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Be disruptive: A hog’s head beats a leaflet any day

I recently spent two days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  For those of you not familiar with it, the Fringe is a great place to see an eclectic range of theatre, arts and other performers, but it is most renowned for providing a platform for new comedians.  There are literally thousands of performances across the whole of Edinburgh, creating a real buzz throughout the city.


The challenge for the performers is getting audience members through the door.   When they aren’t performing, they can be found in the street handing out leaflets and flyers to anyone who walks past.  Every surface is turned into a billboard, with hundreds upon hundreds of advertisements pasted on it:


A pillar with lots of flyers stuck to it
How do you get heard?


The challenge is that since there are so many leaflets, posters and flyers – people largely ignore them.  Notice that in the picture above, there isn’t a single person paying attention to the posters—they are all walking past.    Do any of the posters particularly grab your attention?  I’m guessing not…


In saturated markets like this, it’s difficult to get noticed. Walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh—particularly towards the end of the fringe—is an interesting experience.  You are accosted by performers expending the last bit of energy they have trying to convince you to go to one of their final shows.   Understandable given they’ve been doing this for nearly a month solid. The local council put large recycling bins out, so that people can quickly ditch and recycle the handful of flyers that desperate performers foisted into their hands.   What a waste!


In situations like this, the smart money is on doing something disruptive. Something different that grabs attention. 


Whilst walking through yet another busy street in Edinburgh, I could hear gasps; people saying “What on earth is that?”.   I was intrigued …  I went over to take a look:

A Hog's head in a pram (i.e. a pig's head in a stroller)
Being disruptive grabs attention


There was a tiny, non-descript antique shop—the kind that people would normally ignore and walk by—but people were transfixed by the spectacle outside.  What was it?  An antique boar’s head in a pram.  It was so out of context, it created interest and intrigue.  In a crowded marketplace, where people probably aren’t even looking for antiques, the shop owners had grabbed attention.  Something that 1,000s of talented comedy performers hadn’t managed.


So what does this mean for the rest of us (who aren’t performers and who don’t run antique shops):


  1. Acknowledge the noise:  If it’s there, acknowledge it and plan for it.  Don’t arrive on day 1 and be surprised that there are 1,000 other people trying to give flyers to passers-by too…
  2. You don’t need to follow your competitors:  Think about the example above.  “I need flyers because everyone else has them” is probably not true. There are almost certainly other ways of filling seats at a performance.
  3. Be disruptive:  Whether you work for a multinational or whether you’re an entrepreneur, find a different way of getting attention.


What are your views? How do you make sure you are heard above the noise?

1 thought on “Be disruptive: A hog’s head beats a leaflet any day”

  1. Pingback: What the double-glazing salesman taught me about how to waste an opportunity… | Adrian Reed's blog

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