Date of Award

Fall 2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Barbie Zelizer

Second Advisor

Katherine Sender

Third Advisor

Joseph Turow

Abstract

This dissertation examines the development of guerrilla marketing strategies and techniques. At the dawn of the 21st century, as the traditional advertising model evolves thanks to changes in technology, markets, commercial clutter, and audience cynicism, marketers are increasingly exploring new and re-imagining old ways of communicating brand messages and managing consumers. By studying the practice of guerrilla marketing – the umbrella term here for an assortment of product placement, outdoor alternative-ambient, word-of-mouth, and consumer-generated approaches – we can better understand an emergent media environment where cultural producers like advertisers strategize and experiment with the dissemination of information and the application of persuasion through covert and outsourced flows. Their creative license is remarkable not only in terms of content but equally that of context: expansively reconfiguring the space typically partitioned for commercial petition. As befitting a public relations mindset, the guerrilla message they seek to seed travels bottom-up, through invisible relay, or from decentralized corners so as to subtly engage audiences in seemingly serendipitous ways. Through a close examination of emblematic campaign examples, trade press coverage, and in-depth interviews with prominent practitioners, this project peels back the curtain on a form of cultural production that reworks the conventional archetype of mass communication and rethinks how consumers might be managed. Drawing upon Foucauldian theory that conceptualizes an active subject rather than a form of domination that has often defined the use of power, I argue that this is a regime of casual, if not “invisible” consumer governance that accommodates yet structures participatory agency; self-effaces its own authority and intent through disinterested spaces and anti-establishment formats; opens up the brand-text as a more flexible form; and democratizes in favor of heterarchical collaboration. It is, in short, advertising that tries not to seem like advertising. By studying the inspirations, machinations, and designs behind these campaigns to uncover and map the institutional discourse and cultural logic at work, I identify and analyze common themes of power and practice that animate otherwise disparate advertising executions and help redefine media industries.