If you’re in San Francisco this week, you’ve probably noticed how crazy Dreamforce can be, almost shutting down parts of the city with all its festivities.
But amid all the activity going on, a little known company called Zoho has found a way to draw some attention away from San Francisco commuters.
It launched a guerrilla advertising campaign at the Powell St. station, one of the busiest areas in the city, plastering its own ads with pretty heady lines.
Even if you’ve never heard of Zoho before, which is highly likely if you’re not in enterprise software, it would be impossible not to notice its posters — because they’re literally all over the station.
“I guess you can call it guerrilla marketing. But the intent behind some of the campaigns we do is broader than that,” Zoho’s chief evangelist Raju Vegesna told us.
He said each of the posters have an important message directed at Salesforce. One of them, “Your Salesforce discount code: ZOHO,” was inspired by the fact that Salesforce charges 5 times more than Zoho, while offering huge discounts if a customer says they’re evaluating Zoho’s product, he said.
Other messages were a play on the fact that Salesforce continues to lose money despite spending over half of their revenue on sales and marketing, Vegesna said.
“Here’s a company that hasn’t made money in the last 15 years…we are doing it to show their customers that there is a better alternative,” he added.
Vegesna’s comments may not be totally out of context. Although he declined to disclose Zoho’s financials, he said the company’s been profitable every year during its 9 years of existence, while never raising any outside money. It has over 15 million users, he said, from companies like HP, Oracle, and Adobe, just to name a few.
Zoho’s ambush marketing is only done in one train station this year, in addition to some areas at the airport and some billboards around the city. That’s a little smaller in scale than in previous years, when Zoho launched similar campaigns at parking lots and buses, as well as street carts.
“We love Salesforce, but this is a competition we think we have a good chance against,” Vegesna said.
Salesforce wasn’t immediately available for comment for this story, but that may be intentional. Zoho’s ambush marketing is drawn out of Salesforce’s own playbook — like when it hired fake protesters to attack Siebel during big Siebel events over 10 years ago. Salesforce was just starting out back then, and it needed to get free press through the mock protests.
“Twenty Siebel executives called the police, who immediately arrived to protect the protesters! The resulting hullabaloo helped attract an even larger audience, and the police couldn’t stop our mock protest because we were there legally,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote in his own book, “Behind the Cloud.”
“This marketing stunt worked across many fronts: we built Salesforce.com morale, got great press coverage, and brought our competitor’s customers to our event to hear our message,” he wrote.
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