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Kicking the ad man to the Curb

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This is not as corny as it sounds. Ganjou explains that natural advertising simply means “ads that are created and crafted and delivered using natural materials rather than unnatural materials”. Remember when Innocent smoothies cut its logo into turf? That’s the thing. Except that Ganjou is doing it bigger and better that anyone else.

After only six months in business, the start-up has executed campaigns for Budweiser, Puma, ING and the Carphone Warehouse. And Ganjou is currently slap-bang in the middle of a massive promotion for Kia cars – with 650 clean “tags” appearing around London, it’s the largest clean advertising campaign ever conducted.

Clean advertising is where it’s at. Ganjou had the idea of “cleaning” logos, messages and images into pavements back in early 2008. This ridiculously simple, yet powerful, gimmick has propelled the firm into the corporate limelight. “We use filtered rainwater to literally ‘clean’ ads into the pavement,” he says. “The fact that it’s natural creates the wow factor. The unusual placement turns heads.” These ads last a minimum of two weeks, “although we have a clean ad in central London which is still crystal clear four months later”, says Ganjou.

It’s guerrilla marketing at its best. And Ganjou has lots more tricks up his sleeve to keep Joe Public guessing. Six months prior to launch, he spread his eco net wide, holding meetings with leading horticulturists, solar artists and sand sculptors. By the time he launched the firm in September 2008, he had a smorgasbord of ecological talent on side. Today, Ganjou can rustle you up a solar woodcut at a moment’s notice, using only a magnifying glass and the sun’s rays. Want your logo depicted in a waterfall? No problem. Or how about a giant edifice made of sand?

A PR stunt that contributes to your firm’s corporate responsibility? No wonder Curb’s first-year turnover is predicted between £500,000 and £1m. “We’ve been absolutely deluged with work,“ he says. “We’re getting hundreds of emails a week from people all over the world to say they can’t wait to see what we do when we arrive in Australia, America, Asia, Australasia and everywhere else…”

It may sound like marketing puff but there’s no denying Curb’s success. Each campaign brings in between £2,000 and £60,000. And Ganjou is keen to emphasise that Curb could go even bigger: “If someone wanted to do a 30-metre-tall installation made out of rare plants, or even diamonds, out in New Zealand somewhere, that’s no problem for us,” he says with a grin.

Ingenuity no matter what the budget is the name of the game. During February’s infamous “snow day”, Ganjou managed to turn around a campaign for sports brand Extreme in a matter of hours, “snow-tagging” 3,000 logos onto street furniture all over London. Extreme CEO Al Gosling was bowled over: “Curb were able to turn it around in a couple of hours and we were very impressed!” Ganjou confirms: “We generated media awareness and coverage to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds”. All for the meagre sum of £1,000…

Ganjou uses the same ingenuity within his own company. He launched Curb with “only a couple of thousand pounds. I lived on my wits for the first few months,” he says. He kept overheads on a shoestring by commandeering his parents’ basement Marylebone: “When I first told them that I was going to change the world by cleaning streets, my mum nearly swallowed her spoon,” he says. “But I managed to convince them to clear out the basement.” The firm was christened Curb because of this setting. “Though we recently got flooded,” admits Ganjou. “How ironic is that? A natural marketing company getting screwed by the rain.”

Ganjou plans to move soon, however. “We’re looking for a tree house in central London somewhere,” he jokes. The basement is room enough for three staff (Ganjou also has 25 other employees in satellite offices around the country) but, having achieved a £60,000 turnover in five months from a standing start and with a clutch of new deals on the cards, the young company is going to need more room.

It’s an unusual time to experience such lightning expansion, especially as a start-up. But Ganjou believes that launching in a recession might have been his smartest move yet. “We’re providing things that people haven’t seen before,” he says. “We cut through all the clutter of traditional outdoor advertising and impact directly on the target consumer. That’s what makes us stand out.”

It also helps that Ganjou has widened his remit by suspending his moral compass, refusing to pass judgement on prospective clients. Despite the firm’s emphasis on “green”, should McDonald’s or Primark require his services, he’s game. “As long as we are using natural advertising to promote their brand, it does not matter what their green credentials are like,” he says. It’s mercenary, but smart.

Also, unlike many forms of “real world” advertising, Curb doesn’t compete with digital agencies. Instead, he partners with them. “Our clean ads can also serve as calls to action,” he explains. “Just by including a URL in the ad, we can get people online.” Curb’s latest Kia campaign saw over 2,500 people register for the micro site competition in two weeks.

This agency-friendly business model means that other marketing firms are more likely to outsource any clean campaigns to Curb, rather than launch copycat departments. “We’re not setting out our stall our to conflict with any established agencies,” says Ganjou.

Ganjou has a wise, old head on his 27-year-old shoulders. But then, he was a slick entrepreneur even at school: “I used to sell Marvel playing cards,” he says. “I’d buy them in from Forbidden Planet and sell them on for astronomically high prices.” He certainly has an eye for a trend. From top trumps to eco-ads, his timing could not be better. As firms all over the world struggle to reduce their carbon footprint, take an ecological stance and out-green their competitors, Ganjou provides a solution that boosts business at the same time.

“And the great thing about this business model is that I can do it absolutely anywhere,” he says. “There are no geographical barriers to natural advertising.” Curb has done campaigns all over Europe and Ganjou aims to make the firm wholly international within five years. Part of his strategy for breaking the US was to create a solar portrait of Obama to present to the new president after his inauguration. “He’s been too busy to accept it so far,” admits Ganjou. “But he’ll get around to it.”

For a small company, Ganjou has big dreams. He’s already got his heart set on running a campaign for the upcoming Olympics: “If there was one thing I would absolutely love to do with Curb, it would be to clean every street in London for the 2012 Olympic games.” No doubt he’ll do it, too. But for now, the Curb founder is distracted. Snow flakes have begun to fall outside the window. “Look! It’s snowing,” he says, reaching for his phone. “I’d better get my snow taggers out there fast.”

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