More brands should turn to cavemen for marketing ideas

PRWeek's Diana Bradley on how companies are using painted rocks to interact with people in her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Brands are all about digital media, so it's refreshing when a company interacts with you in the great outdoors of real life. That's what's happening in my Brooklyn neighborhood, with a project called "Bay Ridge Rocks."

Here’s the basic premise: you paint a rock and hide it in the neighborhood. Whoever finds the rock can keep it or hide it again. Participants use a Facebook group, which was created only a few months ago but has nearly 2,000 members, to post images of the rocks they have found or alert people that they are hiding them, sometimes with a clue as to their whereabouts.

Rana Abu-Sbaih, the group’s cofounder, told me the point of the group is kindness and unity, not profit. But local businesses are also getting involved.

Most people involved in Bay Ridge Rocks are using the project to show off their (surprisingly impressive) art skills, and several local companies are holding events for residents to paint rocks. Brooklyn One Productions, which is behind Bay Ridge’s Shakespeare in the Park Festival, held an event in August for attendees to paint Shakespeare-themed rocks at the performances. The Bay Ridge branch of the New York Public Library has also gotten involved, and a local donut shop has been hiding rocks that can be turned in for a treat.

Some people also reach out for personal support using the rocks. Some are painted with messages of support for Hope, a baby in the neighborhood who just had her second heart surgery.

The project is not unique to Bay Ridge. Abu-Sbaih explained that the idea began with the Kindness Rocks Project in Cape Cod and similar groups have sprouted throughout the country. Yet it’s cool to see something like this first-hand.

While this might seem more like an opportunity for small businesses, it should be food for thought for national or regional brands on a local level, or a way for brands to engage hard-to-reach consumers who feel left out. Recent research from Golin, for instance, found that brands are not doing enough to tap into small-town brand loyalty, which can be passed down by generation. An unexpected find like this might also be a way to capture the fleeting attention of millennials and younger generations.

This is about as hyperlocal and organic as marketing can get. It is almost like going back to the roots of marketing – or to the prehistoric age. Keeping an eye out for colorful rocks and stumbling upon them by chance has made a jaunt around the neighborhood more exciting, and it has connected businesses and residents alike.

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