What Is Guerrilla Marketing? Definition, Examples, and History

What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is a marketing tactic in which a company uses surprise and/or unconventional 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.

Key Takeaways

  • Guerrilla marketing is the creating use of novel or unconventional methods in order to boost sales or attract interest in a brand or business.
  • These methods are often low- or no-cost and involve the widespread use of more personal interactions or through viral social media messaging.
  • This marketing method has increased in popularity with the rise of ubiquitous mobile and connected technologies that can amplify messaging and focus on target groups of consumers.
  • Some consumers may be more attracted by guerrilla marketing campaigns as they may be more interesting and daring.
  • Others may be turned off by the approach of ambush marketing or other disruptive techniques.

Understanding Guerrilla Marketing

Companies using guerrilla marketing rely on its in-your-face promotions to be spread through viral marketing, or word-of-mouth, thus reaching a broader audience for free. Connection to the emotions of a consumer is key to guerrilla marketing. The use of this tactic is not designed for all types of goods and services, and it is often used for more "edgy" products and to target younger consumers who are more likely to respond positively.

Guerrilla marketing takes place in public places that offer as big an audience as possible, such as streets, concerts, public parks, sporting events, festivals, beaches, and shopping centers. One key element of guerrilla marketing is choosing the right time and place to conduct a campaign so as to avoid potential legal issues. Guerrilla marketing can be indoor, outdoor, an "event ambush," or experiential, meant to get the public to interact with a brand.

Guerrilla marketing is legal, though some approaches may border the boundary of being ethical.

Guerrilla Marketing History

Guerrilla marketing is a product of the shift to electronic media from traditional print, radio, and television marketing. It was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book Guerrilla Marketing. Its goal is to create buzz about a product or brand so that it increases the likelihood that a consumer will purchase the product or service, or talk about it with other potential buyers.

Guerrilla marketing can be very cost-effective for small businesses and startups if they manage to create a viral marketing phenomenon. This technique can be centered around the business' core mission such as education, giving, growth, technology, climate, or productivity, and then the company can design initiatives that promote those values in campaign forms, give back to the community, inspire, raise awareness, help, etc. These are more effective messages conveyed by the company's actions and shared via word of mouth by the beneficiaries of the campaigns.

Guerrilla Marketing Types

There are many kinds of guerrilla marketing. Some examples include:

Viral or Buzz Marketing

Buzz marketing is a marketing technique that focuses on word-of-mouth distribution. Often deployed in social media, this strategy relies on one user sharing content from a company with their social network, friends, or family. Instead of trying to generate excitement by itself, guerrilla marketing relies on customers to organically raise awareness of a product or company.

Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing is a low cost strategy that strives to market to a customer without the customer realizing they are being marketed to. Consider the last time you watched TV. Although you may not be fully attentive during commercials, companies that deploy TV advertisements may be attempting to market products to you without you explicitly realizing it.

Ambient Marketing

Ambient marketing is a guerrilla marketing technique that strives to blend into a natural environment. As opposed to a more explicit form of advertising, ambient marketing such as promotions on a bus bench. Instead of creating a guerrilla marketing campaign that obviously sticks outs, some marketing departments may strive for more subtle guerrilla marketing campaigns to minimize the risk of turning off customers.

Ambush Marketing

Imagine watching a sporting event and seeing several advertisements of companies that sponsored the event. In many cases, companies may try to to employ coat-tail marketing which entails appearing like a sponsor although they are not. Popular within event sponsorships, ambush marketing is often employed as a guerrilla marketing strategy by companies looking to save money yet capitalize on a major event that is occurring.

Projection Advertising

Projection advertising entails placing large, captivating ads often on the sides of buildings or bland walls. This style of guerrilla marketing often allows companies to personalize promotions, especially for events. Instead of a more permanent form of advertising that requires capital investments or long-term agreements, projection advertising may be more informal and require less upfront capital.

Grassroots Marketing

Grassroots marketing is a guerrilla marketing approach that relies on fewer resources. Companies that embrace grassroots marketing often employ low-cost marketing strategies that rely on people's time (such as handing out flyers) as opposed to larger marketing strategies. Often employed by local or small companies, grassroots marketing is a more simplistic strategy to embarking on a marketing campaign.

The goal of a guerrilla marketing strategy is usually to spend less money. If this style of marketing is leading to higher costs, re-evaluate your spending as there may be more cost-effective approaches to marketing a brand.

Guerrilla Marketing Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros of Guerrilla Marketing

Management often embarks on guerrilla marketing because it is usually a budget-friendly option. Instead of needing to deploy lots of capital, guerrilla marketing is often less expensive than other marketing campaigns.

Start-ups, local businesses, or companies with less corporate restrictions often deploy guerrilla marketing techniques because this method also allows for greater creative capacity. Guerrilla marketing often relies on informal means of marketing information, allowing marketing professionals to utilize less traditional ways to deploy their strategies.

