‘Going guerrilla’ doesn’t involve a business trip to the zoo, unfortunately.
Well, it’s entirely possible depending on your brand’s purpose — but I’ll get to that later.
Guerrilla Marketing is actually a unique, intriguing way to surge your brand exposure and sales by generating impactful buzz that people can’t resist exploring.
The name interestingly derives from combative guerrilla warfare:
Now it begins to make sense.
Thank goodness it doesn’t literally involve this stuff:
Guerrilla Marketing often denotes a ‘physical’ 4D approach; modifying everyday environments where potential target audiences walk, talk, eat, work, breathe etc., rather than solely utilizing the multitude of digital channels to which we’re so accustomed today.
It’s this perception of breaking the rules that makes Guerrilla Marketing infinitely more exciting and eye-catching than traditional marketing or standard digital marketing methods alone — yet, it’s also powerfully supplementary to both — and can also operate online.
I’ll cover that intricacy, too.
“The original business term ‘Guerrilla’ was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book: Guerrilla Marketing.”
So, how does this advertising strategy compare to the norm?
What does it look like?
The aim of brands who practice Guerrilla Marketing is to make it so memorable, you will never forget their campaign.
Even after seeing or experiencing it just once.
When Guerrilla Marketing takes place offline: Think of print marketing on 1,000 steroids, and an immense dose of gamma radiation like The Hulk happened to absorb:
(Photo Source: Marketing Birds)
It’s that cool! And so relevant to stand out in our tech-saturated setting.
However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be big in the flesh.
Translating Guerrilla Marketing into appropriate business terminology would look like this:
Unconventional, creative, memorable, and exceedingly practical ‘quick fire’ brand exposure campaigns launched with the deliberate intention of surprising competitors whilst wowing target audiences in environments where they will be most receptive (typically launching offline, then spreading online in today’s connected world — although this process can be reversed to suit).
i.e. Guerrilla Warfare exploits deep knowledge of landscapes, the enemy, and the element of surprise to create unexpected short-burst attacks on enemy soldiers.
Describing Guerrilla Marketing (in Bullets)
- It’s a hugely resourceful concept
- It must be unique to be successful
- It absolutely must work, first time
- It’s often deeply location-oriented
- It can be a stepping stone to virality
- It can instantly change brand perception
- It can be successful for brands of all sizes
- It’s fundamentally ‘surprise’ marketing at its core
Check out the Coca Cola ad that literally grabs you — promoting the brand’s ‘new grip’ bottle:
(Photo Source: Business2Community)
Popular Types of Guerrilla Marketing
- Word-of-Mouth (inventing strategic rumors or ‘secrets’)
- Hand-to-Hand (the physical, intimate sharing of products)
- Graffiti (though reverse graffiti is recommended, which makes use of dirty surfaces)
- Stealth (subtle product placements that people don’t consciously notice)
- Ambush (hijacking the exposure of big events or successful competitor marketing)
- Flash Mob (groups of people performing an unusual or seemingly random act, before dispersing)
- Experiential (immersive product and/or service experiences — it can also work for B2B)
(Photo Source: Pinterest)
- Posters or Stickers (sometimes cryptic, often numerous in targeted locations)
- Projections (onto buildings etc. — which can be frowned upon, or even illegal)
- Wait Marketing (where target audiences are waiting for something, like a bus!)
- Treasure Hunts (also creates a sense of intrigue via the communication of clues)
- Grassroots (targeting brand enthusiasts who will share your message everywhere)
- Ambient (unexpected placements that encourage passersby to stop and think)
For instance, this attention-grabbing ‘broccoli tree’ promoted a Swiss chain of vegetarian restaurants:
(Photo Source: Think Guerrilla)
What Guerrilla Marketing Isn’t
- Merely ‘clever’ marketing (aside from #4 on this link, which is guerrilla-oriented)
- Viral marketing (a common confusion — although there are certainly some overlaps, due to our fascination of being digitally-connected)
“Guerrilla Marketing is an act of disguise. It’s an effort to advertise to people who don’t feel like consuming adverts.”
(Professor Michael Serazio via TakePart)
Here’s my own brief example of outdoor Guerrilla Marketing that I personally conjured up for you:
“Just before the festive holidays began in 2018, Soap Brand A caught Soap Brand B and its customers completely off guard with its city-central rush hour display of genius; whereby big fluffy flakes of ‘snow’ began falling from skyscrapers during a forecasted dry day.
