There are those who say that business – and marketing in particular – is a lot like warfare. It’s just that the battles are less deadly and marginally more genteel!
Phrases such as guerrilla marketing emphasize this combative approach and remind us that a good guerrilla marketing strategy draws its inspiration from guerrilla tactics such as surprise, speed, aggression, mobility and an out-of-the-ordinary approach to achieving an objective and defeating the enemy.
Other unconventional approaches associated with the concept of ‘guerrilla warfare’ include ambush marketing and, to a lesser extent, stealth marketing. The latter suggests SAS-style Special Forces covert marketing tactics to gain an advantage over an unsuspecting adversary.
Interested in adding a guerrilla marketing campaign to your arsenal? Read on and learn all you need to know, plus some of our favorite real-life guerrilla marketing examples of how to implement this battle-winning tactic.
Table of Contents
What is guerrilla marketing?
Guerrilla marketing definition
The six most successful guerrilla marketing examples to inspire your brand
What is guerrilla marketing?
Sometimes also referred to as ‘guerrilla advertising’ or even guerilla marketing (spelled with one ‘r’, but still correct), it came to the fore in 1984 when Jay Conrad Levinson, at the time the creative director of advertising agency Leo Burnett, published a book entitled Guerrilla Marketing.
His thinking was that guerrilla marketing would be of particular benefit to small businesses, and so he gave his tome the secondary heading Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business.
Suitable for budgets both big and small
With their cost-effective and budget-friendly force-multiplier effect, guerrilla marketing ideas have definite benefits for start-ups and small businesses, as well as medium-sized ones, which struggle to afford often-expensive traditional marketing and advertising. For this reason, it is also popular with cash-strapped non-profits looking for in-your-face ways to tap into the wallet of the consumer without having to resort to expensive advertising.
Today, we know that big corporations can also deliver an excellent guerrilla marketing campaign. Among those that spring to mind as big-budget exponents of guerrilla advertising are Coca-Cola, Burger King, and Red Bull.
For these big business owners, cost is often less of a concern than the reality that the consumer distrusts an advertisement and people have moved away from traditional channels like print, radio and TV, and are therefore harder to reach.
Some common features of a successful guerrilla marketing strategy
A marketer looking for a simple explanation of guerrilla marketing will likely be disappointed as there are a variety of opinions, even among guerrilla experts, as to what it is. But there are some common features of guerrilla marketing that most agree on:
- Guerrilla marketing is creative, quirky, and has the element of surprise. It’s not something the consumer expects as they go about their day-to-day lives.
- It is relatively inexpensive; if not purely in monetary terms then in terms of marketing ROI.
- It hasn’t been done before. Or, at worst, is ‘new’ to the target audience.
- It’s in-your-face and creates buzz.
- It has the potential to go viral on social media.
- It has the potential to create publicity.
- It lends itself to word-of-mouth marketing opportunities.
- Many will perceive it as a stunt.
- It’s edgy. Perhaps not downright illegal, but pushing boundaries in terms of what city official, a conservative client or conformist parents will approve of.
- It stirs emotion. Good guerrilla advertising ideas may create happiness, excitement, surprise, nervousness (in the case of a stunt that’s perceived as ‘dangerous’), or even push people out of their comfort zone (something that many non-profits strive to achieve).
Guerrilla marketing definition
If you’re looking for a formal definition, Investopedia defines guerrilla marketing as “a marketing tactic in which a company uses surprise and/or unusual interactions in order to promote a product or service. Guerrilla marketing is different than traditional marketing in that it often relies on personal interaction, has a smaller budget, and focuses on smaller groups of promoters that are responsible for getting the word out in a particular location rather than through widespread media campaigns.”
Entrepreneur, the well-known publication, defines it simply as follows: “An unconventional way of performing marketing activities on a very low budget.”
Marketingterms.com, which calls itself ‘The Digital Marketing Reference’, gives its definition of this form of marketing as: “Unconventional marketing intended to get maximum results from minimal resources.”
What guerrilla marketing is not
Defining what it is, brings us neatly to the next step, which is examining what guerrilla marketing isn’t.
- It isn’t a strategy that relies only on this one channel to achieve an objective. "Instead of believing that single marketing weapons such as advertising work, guerrillas know that only marketing combinations work," says Jay Conrad Levinson.
- It’s not an ideal strategy for brands that are risk-averse. If top management has no risk appetite or you’re in a staid industry such as corporate banking or traditional financial services, this may not be for you.