Because marketing professionals have the ability to be more creative, some guerrilla marketing campaigns have the ability to have a wider reach. Not only does this have the opportunity to be more profitable than other campaigns, marketing professionals may find guerrilla marketing campaigns more desirable and fun to deploy.

Cons of Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing strategies are usually less structured; for this reason, guerrilla marketing endeavors are often less successful and have a greater risk of failure. As there is less structure, recipients of the marketing content may not get a consistent message or may misunderstand the messaging.

To some, guerrilla marketing is an adverse sense of marketing. Some may prefer not to receive such marketing. Therefore, some consumers are put at-risk of being adversely impacted by guerrilla marketing techniques.

Perhaps the greatest downside of guerrilla marketing is its unpredictability. Because there is less structure, marketing professionals may not be able to collect metrics to gauge whether the campaign is successful. It may also use untraditional guerrilla techniques that the company is unsure will be successful.

Pros
  • Often a less expensive option compared to other marketing campaign techniques

  • Usually allows for greater creativity

  • May reach a broader audience compared to traditional marketing campaigns

  • May be more fun for marketing professionals to embark on

Cons
  • Less structure often leads to less successful endeavors

  • May not deliver consistent messaging

  • May be seen as a "turn off" by some individuals

  • May be more unpredictability due to difficult to track or collect data for

Guerrilla Marketing Examples

Leading up to the release of Deadpool, the Marvel character was issued his own Tinder profile. As Tinder is not a typical avenue for promoting a movie, this absurd approach to advertising the film and character is a strong example of guerrilla marketing.

Unsuspecting collect students in Queens, New York received unsolicited doses of "happiness" from Coca-Cola in a guerrilla marketing campaign. Armed with real humans inside, a vending machine dubbed the "Happiness Machine" also offered pizzas, flowers, and a six-foot-long sandwich. This guerrilla marketing campaign went on to win awards.

Though never confirmed, some suspect a 2017 break-up played out on Burger King's Instagram was staged by the hamburger company. As the drama unfolded within the comment section of the company's social media account, more social media users became engrossed in the tale. Some suspect the entire situation was staged by Burger King to incite interest in the company's page and boost traffic.

Last, consider leaving a club and seeing a garbage can full of Red Bull cans. One must presume that the drink was popular and consumed by many within in the club, correct? It turns out that Red Bull may have embarked on an "empty can" guerrilla campaign. By placing empty cans in bins around clubs, the company presumably wanted to create the impression that the drink was popular at the club.

Guerrilla Marketing Mistakes

With the risks inherent to guerrilla marketing, and the sometimes uncharted territory it travels in, there are a number of examples of campaigns gone awry.

  • In 2007, the Cartoon Network promoted a show by placing LED signs resembling a character from the show all over Boston. The signs created a bomb scare and cost Turner Broadcasting (the network's parent) $2 million in fines.
  • In a 2005 Guinness World Record attempt, Snapple promoted its new frozen treats by erecting a 25-foot popsicle in a New York City park. It melted faster than expected, covering the park in sticky goo requiring the fire department to come to hose it down.

Is Guerrilla Marketing Illegal?

Guerrilla marketing is completely legal. Although some techniques are ethically questionable, there is nothing illegal about these strategies. Often, companies embark on guerrilla marketing strategies because of a lack of resources or more creative approach to marketing.

Why Is It Called Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is derived from guerrilla warfare, the technique of physical combat that relied to using different, unique techniques to gain an advantage. Instead of large, organized approach to gaining position, guerrilla warfare (and guerrilla marketing) rely on small tactics for success.

What Makes Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns Successful?

Guerrilla marketing works because is often a more memorable and unconventional approach to marketing. Convention marketing may be drier, more deliberate, and safer. On the other hand, consumers may be more likely to feel amazed or wowed by guerrilla marketing approached. The primary goal of a guerrilla marketing campaign is to make an impression on a client, and this approach may be more successful compared to more simplistic stragegies.

What Is the First Step of Guerrilla Marketing?

To deploy a guerrilla marketing strategy, a company must know its audience. The first step is to best understand who the company wants to market to and the product it is able to offer. Once a company best understands its market, it is able to decide which guerrilla marketing technique makes the most sense for not only its customers but the product is wants to offer.

The Bottom Line

Instead of using conventional marketing approaches, guerrilla marketing entails using unconventional approaches to attract interest in a company, product, or brand. Using low-cost or no-cost methods of marketing, the company embraces a more simplistic approach to marketing to attempt to lure customers using more interesting strategies.

Article Sources
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  2. Coca-Cola. "Coca-Cola Happiness Machine Wins Top Honors At The 2010 CLIO Awards."

  3. CBS News. "Couple Reportedly Breaks Up In Burger King's Instagram."

  4. Smith Brothers Media. "Red Bull Marketing Strategy Empty Cans."