companies.

He promptly changed his company’s name to Kenneth Cole Productions, and applied for (and received) a film permit. Two weeks later, he set up his 40-foot “movie” trailer across the street from the Midtown convention hotel. To complete the scene, he had actors, cameras, and klieg lights. Their “movie” was called The Birth of a Shoe Company.

Cole noted that not all of the cameras had film.

The Shoe Trailer Movie Trick Worked!

Kenneth Cole’s guerrilla marketing tactic worked—he sold 40,000 pairs of shoes in less than four days and jump-started his company’s success. And decades later, his company is still called Kenneth Cole Productions, which “serves as a reminder to the importance of resourcefulness and innovative problem solving.”

It also adds new dimension to the “shoemaker’s kids” problem that many agencies cling to. If Kenneth Cole could turn that around in two weeks, why has it taken you six months to redesign your website and it’s still not launched?

Case Study: Agency or Porn

Guerrilla marketing example from agency Eighty-EightOne of my clients—agency Eighty-Eight in Toronto—got lots of industry attention by launching a website they dubbed Agency or Porn (warning: contains sound effects). It stemmed from an internal discussion, about how a competing agency’s name sounded like a title to an adult film.

They launched the website (see right) using their digital, design, and PR expertise, and it got attention from a range of publications. Agency or Porn succeeded in raising Eighty-Eight’s profile among agencies in Toronto, which was their ultimate goal. The project also shows their sense of humor—they’re fun, not stuffy.

Question: What’s your favorite guerrilla marketing story?

An earlier version of this article appeared at in 2010.

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