You can holster the metaphorical pistol, no, guerilla marketing won’t have you wading through deep mud in gillie suits but it can give you the upper hand in turning the marketing tides.
What is Guerilla Marketing?
Guerilla marketing uses the element of surprise and unconventional messaging to spread awareness and promote products or services to customers. In 1984, advertising exec Jay Conrad Levinson drew inspiration from the battlefield to create “guerilla marketing” in his book Guerilla Advertising. The book focused on a shift from traditional marketing methods to digital. The term “guerilla” borrows from the warfare tactic best known for catching the enemy off-guard using ambushes and raids.
This disruptive advertising method relies on creative, memorable and even shocking images that evoke customer engagement and sparks awareness through word-of-mouth or virality. Take Netflix’s 3D billboard in Times Square promoting Resident Evil as a prime example of an immersive experience that gets people talking.
The Benefits of Guerilla Marketing
Pulling off a sophisticated promo can score big with customers in a way that other digital marketing tactics can’t. Here are some of the top benefits of guerilla marketing.
Budget-friendly: Executing guerilla marketing requires careful planning, thought and stacks of creativity. Your ingenuity is the biggest investment, not the implementation which makes it relatively low-cost.
FUN: We use capitals here to convey the correct meaning - guerilla marketing can and should be fun. Creativity is a large part of marketing in general, but few methods make it the focus of a campaign.
Memorable: A measure of success for guerilla marketing is how memorable it is. If people are gossiping to their friends, spreading and sharing your work online, you know you’ve created something special.
Partnerships: Placing your ads in popular locales, festivals and other significant areas opens the door for more exposure and getting noticed by potential collaborators.
Customer insights: Seeing the response to guerilla marketing ads reveals much about how customers perceive your brand and how they feel about it.
The Risks of Guerilla Marketing
If you get it right, guerilla marketing is a formidable tactic that can raise awareness on a large scale, strengthen brand identity and create a conversation around your company. But like most unconventional methods, they can backfire if not handled with care.
Be mindful of the following factors:
Risky: Ultimately, what you put out in the real world reflects your brand. Be mindful of using risky or controversial elements that might draw negative attention.
Getting buy-in: Guerilla marketing can be a hard sell to execs and budget gatekeepers. You’ll need a strong case that it’ll work to convince managers and get approval.
Sensitivity: Shock value by its very nature, is shocking. Be careful not to upset, frighten or irritate people with your ads.
8 Types and Examples of Guerilla Marketing
Now the real excitement can begin! Let’s look at some real-world examples that fall under the umbrella of guerilla marketing with these 9 types.
1. Ambient marketing
This makes clever use of an unusual location or place to display an advertisement. Ambient marketing draws inspiration from its environment so it feels natural and evokes emotion or engagement.
Example: Folgers coffee in New York
We love the ingenuity of this campaign. Folgers covered manholes across the city with coffee cup stickers that let the subway steam pour through the vents, just like a hot morning brew. The tagline reads, Hey City That Never Sleeps. Wake up. Folgers. This is a prime example of using the natural environment to heighten the impact of an advertisement. And in one of the busiest cities in the world, thousands of commuters can’t miss it.
2. Ambush marketing
This refers to companies and brands promoting themselves in the same place as a competitor or another company. Common places for ambush marketing are festivals, sports events and similar attention-heavy areas. The interesting (and risky) thing about ambush marketing is that companies don’t always have permission from the sponsor. Brands will pop up unexpectedly to create buzz, disrupt or piggyback off other campaigns.
Example: Audi vs. BMW
This now historic billboard battle between two automotive giants took place in Wisconsin, circa 2009. After sponsoring a rally, BMW likened the event to that of a chess game. Audi saw an opportunity to capitalise on their rival’s slogan and produced this:
Pretty funny. But for Audi, this light jab wasn’t enough. They provoked BMW further with another billboard ad, quite literally asking for a response.
