Guerilla marketing can draw major attention to your business. This marketing strategy is widely used to help promote brands of all sizes in an unconventional way.
But what is guerrilla marketing, and could it work for your brand? Learn about this edgy marketing tactic below, including the definition, pros, cons, and examples.
- Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional form of advertising that seeks to draw maximum attention to a product or service at minimal cost, typically using shocking or surprising tactics, humor, and creativity.
- It gets its name from guerrilla warfare, as the methods are designed to take people by surprise.
- Different types of guerrilla marketing include outdoor, indoor, event ambush, experiential, viral/buzz, stealth, ambient, and projection.
- Pros of guerrilla marketing include that campaigns are usually low cost, accessible, easy to pull off, and memorable; cons include potential illegality, sending the wrong message, disruption, and risk of failure.
- Examples of successful guerrilla marketing include Fiji Water’s photobombing water girl at the Golden Globes and KitKat’s bench ad.
- What Does Guerrilla Marketing Mean?
- How Does Guerrilla Marketing Work?
- Types of Guerrilla Marketing
- Pros and Cons of Guerrilla Marketing
- Examples of Guerrilla Marketing
- Guerrilla Marketing Mistakes
- Is Guerrilla Marketing Illegal?
- Should You Do Guerrilla Marketing?
What Does Guerrilla Marketing Mean?
Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional form of advertising that seeks to draw maximum attention to a product or service at a minimal cost. It typically uses shock tactics, humor, or other creative or unexpected elements to capture people’s attention. Unlike traditional marketing and advertising, like television commercials or billboards, guerrilla marketing does not require a large budget. Instead, it relies on ingenuity to make an impact.
The advertising is designed to shock or surprise its audience (in a good way), ultimately bringing a new level of awareness to the brand. The target audience for a guerrilla marketing campaign is usually on the younger side, as this demographic is more likely to respond to edgier products and unconventional marketing strategies.
Why Is It Called Guerrilla Marketing?
Guerrilla marketing gets its name from guerrilla warfare. This type of warfare involves a small group who uses alternative methods to overtake a larger force. The methods are designed to take people by surprise. While the similarity comes from the element of surprise and unconventional tactics, guerrilla marketing should not be aggressive, violent, or harmful in any way.
A Brief History of Guerrilla Marketing
The term guerilla marketing was coined in 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson, a business writer. In his book “Guerrilla Marketing,” he defined it as an umbrella term for non-traditional marketing. The popularity of guerrilla marketing campaigns has only grown since then with the rise of technology. Thanks to social media, the cost of guerrilla marketing tactics has also decreased — anything from an evocative Twitter account to a secret website can do the trick without breaking the bank.
How Does Guerrilla Marketing Work?
Guerrilla marketing is a form of viral marketing that relies on shock, wonder, and surprise to spread its message. A guerrilla marketing strategy starts with determining the message you want to put across to your target audience. Then, you would figure out a novel or surprising way to present this message using guerrilla marketing tactics.
However the message is presented, it needs to be something that will incite a strong reaction from the people who see it. A guerrilla marketing campaign can be 2D, like posters or stickers stuck on buses or billboards. Or, it can be immersive, like an interactive art piece or performative stunt. It can even be a part of the environment, such as a park bench or an elevator.
The purpose of a guerrilla marketing campaign is to raise brand awareness in a way that forces consumers to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to the message, product, or cause. It’s a great viral marketing technique because it organically makes consumers want to take photos or videos to share with friends and family by text and social media.
Types of Guerrilla Marketing
When it comes to guerrilla marketing, there are plenty of options available. Here, we take a look at the types of guerrilla marketing strategies to figure out which one would be best for your business.
Outdoor Guerrilla Marketing
If you take a walk around your city, you’ll see plenty of ads. Billboards, buses, electronic signs, posters, and pavement stickers — nearly every surface possible has an ad plastered on it. But instead of printing a poster or sticking a logo somewhere, guerrilla marketers travel a more creative route.
Outdoor guerrilla marketing examples might include targeting an urban area with heavy car or foot traffic to plant something out of the norm, like a giant ice cream cone or statue. Alternatively, it could be something more subtle, like painting a crosswalk to look like a piano.
Indoor Guerrilla Marketing
Ads aren’t limited to outdoor spaces. Guerrilla marketing can take place in train stations, on campuses, and other indoor spots. For example, a decal frame might be stuck to a public bathroom mirror, allowing the user to take custom selfies.
