I was having lunch with some friends in Dubai the other day, and one of the friends ran an e-commerce platform across a few African countries. He shared us with his progress and plans.

“So far we have been acquiring users online, as the online user acquisition channels in Africa are very affordable,” he said. “With the new funding that I am raising now, I am planning to pump more into online marketing, and start developing a payment system.”

On the same table there was another friend,  an ecommerce veteran who ran a much bigger (yes by probably 100X by both GMV and order volume) ecommerce business targeting a different region. He said: “You know what I would do if I were you?”

The first guy shook his head and asked the second guy to go on. The second guy said: “I would employ an army of part timers and full timers to ….”

Guess – to do what?

  • Acquire users in the street?
  • Run offline promotions and even carnivals?
  • Sell the items on a tablet and collect cash?

None of these.

“I would employ an army of part timers and full timers to paint the walls!”

Yes like this:

“Village Taobao has everything, courier will send everything to your doorstep!”

Or this:

“Search for things? The more convenient way is to use Baidu Mobile”

Or this:

“If you want your kid to grow up well, you can’t live without 360 Family Guard (a security & antivrius suite).”

The rational is very simple. Although you can’t really measure your ROI for these ATL campaigns, they are cheap, long lasting, and effective.

  1. Cheap because you just need to pay the person who owns the wall, the person who paints the wall and the paint;
  2. long lasting as in nobody will bother erasing it unless they build a new house or someone pays more for a different banner;
  3. effective is a relative term but a simple, concise, and memorable message always goes a long way.   

The methodology has been used extensively in China, originally by the communists as (maybe the best) propaganda tool in the countryside.

Now it is invading the cities as well:

“Today I will not code, but read Toutiao”

“Today my bus is here, I read Toutiao”

Ok you got it – this basically can be brainwashing. But a simple, strong message always goes a long way, doesn’t it?

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