Guerrilla Advertising, Literally

Christmas Tree Lights in the Jungle
Imagine walking in the jungle at night and coming across this.

I was listening to an episode of the This American Life podcast called The Poetry of Propaganda and thought it so beautifully illustrated the Nine-and-a-half Unbreakable Rules of Marketing.  The first segment is about an amazingly creative campaign by a Colombian ad agency, Lowe-SSP3, and its head, José Miguel Sokoloff, aimed at getting fighters of the anti-government guerrilla army, FARC, to disband. The solutions Sokoloff and his company came up with were wholly original, unexpected, and effective.  And the goal was not to get anybody to buy anything, but to put down their arms and come home.

The first part of the campaign involved the Colombian Army going into the jungle and decorating nine gigantic trees on strategic trails known to be used by FARC guerillas with Christmas lights and a sign that said, “If Christmas can come to the jungle, then you can come home.” That campaign resulted in 331 fighters, or 5% of the estimated total FARC army, coming in to accept amnesty.

Several other equally unexpected creative treatments have followed, each aided further by the advice and collaboration of those ex-FARC guerrillas to help get into the hearts and minds of their former comrades hiding out in the jungle. Each has been so effective at eroding the rebels’ strength and resolve that, for the first time in the fifty-year insurrection, the FARC is sitting down to negotiate an end to the seemingly endless civil war. Tellingly. one of the stipulations made by the guerrillas to engage in talks was that the government stop its advertising campaign; it was more devastating than any military operation on the FARC. And yet cost zero lives.

That has to rank it as one of the most effective ad campaigns in history. Has there ever been a Nobel Peace Prize awarded to an ad agency?

What Sokoloff has given us here is an elegant demonstration of what marketing truly is. It’s not commerce. It’s the psychological art of getting people to do something you want them to do.  And, in the case of Colombia, it can be used to end war.

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