Event Ambush Guerrilla Marketing
Events like football games, concerts, or parades can be ideal spots for a guerrilla marketing campaign — assuming management or event organizers don’t kick you out, which can be a real concern with these tactics. You could also be fined, depending on the laws in your state.
Event ambush guerrilla marketing might be a flash mob, sudden outfit change, or a theatrical performance. This type of guerrilla marketing can elicit a massive social media response, as anyone with a camera will be drawn to focus on the marketing stunt and not the event itself.
Experiential Guerrilla Marketing
This type of guerrilla marketing encourages the target audience to engage physically with the marketing material. Experiential guerrilla marketing examples include climbable sculptures, mazes, pop-up bars, or secret rooms. Another example is a human claw machine — people are strapped in and lowered into a pit of goodies, grabbing whatever they can hold onto.
Experiential guerrilla marketing is often held in a busy area, as the idea is to spark people’s curiosity and encourage them to engage with the item. The experience is often silly but always unexpected and difficult to ignore. Participants might go home with free products and an experience they won’t forget.
Viral or Buzz Guerrilla Marketing
Though many of us shop online, word of mouth still holds much power. Brands want buzz; the more people that talk about them, the better. To get attention, they’ll post something outrageous, shocking, absurd, funny, or sassy on social media as a viral guerrilla marketing campaign.
If it comes out of the blue, people will take notice. That’s the type of publicity a company wants, as it puts the brand name in people’s minds. Have you ever seen an ad that’s outrageous for the sake of it or a high-profile Twitter battle? Word of it spreads fast.
Stealth Guerrilla Marketing
Stealth marketing is the answer to ad fatigue — people don’t want ads shoved in their faces at all times. Instead, marketers use subtle, disguised ads to get their point across.
Stealth guerrilla marketing examples include product placement in TV and movies, faux reviews, and undisclosed influencer partnerships. It’s important to note that these types of guerrilla marketing campaigns don’t always have a positive outcome, as some people may consider it as being “tricked” when they find out it was an ad.
Ambient Guerrilla Marketing
Ambient guerrilla marketing makes use of pre-existing environments. Why construct something brand new when you can capitalize on what’s already there? Not only does this cut costs, but it also integrates a brand directly into the consumer’s world.
Brands want their products or message to be synonymous with daily life, and ambient guerrilla marketing supports that. Ambient guerrilla marketing examples include making use of construction or road signs by adding decals or 3D images to expand on their meaning (without removing the original sign, for safety).
Projection Guerrilla Marketing
If you have a projector and a surface, you’re all set for projection advertising. This type of guerrilla marketing involves projecting an ad temporarily wherever you like — but this is also where you can run into legal issues (like all forms of guerrilla marketing).
You can also get creative with height, texture, and still or moving images. For example, projecting a silhouette in a window or animals prowling on the roof of a zoo would attract significant attention. Look into the laws surrounding projection advertising in your area before attempting this.
Grassroots Guerrilla Marketing
A grassroots campaign targets a niche audience. True to its name, you start from the ground up. The idea is that once you’ve successfully targeted a small group of people, they will help you spread the word organically.
Pros and Cons of Guerrilla Marketing
Guerrilla marketing campaigns are low-cost, highly effective ways of getting your message across and can help you reach a wider audience — but they’re not without their downsides. Here’s a look at the pros and cons to help you decide what’s right for your business.
Pros of Guerrilla Marketing
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of guerrilla marketing campaigns.
Guerrilla marketing is attractive because it doesn’t cost as much as traditional marketing campaigns — in fact, it could even be free, depending on what you choose. This means the bulk of your advertising budget can be spent elsewhere.
A guerrilla marketing strategy is usually presented or performed in high-traffic urban areas or online. Both places allow huge numbers of people to see it, expanding your reach even further.
Whether it’s a flash mob or a projection on a building, street marketing campaigns aren’t usually permanent. They can be removed quickly once the message has been sent. Guerilla marketing tends to be easy to set up and easy to take down.
This type of advertising goes beyond the norm, and so it stands out as a result. People will remember what they saw — perhaps even more so than with traditional marketing campaigns.
Cons of Guerrilla Marketing
While guerrilla marketing strategies can be creative and attention-grabbing stunts, there are also some serious downsides to consider.
It’s best to check local laws before you deface road signs, advertise at events, or cause mayhem in a populated public area. The spirit of a guerrilla marketing strategy is to bend the rules and do something shocking. However, it can go awry quickly, especially if what you’re doing is considered illegal in your area or chosen space.