- It’s not traditional media. Even if it’s a very creative, unusual, and innovative marketing or advertising campaign, it’s unlikely to qualify as ‘guerrilla’ if it relies mainly on traditional media such as print, TV, or radio advertising to convey the message.
Speaking to Entrepreneur, three marketing strategy experts gave their take on what guerrilla marketing is not:
- Adam Salacuse of ALT TERRAIN, an experiential marketing activation agency: “Never aim to upset, scare, or provoke people in a negative way. The goal should be to implement something that people will embrace, enjoy and share with friends.”
- Brett Zaccardi of Street Attack, a non-traditional branding agency: “Don’t be contrived or too bland. Don’t try to be something you’re not.”
- Drew Neisser of Renegade Marketing, a B2B marketing agency: “Try not to annoy your target. [It] is generally not a good idea to do something that will cause someone on the team to go to jail.”
Guerrilla marketing bedfellows
Given that one marketer may define guerrilla advertising differently to another, let’s briefly list some other forms of marketing that may, depending on the organization’s view, either fall within the guerrilla ambit or be complementary:
This involves creatively using an out-of-home element to convey a promotional message. For example, using: stairs; lifts; pavements; roadways; toilets; public squares.
Riding on the back of another organization’s marketing in order to promote your own message. An example would be leveraging the Fifa World Cup even though you aren’t an official tournament sponsor.
Defined as an activity that requires the audience to interact with, and experience, the brand in some way. Enabling a one-on-one experience with the consumer is ideal.
This is a retail outlet opened temporarily at a specific location. It may merely be an extension of a traditional retail strategy in order to take advantage of extra product demand over the Christmas season, for example. Or, if a pop-up shop is executed with creativity, it could constitute a guerrilla, ambush, or experiential marketing strategy.
This is when a product or service is promoted to an audience without them being aware of it. Product placement in a movie is one such illustration. Sponsoring a social media influencer to post about a product or service without disclosing the nature of the relationship is another.
Simple distribution of flyers to passers-by is a form of traditional street marketing. But in our context, we’re looking for an idea that’s more creative and ‘happening’. Using graffiti, reverse graffiti or other gritty, real-world, techniques are cases in point.
Guerrilla advertising exponents usually aim to have their promotion go viral so as to maximize bang-for-the-buck. One of the challenges, though, is that this is in the hands of social media users, not the brand and its agencies.
The six most successful guerrilla marketing examples to inspire your brand
Want to know about some of the world’s great guerrilla marketing ideas? By all means, use an idea to inspire you. But don’t copy-cat, because the definition of a successful guerrilla marketing campaign means being unique!
Here, in no particular order, are our top six great guerrilla marketing examples.
1. The dressing room in the street
Arkaden is a popular fashion mall in the center of Gothenburg, a city of around 600 000 people in Sweden. For the autumn (fall) fashion season, mall management wanted to show off the vast array of winter clothing and the many top brands on offer.
By creatively targeting people in the trendy and fashion-conscious 25-35 age group, mainly women, they hoped to entice them to visit the mall and try on the autumn collection. If they tried it and liked it, maybe they’d buy it was the rationale.
To create buzz and attract attention, the mall’s creative agency moved the mall’s dressing room out into the street and turned the ‘shells’ that typically hold an outdoor pavement advertisement, into mirrors for the customers to check out their fashionable appearance. Then they added stylish photographs of some of the outfits on sale to the mirrors, along with the theme phrase of the marketing campaign: ‘Get Fabulous’.
Many people who wanted to ‘look fab’ streamed to Arkaden to check out the novel approach and take in the fashion on offer. The campaign was simple, effective, novel, and not too expensive.
Image Source: Ads of the World
2. Putting the focus on the ‘invisible’ homeless
A cost-effective guerrilla marketing campaign is ideal for perennially cash-strapped NGOs. RaisingTheRoof, a Canadian charity that focuses on the plight of the homeless and ways to fight homelessness, implemented its own bang-for-the-buck strategy by reminding busy city dwellers of the ubiquitous, yet often ‘invisible’ homeless youth all around them.
The NGO’s marketing team came up with hard-hitting – some might say ‘uncomfortable’ – posters that were placed around the city in locations where homeless young people would typically sit … and typically be ignored.
RaisingTheRoof’s poster message was stark and unambiguous: “If this poster were a homeless youth, most people wouldn’t even bother to look down.” Does anything more need to be said? Is there any doubt as to what people should do? A guerrilla campaign at its best.