This noticeably unusual-looking snow turned out to be usable soap, each one with a special hidden message and product voucher code inside.”
Let’s explore more visuals.
Referring back to the opening line of this guide — if your job happens to involve attracting tourists to a zoo, your gorilla Guerrilla Marketing will most certainly make use of animal characteristics:
(Photo Source: Our Planet)
I doubt they were on a restricted budget…
By the way, Guerrilla Marketing isn’t mostly confined to buses and bus stops, don’t worry. (That would be kind of boring.)
These examples are just too good for you to miss!
But, while we are still on the topic of buses — see how watch brand IWC wittedly promoted their products using public transport en route to the nearby airport (in proximity to their stores, of course):
(Photo Source: Quill & Pad)
And, how this film was advertised:
(Photo Source: Marketing Birds)
Here’s Toblerone ‘going guerrilla’, before the brand’s chiefs decided to controversially widen the gaps between each choc piece to cut costs…
They should have definitely stuck with Guerrilla Marketing to generate extra sales, instead.
(Photo Source: Antevinio)
Now you’ve observed a few cool open air examples to whet your appetite for this awesome style of marketing, here are the 3 prime reasons to implement such a strategy for your business this year — together with further displays of ‘guerrilla’ audacity from the past years.
MAJOR REASON #1: It Can Be Affordable
You’ll be glad to know you can achieve the same desired effect as the brands shown above, even at a fraction of the cost (or no cost at all, if you wish to be super inventive).
“Guerrilla marketers do not rely on the brute force of an outsized marketing budget. Instead, they rely on the brute force of a vivid imagination.”
(Jay Conrad Levinson, Author of Guerrilla Marketing)
Remember, Guerrilla Marketing is originally based on the concept of ‘the little guy’ beating bigger, more organized competition — and where you may lack in resource, you can win by displaying agility that many corporate brands never will — due to their characteristic red tape and cumbersome chains of approval.
Use this coveted freedom to your advantage!
And just to emphasize:
You can begin Guerrilla Marketing very soon, for absolutely ZERO cost.
You will struggle to find any other promotional technique that has such massive impact in 2019 — while paying either nothing, or next to nothing.
To prove it, take a peek at the following successful campaigns and be inspired.
Like many goliath brands today, Pinterest started small.
Notably: At the very beginning, it was partly the Guerrilla Marketing tactics of its CEO, Ben Silbermann, that really got the word out about this new visual sharing platform.
It’s an ideal story to illustrate the reverse way of working traditional guerrilla strategies (usually offline → online), because it primarily involves a basic, digital component.
(Image Source: YouTube)
How did Silbermann do it?
He simply visited his local Apple store, and set Pinterest as the homepage on every single computer on display — computers the public would be using.
Genius thinking or what!
Notice how this ‘online’ Guerrilla Marketing differs from the online marketing we all know? ☺
His hometown friends also helped spread the message about Pinterest, at the grand total cost of $0.
While there were undoubtedly a lot more factors that contributed to the growth of Pinterest, it’s undeniable that a current worth of $12Billion+ and ~200Million active monthly users are the fruits of efforts like Silbermann’s during the early days.
(Graph Source: TechCrunch)
Imagine if a similar idea was deployed at hundreds of stores across the world…
Yep. Mighty powerful. And FREE.
Mr. Silbermann has since earned the unofficial reputation of “the man who quietly grew a multi-billion dollar brand.”
King Kong 3D
I just couldn’t resist including some form of gorilla Guerrilla Marketing. 😉
To promote the beastly King Kong 3D theme park attraction in Florida, Universal Studios pulled off something quite spectacular with assistance from The David&Goliath Agency.
This larger than life publicity stunt left enormous footprints in the sands of Santa Monica Beach, complete with a crushed lifeguard SUV:
(Photo Source: WordStream)
Heck, it might cost several hundred bucks to purchase a vehicle just to be ruined, but I’m sure you’d have fun crushing it somehow…
*Footprints are usually free, as a bonus.
This campaign was effective in sparking intrigue and encouraging people to take photos, while sharing their unique and unexpected experience across social networks.
On the ground, the brand’s message was apparently reinforced by strategically-positioned ambassadors, to ensure the target audience thoroughly investigated what was happening on the beach.
Multiple news outlets also sent helicopters to cover the story; which may have been initiated by the marketing agency’s team.