The fight was officially on. BMW responded to Audi’s light-hearted but intentional mockery by flexing its automotive muscles. Right across the street, they erected this billboard, dealing what everybody thought was the final blow:
But it didn’t stop there! Audi wiped the sweat from their brow and squared up for another round. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough to stop BMW’s final haymaker - attaching a blimp to Audi's billboard with the slogan, “Game Over.” See the final bout below:
Astroturfing is highly controversial as it tries to create a positive message or image about a company or brand, that appears natural but is in fact, being funded or directed by the beneficiary. Examples of astroturfing are; paying bloggers for reviews (posing as non-biased), creating fake or bot accounts on social media to spread a message, and using influencers to say positive things about a product without any first-hand experience or evidence.
Example: McDonald’s paying part-time employees to queue for a new burger.
The city of Osaka in Japan eagerly awaited the release of McDonald’s new quarter pounder burger. Delicious indeed. But to generate buzz around their new product launch, the company paid 1000 people to queue, faking its popularity. Not the best idea.
4. Buzz marketing
This one plays into word-of-mouth marketing. There is little more powerful than a trusted source telling you about their experience with a brand. It gives automatic credibility and persuades without effort. It makes sense then that a popular guerilla marketing tactic hones in on this long-utilised strategy. In the digital age of social media and virality, companies can create a real buzz around a product that gets people talking and sharing at scale.
Example: Budweiser’s wassup commercial.
Budweiser wassup commercial- Funny Advertisement
Simply put, this is one of the best commercials of all time. It’s funny, memorable and impossible to resist mimicking. Drinking a Budweiser beer became synonymous with yelling “wassup” at your friends. Few marketing campaigns etch their way into our lexicon.
5. Guerilla projection mapping
Ever seen a video or image projected onto a building? This is guerilla projection mapping. An undeniably captivating marketing tactic that draws eyes and cameras from around the world. There’s nothing quite like seeing a video play out on a skyscraper as you’re taking a stroll.
Example: Irn-Bru Made in Scotland from Girders campaign.
This guerilla projection caught national attention due to its creative genius. Irn-Bru has always shared history with The Forth Bridge in Scotland and to commemorate this decades-long relationship, bottles of Irn-Bru were stunningly projected onto the bridge’s girders. Quite the spectacle.
6. Grassroots marketing
Unlike other marketing methods that aim to spread brand awareness or promote their products to the masses, grassroots marketing instead focuses on a smaller, highly targeted and niche audience for which its message can resonate more deeply.
Example: One Fund’s #BostonStrong campaign.
Grassroots marketing is a powerful driver for philanthropic and charitable campaigns. Centred on community and the selflessness of giving, one such example was One Fund’s Twitter campaign following the devastation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. They managed to raise $72 million and donate $2 million to each of the victim's families. We love to see marketing making a real difference and uniting people.
7. Stealth marketing
Stealth marketing happens by companies promoting a product or service without the customer’s knowledge of it. It’s passive and just “there”, two versions of this are product placement and undercover advertising.
Example: Axe body spray.
If you were born in the 90s onwards, you’ll likely be familiar with Axe body spray for men (or Lynx as it’s known in the UK). Aside from receiving Christmas gift sets for a decade, Axe’s mantra was making men “irresistible” to the opposite sex. Building on this outlandish claim (definitely not backed by science) they enforced clever guerilla stealth marketing by attaching stickers that show women chasing the male stick figure displayed on fire exits.
8. Street marketing
Another cost-effective and buzz-building guerilla marketing tactic is street marketing. This is when a company advertises their product in unconventional street areas such as parks, bus stops or other public areas. Street marketing is yet another showing of creative ingenuity that oozes brand identity.
Videogames are huge. Whether you like them or not, the gaming market was valued at €195 billion in 2021. God of War: Ragnarok is one of the most highly-anticipated games of the year, so why not capitalise off that momentum and excitement with a smartly placed ad? Right next to theirs. This is a great example of collaborative street marketing that garners tons of attention. Bravo KFC, well played.
Guerilla marketing is an unconventional marketing method that places extreme value in crafting creative, memorable and low-cost campaigns that spark curiosity, virality and evocative messages. It’s a marketing strategy worth adding to your toolkit when things need shaking up.