STD Scare or Viral Marketing?
A curious sticker campaign featuring a hot hipster chick in a pouty-lip pose has even the most snooty veterans of the street-art scene doing a double take. The stickers show a MySpace URL and the blaring headline "JULENE HAS HERPES."
Could it be a new DIY fashion brand or an underground zine or a strange energy drink? Maybe it's a new band with the best name since the Scott Baio Army. Remember those "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" stickers that popped up across the nation in the early '90s and built Shepherd Fairy into a graphic-design juggernaut? Could it be like that?
No, it turns out that Julene is a real Denver native with real pouty lips who has turned what she says is a smear against her into an interesting bit of self-promotion.
"Guerrilla advertising is amazing," she says.
Julene Has Herpes began as a vindictive character attack perpetrated, Julene says, by a former "close friend" the 22-year-old won't name, except to note that he is quite possibly the biggest asshole in the world. Julene says that the stickers started appearing at some of her favorite coffee shops and bars in late October, not long after she and the asshole had a falling-out. The next week, someone started sticking them to light poles and dumpsters along Colfax. The week after, it was South Broadway.
She laughs about it now, but at the time, Julene admits, she was a crying mess. Her job in bar promotions made the situation even more difficult. "It's really hard for me to go out at night without at least a couple people recognizing my face off of the sticker," she says. Hits on her MySpace profile exploded to more than 300 a day, and messages flowed in from people wanting to know about the sticker.
That's when she and some friends decided to co-opt the campaign by embracing it. For the past two years, Julene has done nude modeling for Godsgirls.com, a kind of alternative porn website where pierced and tattooed girls pose in contemporary pinups in a self-described effort to reclaim pornography. So Julene scanned one of the three-inch stickers, posted it on her profile and then sent copies of it out to associates. She directed the sticker web traffic to her modeling page — "Get Infected!" — and now gets weekly paychecks in the mail for each new Godsgirls.com subscriber.
This tricky part is figuring how to deal with the main question she gets. "I just tell people: If I did have it, I'd probably deny it because I'd be embarrassed, and it wouldn't be any of your business anyway," she recites. "And if I didn't have herpes, everyone would still assume that I do. So there's no winning in this situation."
Fair enough. Julene may or may not have herpes. But her herpes does have a posse. Sticker spotters inspired by the original have reproduced the sticker with new phrases. So far there has been "Julene Has a Pretty Face," "Julene Is Tazing Bros," "Julene Has Her Pez" (featuring a Pez dispenser), and "Julene Beat Up Chuck Norris."
Have the stickers become a cultural phenomenon? Julene isn't sure. But she is contemplating how she might take the campaign to the next level. Shirts. Hats. How do you brand revenge, anyway? Isn't guerrilla marketing just the STD of the advertising world?
"I just figure that someone out there is doing all the marketing for me I could ever possibly imagine," she says. "It definitely catches people's eye."
Take a look at this slide show of sticker copy cats inspired by the Julene original.