If that wasn’t already enough, a second stunt was simultaneously deployed at The Dodger stadium — which appeared to be demolished at one corner, resembling the on-foot exit of King Kong:
(Image Source: YouTube)
A smoking effect was added at this corner, pointing to a likely partnership deal between the stadium owners and Universal Studios (else I expect they would have been pretty damn annoyed!).
The distinctive theme park attraction has since been a hit with thrill seekers and top press outlets, worldwide.
(Image Source: Mirror)
While the latter partnership was probably quite expensive, you definitely don’t need to dive so deep into your pockets — and more importantly, you don’t need to be an established brand to win at Guerrilla Marketing.
As perfectly demonstrated, next…
MAJOR REASON #2: You Can Beat Big Brands
I mentioned earlier that traditional Guerrilla Marketing strategies usually begin offline, before spreading online.
Well, aside from Pinterest’s CEO’s off the cuff homepage switching, this is a classic example of highly-organized and rumor-driven ‘small guy’ online Guerrilla Marketing that is arguably the most lucrative of all time.
And do bear in mind: This took place just one year after Google launched, so the public internet was in its infancy.
You will be amazed, I guarantee it.
The Blair Witch Project
The story of The Blair Witch is nothing more than a fictional creation, yet the hit psychological horror movie (premiered in 1999) produced almost $250Million with a budget of only $60K — mainly due to the deliberately-disseminated illusion that The Blair Witch was 100% real!
To this day, such a colossal ROI is undeniably rare in the film industry.
Let’s put it into perspective:
Budget: $1.1 million
Box Office: $225 million
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT 
Box Office: $248 million
GET OUT 
Budget: $4.5 million
Box Office: $254 million
What’s more? Filming took the crew just 8 days from start to finish.
Not a bad earner if you ask me. Jeez.
[Question: Name a 2019 digital marketing campaign with similar ROI figures? ** scratches head **]
But why did people from around the world incessantly believe it was all so real, to the point of actually going out to the woods and attempting to hunt the witch?
Here’s a ‘missing’ poster that was tactically posted to online forums, directing people to the website:
(Image Source: Pinterest)
This was all completely made up; the ‘missing’ people are actors in the film.
Printed posters (like these) were also distributed throughout local colleges…
The official IMDb page even listed all 3 actors as “missing, presumed dead” in the first year of its release, while hiring more actors to pose as investigative police officers for the website.
Disregarding the film production budget and focusing on a more standard business model — how much does it cost to set up a basic website of your own, recruit a small team of friends or family as actors, and post mysteriously to a number of popular forums / social networks?
I’m sure you can spare ~$50 in quest of defeating massive brands!
For such a relatively primitive time, this type of marketing was like nothing seen before.
“Producers paid the cast to go into hiding and avoid publicity for a year after the film’s release, to help perpetuate the illusion that they really had died.”
(Source: The Telegraph)
USA Today notably declared The Blair Witch Project as the first film to ‘go viral’, despite having been produced before the existence of many technologies that facilitate such phenomena.
I bet the famous, multi-million $$$$$ film production brands were left shell-shocked.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and the domination of the social network industry is unwavering; it’s an intensely fierce environment that you’d imagine to be almost impossible to break into as a newcomer social platform.
With the likes of Facebook’s collective, Twitter and LinkedIn — how on earth does a smaller brand build enough momentum to not only survive, but flourish?
Snapchat found out how.
The brand was a tiny baby compared to the established social behemoths already out there in 2016, so its promo needed a special touch to make a lasting impression:
(Photo Source: Billboard Insider)
Bear in mind that 99% of people (my very own estimated stat) didn’t have a clue what this strange ghost symbol meant! Even competitors like Facebook…
There were no ‘Snapchat’ references or textual indicators included in any of the billboard ads across the USA — bold move or what?
The mystery prompted thousands to search the ghostly logo on Google, resulting in mass exposure and consequent word-of-mouth marketing.
“The oddity of the billboard got so many people talking in Pennsylvania, that a media outlet in Harrisburg wrote a story explaining Snapchat, resulting in a viral article.”
(Source: App Partner)
Snapchat prolonged the in-house-designed enigma even after the public understood the original billboards — by creating 50 different visuals that only Snapchat users would truly decipher:
(Photo Source: Bandt)
This time, not even the logo was present!
Canada and the UK were next on the list, where the secretive language continued on billboards throughout multiple cities.
Some might speculate it’s a strategy that could have been hit or miss…
I say: Prior to its IPO in early 2017, Snapchat reported a whopping ~$400M in annual revenue.
