Utah Monolith, Guerrilla Marketing Stunt?

Utah Monolith, Guerrilla Marketing Stunt?

We’ve seen them before: IHOP is changing its name to IHOB, aka the International House of Burgers. Domino’s is delivering pizzas using reindeer. The mere existence of those ginormous cellophaned Easter baskets that look AMAZING, but are actually just full of plastic grass, Styrofoam, crumpled up butcher paper and crap. 

(Full disclosure: 6-year-old me LOVED that crap basket, but still.)

Anyhow, the long-and-short of all of the above: These branding baits-and-switches sometimes work, as is evidenced by the fact that IHOP sold four times more burgers in the weeks after its campaign, and EVERY EASTER-CELEBRATING PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD has purchased one of those stupid baskets at some point in their lives. 

So why all of this talk of purposeful marketing deception? Because by now, we’ve all heard about the mysterious Utah monolith – discovered by wildlife biologists from a helicopter as they surveyed the remote desert landscape for wild bighorn sheep. Tweet from New York Times about Utah Monolith

The monolith was spotted, then disappeared, and now another one has popped up mere feet from an ancient archaeological site in Romania. And that one also disappeared. And just today, another one was discovered in California


Call us jaded (bitter? wise? a fabulously practical combo of all of these?), but we smell a marketing stunt. 

A Guerrilla Marketing Ploy in the Making

But to what end, exactly? Here are my five best guesses about the marketing genius behind the Utah Monolith.

1. Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney have banded together to start a new brand o’ booze, and it’s called “Monolith.”

I mean, this just makes sense. They’ve branded gin. They’ve peddled tequila. They’ve hawked coffee for a cause. They’re not adverse to a marketing stunt or two. Plus there’s a craft liquor craze going on, and this “holy trinity” of marketing powerhouses has the resources to commission the shiny metallic artwork and pay guerrilla teams to erect and remove the structures. 

They probably began their branding journey by brainstorming a clever portmanteau of their names, but Oldsneyman, Jackclorey and Hugery just didn’t work. Enter “Monolith,” which by the way is a brilliant name for a liquor. And the packaging? We’ll just leave this to your imagination.

Monolith Whiskey ad 
Well played, Team Hugery. Mighty well played... 

2. Visit Utah is targeting tourism. 

So when’s the last time you REALLY thought about a trip to Utah? It’s gorgeous and whatnot, but it’s probably not on your radar. Especially in the middle of a pandemic. Oh, but wait. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, that’s right! Which means, we have to socially distance. Which makes this the perfect time to travel to a remote location to hike and explore the vast outdoors. 

So what better time to put together a guerrilla marketing campaign wherein you “hide” a giant metal monolith in the middle of your expansive (did we mention gorgeous?) red-hued desert to have dedicated masses of conspiracy theorists and alien hunters seek out and FIND aforementioned giant metal monolith? 

​According to this Guardian article, “Intrepid visitors have been flocking to a remote part of southern Utah in an effort to be among the first to see the mystery metal monolith.” And since then, more and more people have been arriving (even some TikTockers who allegedly removed it), and loads of hikers are still exploring the area even though the monolith is no longer there. So if “Visit Utah” is behind this ruse – hats off! Utah is on our radar, once again. (And PS to the Romanian and Atascadero copycats: Way to hijack Utah’s campaign!)

3. Westworld launches a pre-Season-4 publicity stunt. 

Westworld is in the news, which is probably a good thing, considering I keep thinking they’re talking about that worst-movie-ever starring Kevin Costner, not an HBO limited series about robots and cowboys. Anyhow, some of the show’s superfans and/or production team members noted that they were filming near the location of the Utah monolith. The sci-fi/western series aired its last episode earlier this year, and the next entry in the dystopian saga isn’t expected until 2022. 

So what do you do if you’re the show’s powerhouse production team, and you desperately want to hold people’s attention in the midst of an expansive programing gap — and also to remind people that you’re NOT, in fact, called Waterworld? You “leave behind” a piece of the production set, waiting for someone to find it, which then kicks off a firestorm of speculation about aliens. Until they ominously announce, in concert with a promotional kick-off for the upcoming series premiere: “THE WESTWORLD MONOLITH POWERS ARE NOW ACTIVATED. Wait to see how the Monolith changes everything in Season 4 of Westworld.” 

Brilliant, and we’re totally here for it. Now, can Kevin Costner make a guest appearance? Just thought we’d ask.

Kevin Costner in Waterworld

(I mean, that could be a monolith he’s cuddling there…)

4. It’s Southwest. OF COURSE it’s Southwest. 

Southwest Airlines Utah Monolith Tweet

5. Pantone plays with a ploy.

At the end of every year in December, the Pantone Institute announces their Color of the Year pick from among their vast swatches of vibrant awesomeness for the next year. If you’re the creatives at Pantone, the obvious way to go is safe — to somehow allude to the pandemic through its color choice for 2021, likely reacting to the overwhelming depression of the dumpster fire that was 2020 by choosing something super bubble-gummy so that people forget the horror of this year. 

But join me in a game of “What if…” 

What if they decided this is the year to create a whole new color, then to undertake a campaign to get Pantone in the news. First step: Erect a series of metal monoliths sporting their color choice for the year. Next step: Hire teams around the world to erect and dismantle them surreptitiously. Final step: Announce your campaign, and suddenly, everyone’s talking about the Pantone Color of the Year 2021: Desert Monolith Silver. 

Pantone Desert Monolith Silver

Marketing the Monolith: A Final Analysis

So which one do you think is the best guess? Full disclosure: We all know it’s none of the above, and the aliens will be here to claim their monoliths shortly. 

But just in case you want to create a guerrilla marketing stunt of your own — you know, before the aliens arrive and whatnot — drop us a line, and we can help!  

(And one final note: Hey Hugery, if you need some marketing assistance for Monolith Whiskey – we’re here for that, too. Send samples!)

Mikalee Byerman is the VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group and does not entirely NOT necessarily believe in aliens. But she does believe in Hugh Jackman's ability to do just about anything. Email her with your guerrilla marketing questions or monolith conspiracy theories. 

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