Image source: WeLoveAd
3. Open the door to a cool, frothy, beer
While the marketing campaign above was understandably serious, Polish beer brand Tyskie decided on a simple, attention-grabbing tactic that was also light-hearted and fun.
Why not surprise and delight consumers by turning a bland, functional, and everyday item into something that would raise a smile, while also emphasizing a brand message? Like a door handle, for instance?
In the course of a lifetime, we will probably open and close a door hundreds of thousands of times. And how many of those instances will we remember? Probably close to zero unless we happen to close the door on our fingers!
So Tyskie hit on an eye-catching idea: a branded door handle that resembled a frothy and enticing mug of beer. The approach was simple, a little silly, and sure to brighten the day of everyone who opens a door. Wouldn’t that make you want to celebrate with a beer?
4. Giant underpants on a New York City street
It sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? In fact, you might say it’s a load of bull. But some of the best guerrilla marketing ideas are daft – yet successful because people are often happy to embrace daft in an all-too-serious world.
When GoldToe, an undergarment brand, looked for innovative and unconventional methods of promoting its new product range, it decided to put items of its clothing on well-known statues around New York City. Among them was the famous Charging Bull bronze statue in the city’s financial district near Wall Street.
Covering that bull-sized bronze bottom was no easy feat, but GoldToe’s marketing team rose to the challenge. The campaign went viral, due in part to the high-traffic locations and the large number of camera-ready tourists who frequent the Big Apple, and attracted plenty of mainstream media attention as well.
Putting underwear on a big bull as a promotional concept? Why not, it’s guerrilla marketing, after all!
5. Millions enthralled by the world’s highest skydive
From a bronze bull to a Red Bull! There are some marketers who contend that the Red Bull-sponsored quest for the world’s highest skydive shouldn’t qualify as a classic guerrilla campaign because it certainly wasn’t low-cost. But supporters point out that it met many other guerrilla marketing criteria: out of the ordinary; unique; edgy; ability to go viral; vast publicity potential; and a strong experiential element.
Given what the Red Bull Stratos skydive achieved for the brand, there’s a case for arguing that, despite the obvious cost, it achieved significant bang-for-the-buck.
Red Bull has always based its brand-building around sport and pursuing the extreme limits of human endeavor. The Stratos marketing campaign took this to new heights (yes, pun intended) when it partnered with daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner to jump from the edge of space and set a world record skydive of 39km (24 miles) above the earth (subsequently bettered by another skydiver a few years later). The Austrian also became the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.
It turned out to be a great guerrilla marketing example. The publicity and hype were phenomenal, social networks embraced and amplified the excitement, and people around the world were able to engage with the heart-stopping attempt live via a dedicated website, through YouTube, and on Twitter and Facebook. As Baumgartner plummeted earthwards there were 8-million concurrent views on YouTube.
Subsequently, the YouTube video has notched up 46.4-million views to date. You can watch it here:
6. ‘Message to space’ tugs at the heart-strings
In a similar vein, Hyundai motor company’s Message to Space campaign was a unique, grand, big-budget global affair that, in part at least, also played out high above the earth. But while Red Bull emphasized the fear factor, Hyundai tugged at the heart-strings and played on the love between a 13-year-old daughter and her faraway dad - an astronaut circling high above the earth on the International Space Station.
The company took 11 of its cars to a dry lake bed in the US state of Nevada and then used GPS technology to enable a team of professional stunt drivers to use their tire tracks to create a message in the sand that read: ‘Steph (short for Stephanie) loves you!” Given dad’s height above the earth – around 400km – the wording needed to be large to be seen by him as he passed overhead, so the Hyundai team created a message measuring five square kilometers. This was subsequently recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest tire track image ever created.
International publicity around the event was huge, social media users loved it and the YouTube video continues to be a hit – attracting 72.3-million views so far. This figure, alone, tells you that it’s an excellent guerrilla marketing example. You can watch the viral video here:
Given the continued growth of social platforms that enable brands to connect directly with consumers – and the increased expectation that the public be surprised, delighted, and entertained by brands – expect guerrilla marketing to continue to flourish in 2021.
There are thousands of great examples of campaigns by guerrilla marketers out there, as well as some epic failures too. If you’d like to share some of those guerrilla marketing examples, please let us know about it by tweeting us @Meltwater.