MAJOR REASON #3: You Will Be Remembered
It should by now go without saying that all Guerrilla Marketing is to be memorable — but I shall leave no stone unturned!
Or rather, no manhole…
That’s right. These typically dirty, unattractive, man-made openings in the ground can be transformed into masterpieces of guerrilla art that will ensure eternal brand recall.
Before showing you how, here’s why this particular method is so effective at being visually etched into the memories of passersby:
- Manholes are everywhere
The lesson here?
If you can change people’s memory of an inanimate yet numerous object or thing, it’s going to be YOUR BRAND that comes to mind every other time they come across it, pretty much forever.
Are you excited? You should be.
Check out how Folgers Coffee efficiently promoted their hot drinks in NY City during 2006, thanks to ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi:
(Photo Source: Gothamist)
You probably won’t forget it after seeing this photo.
Imagine witnessing this in real life?
[Admittedly, the aroma may have been just a little different to coffee, an aspect which probably deserved more planning — but you get the idea.]
Folgers isn’t the only brand to have caught on to this clever technique, either.
The ‘It’ Movie
Across the globe in Sydney, promoters of the 2017 ‘It’ horror movie also took to the drains to unleash an absorbing wave of helium-filled ads:
(Photo Source: Viralgaf)
This red balloon is symbolic of the evil Pennywise clown characterized in the film — one which lurks in the sewers.
Normal manholes really don’t seem the same anymore!
Accompanying the iconic campaign were a series of murals across cities in Oz:
(Image Source: YouTube)
An agency 5-months fresh into Australia (Mr. Glasses) was challenged with the task of promotion, and provided with a shoestring budget of just $10K…
While the film grossed almost $128Million.
Remember, Guerrilla Marketing requires a significant amount of research and understanding of the culture that is 1) attached to your company and 2) your customers.
But, you must also deeply understand (and have great respect for) the general public — even your competitors.
Failure to do so, can leave you being remembered for the wrong reasons.
For instance, the ‘It’ campaign evidently did a lot of good:
^^ This guy is a popular and very senior PlayStation employee.
Yet, give the press or critics even a slight reason to throw stones, and you can quickly find yourself in hot water:
You must plan ahead, and obsessively weigh up the pros and cons of every guerrilla campaign.
Clearly, 8 comments and 9 shares on this piece of negative press didn’t hurt the movie’s success in any long-lasting way.
Much of the time, success naturally attracts detractors.
Just be prepared for it! ☺
You’ll be glad to hear that ‘being prepared’ can actually involve a great deal of fun, too.
Audi vs BMW
I couldn’t possibly think of a better example of brand dynamism to show you.
This is the pinnacle of agile Guerrilla Marketing displayed by two automobile giants — brands that could otherwise appear to be quite bland if they didn’t bother raising the bar.
If it’s not the press or the public having digs, you can bet your guerrilla’s bananas it’ll be your competition.
In this case, Audi first ignited a hugely-entertaining feud by provoking BMW with a playful billboard:
(Photos Source: Pinterest)
Of course, BMW wasn’t going to just let this lie.
The brand responded by purchasing another billboard directly across the street with the word, “Checkmate.”
There were several other cheeky counters between them, before Audi dared to say:
This pushed BMW to go one step further!
Such a memorable act of audacity…
BMW sadly concluded the public spat by moving its standard billboards to a different location, which ended this comical battle for turf.
However, it was all entirely worth the mutual endeavor — both brands received tons of recognition:
The final lesson here?
If you want to be remembered, get ready to adapt to anything that comes your way!
Guerrilla Marketing turns your brand into a magnet — it’s up to you to transform everything you attract into positive results.
BONUS: Your 10-Point Guerrilla Marketing Checklist
- Aim for brand loyalty and retention, not just spikes of exposure
- Be disruptive, but not ignorant to your marketplace and history
- Base your efforts on comprehensive research, psychology and emotion
- Equip a winning arsenal of preparation, enthusiasm, creativity and measurement
- Apply a combo of marketing methods, rather than disjointed Guerrilla Marketing
- Do you have an agile marketing and sales team?
- Do you know your customers on a deeply intimate level?
- Is it (overall) the right time to initiate Guerrilla Marketing?
- Does your brand (and its values) fit the nature of Guerrilla Marketing?
- Have you built ‘guerrilla’ into your marketing strategy, rather than adding it on top?
If you happen to crave even more inspiration, check out this big list of Guerrilla Marketing ideas. 😀
Enjoy ‘going guerrilla’, fellow marketers!
(Photo Source: Scoop)