Guerrilla marketing ideas are usually shocking, surprising, sarcastic, humorous, or critical. But what if the people seeing it don’t get what you’re trying to say? This could damage your brand in a significant way.
A flash mob can be exciting, but it can also get in the way. Choose where and what you disrupt carefully. Your stunt could ruin an event that’s for a good cause or get in the way of people who are just trying to go about their business, causing your business to receive bad press.
Not Guaranteed to Work
As with all advertising and marketing campaigns, there’s no guarantee they will get attention or boost sales. Your guerilla marketing tactic could simply be ignored or generate so little attention it wasn’t worth the effort or cost. Not everything goes viral — in fact, most things don’t.
Examples of Guerrilla Marketing
Need a little inspiration for your own campaign? These guerilla marketing examples from big brands can give you ideas for your own brand.
FIJI Water’s Photobombing Girl
The 76th annual Golden Globes were held in 2019. One star stood out in particular — a woman dressed in blue carrying a tray of FIJI water throughout the night. She photobombed many stars up for awards, standing in the background and looking at the camera with a neutral expression.
Twitter exploded with talk of the “FIJI water girl.” The company had provided water for the event, and now their stunt was being propelled to center stage. It was a huge success for the brand, as people still remember and talk about this guerilla marketing campaign today.
KitKat’s Craving-Inducing Benches
If you’re looking for delicious guerrilla marketing ideas, look no further than KitKat! It turns out that the slats of benches look an awful lot like the slats of a KitKat bar. Someone realized this and turned it into an ad campaign. Inscribed with, “Have a break, have a KitKat,” people in parks and streets were encouraged to sit down and have a quiet moment.
Some of the benches were plain milk chocolate brown, while others appeared to be half unwrapped. Either way, this marketing move inspired serious cravings — and sales.
Colgate’s Hidden Message in Ice Cream Bars
Instead of discouraging kids from eating ice cream, Colgate devised a clever guerilla marketing strategy. They gave away ice cream and cotton candy but replaced the normal wooden sticks with ones that bore a hidden message. The stick was in the shape of a toothbrush and contained the Colgate logo and the words “Don’t forget.”
Kids still got to eat ice cream, but they were also reminded to brush their teeth afterward — making for an unexpected and memorable ad.
Guerrilla Marketing Mistakes
When using guerrilla marketing techniques, things can often go wrong, so you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons carefully. A prime example belongs to Snapple, which attempted to put the world’s largest popsicle in Manhattan’s Union Square. However, they didn’t freeze it properly, so when they opened the giant freezer truck, chaos ensued. Strawberry kiwi juice rushed out of their freezer truck and onto the streets of Manhattan.
A significant amount of the sticky pink liquid pooled in the streets, and firefighters had to be called in to block off surrounding streets and hose away the mess. As you can see, a guerilla marketing campaign can go haywire without proper planning and a successful test run.
Is Guerrilla Marketing Illegal?
The spirit of guerilla marketing is to be a little edgier than a traditional advertising strategy and maybe even to bend the rules a bit — however, this doesn’t mean you should break the law while you’re at it. A few artful stickers on a billboard aren’t likely to have repercussions, but mobbing a sports event will. Event organizers, shopkeepers, transport officials, mayors, government members, and consumers may have an issue with your campaign. The more extreme your campaign, the more likely it is to be shut down.
Should You Do Guerrilla Marketing?
Guerrilla marketing works best when it’s designed to attract your target audience in an exciting and unexpected way. But without proper targeting and planning in place, your guerilla marketing strategy can become a failure that ends up being a waste of time and money. It can also lead to bad press and a negative reputation. If you’re considering a guerilla marketing campaign, plan it out well in advance, do a test run in a controlled environment, and conduct research to ensure you aren’t breaking any laws.
If you want to generate buzz and don’t have a huge budget, guerrilla marketing could be an ideal solution. Big brands have done it in the past and earned major sales, while new brands have experienced success with it too — bringing recognition to a previously unknown name.
While there’s always the possibility that your guerrilla marketing campaign goes wrong and is shut down, there’s also the enticing potential that it goes viral. Now that you know what guerrilla marketing is, you can decide if it’s a risk you’re willing to take for your business.
Barbara Lawson is a marketing writer with over ten years of experience teaching marketing at a university level. Her content is backed by extensive research, and her expertise in the field is invaluable. Living in the beautiful city of Burlington, Vermont, Barbara enjoys practicing yoga to stay centered and focused.