Interview With Sam Ewen, Founder of Interference Inc.

Interference Inc. is a guerrilla marketing company based in New York City that specializes in unconventional marketing strategies. Founded in 2001 by Sam Ewen, Interference Inc. has worked with several big clients including General Electric, Citigroup, HBO and Cartoon Network. His agency is responsible for some of the most creative unconventional marketing campaigns. For example, they had a 30-foot shark fin pulled up and down the Hudson River to promote Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

His marketing strategy is anything but conventional and he is not afraid to test the limits. You can learn more about his company by visiting www.interferenceinc.com or by visiting his blog, On The Ground Looking Up.

How did you get started in guerrilla/experimental marketing?

My beginnings in Guerrilla Marketing started in the 1990s in the music business. I worked at a variety of music labels and video promotion companies and saw firsthand that the power of word of mouth and how information was passed from person to person was how many new artists broke. The more I saw and read about the subject, the more I saw the power of creating unique opportunities to create experiences that would facilitate this. After cutting my teeth in marketing at a variety of companies I started doing offline guerrilla marketing in 1996. I opened Interference Inc. in 2001 to offer this discipline directly to brands.

Could you tell us a little more about your company Interference Inc?

Interference Inc is in it’s 13th year. When we started, there weren’t really any companies out there who were focused on Guerrilla specifically. Our initial tagline was ‘Unparalleled Guerrilla and Alternative Marketing.’ At the time, I believe we were the only company who focused on the guerrilla marketing segment exclusively. Over time and after working with many of the largest brands in the world we evolved to offer more than just guerrilla but our core offering has always been focused on the unique idea that will get the most attention and the most pass-along.

Why do you feel that this form of marketing is successful?

The story around mainstream advertising over the last 20 years is that it is less successful than it ever was from an attention perspective. With the exception of a few large events (Superbowl, Presidential Election, Oscars) most people were doing their best to avoid advertising. When done right, non-traditional gets attention, creates interest and turns the consumer into someone who approaches the campaign instead of avoiding it.

What would you say contributed to your success?

I think the most important element to my success was the ability to sell creative ideas to people and have them trust me that attempting it was worth doing. Part of guerrilla marketing is that sometimes it takes you out of your comfort zone. And media types, really like feeling comfortable. We had to convince them that doing something different was worth doing. I am pretty good at that.

Is there a particular kind of client/campaign you like to work on? Why?

I get asked this type of question a lot, and while there are products or services that are easier to create for than others, I think most brands can find unique ways to market via experiential and non-traditional ways. We have done our fair share of campaigns for TV Shows, Toys and Sugary Drinks, we have also done many campaigns for brands in Financial Services, Home Nursing, Car Rental and Food Delivery. I am of the mindset that if you are creative, you can come up with the right message, utilizing the right creative vehicle for any type of brand.

So we’re curious, what is The Supertouch Group?

For years we have had creative ideas that have involved technology as a facilitator of the experience. But only about 5 years ago did we see a fundamental shift in how one could use creative coding and creative uses of hardware to physically create what existed in our minds. So The Supertouch Group (www.supertou.ch) was born. We refer to it as live event technology or experiential technology. We believe it is a very fast growing segment and from the amount of phone calls we get on it, I think the industry agrees. Currently, Supertouch has done work for GE, AT&T, Pfizer, Showtime, Gawker Media and obviously Cartoon Network (among a bunch of others). I am really enjoying this idea of creating wonder and awe in technology and bringing those experiences to branded settings.

In your blog, you often mention tear-off campaigns. What about it excites you?

I guess this goes back to my roots. When people could self promote and still make someone take an action. One of my first campaigns for Discovery channel about 10 years ago was a tear off campaign around the Found Tomb of Nefertiti. I printed up over 90,000 tear-off pages and we had them placed in 10 cities. It felt so eye level and was worth it alone for the impression numbers not to mention all of the emails from people who wanted to claim her remains for themselves. I guess what I like most is that anyone can do it, it is very cheap to execute, and people can get a laugh. We are always fighting the idea that good guerrilla marketing is cheap, it is not, but there are a few examples that really get to the history of the medium and when you back over a hundred years, people were still stapling paper to poles in order to get someone to read something.

Where do you see marketing/advertising in the next 10 years?

Experiential is really hot right now. If you look at the popularity of SXSW and Comic-con as examples, there are so many brands creating spaces for people to visit and come into, and these become the hubs for community at the shows. If you overlay this with  how social everyone is these days, you inevitably get people positively associating themselves with your brand (“Thanks Amex for letting me see Jay-Z @ SXSW2012!”). I think this is a direction that anyone in brand marketing needs to pay attention to closely. Our goal is to be able to take those types of events, and through creativity and creative uses technology, engage and encourage those conversational actions more than ever before.

Photo by Michael Schmelling