Guerrilla Marketing

A marketing strategy wherein a company may use surprising tactics or unconventional interactions with the customers.

Author: Andy Yan
Andy Yan
Andy Yan
Investment Banking | Corporate Development

Before deciding to pursue his MBA, Andy previously spent two years at Credit Suisse in Investment Banking, primarily working on M&A and IPO transactions. Prior to joining Credit Suisse, Andy was a Business Analyst Intern for Capital One and worked as an associate for Cambridge Realty Capital Companies.

Andy graduated from University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and is currently an MBA candidate at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business with a concentration in Analytical Finance.

Reviewed By: Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Real Estate | Investment Property Sales

Christy currently works as a senior associate for EdR Trust, a publicly traded multi-family REIT. Prior to joining EdR Trust, Christy works for CBRE in investment property sales. Before completing her MBA and breaking into finance, Christy founded and education startup in which she actively pursued for seven years and works as an internal auditor for the U.S. Department of State and CIA.

Christy has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Maryland and a Master of Business Administrations from the University of London.

Last Updated:November 4, 2023

What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is a marketing strategy wherein a company may use surprising tactics or unconventional interactions with the customers to promote a particular good or service. It is thus the use of novel and unlikely methods to boost the sales of the firm. 

Traditional marketing methods rely on reaching out to a large number of people through television, radio, print, etc.

In contrast, this strategy often relies on only a small group of people and the use of personal interaction with that small group of customers to create buzz or hype surrounding a company. 

Thus, this strategy focuses more on getting the word out in a particular location through word of mouth rather than widespread media campaigns. This is done by making the campaign innovative and memorable to induce the consumer to talk more about the firm.  

These tactics often utilize very little resources and capital to create maximum exposure. The rise of technology and usage of mobile phones have made this strategy even more popular over the past few years.

Key Takeaways

  • Guerrilla marketing is a marketing strategy wherein a company may use surprising tactics or unconventional interactions with the customers to promote a particular good or service.

  • It relies more on using word of mouth to create hype for a product or service. It is more focused on a smaller target group in comparison to traditional marketing techniques, which are aimed toward a large number of people. 

  • In contrast to traditional marketing methods, it uses a smaller budget, as it is aimed toward a lower number of people but tries to create maximum impact, hence making it more cost-effective.

  • These campaigns usually are clever and try to create more of an impact by being memorable for the consumers. This is usually done by interacting more closely with the consumers.

  • It can be in the form of astroturfing, ambush marketing, stealth marketing, product placement, ambient marketing, and much more. 

  • It is essential to plan out these initiatives well, as they are often risky. If they fail, they can not only create bad publicity but may end up costing the firm large amounts of money in the form of fines.

Understanding Guerrilla Marketing

The term was first coined by Jay Conrad Levinson, an American business writer, in his 1984 book called ‘Guerrilla Marketing. 

His book was released at a time when consumers were growing tired of the usual modes of advertising; thus, he proposed the need for campaigns to be shocking, unique, and clever. This is in an effort to create a buzz for a product. He also outlined how all of this could be done on a smaller budget.

The term is derived from ‘guerrilla warfare, which refers to unorthodox military tactics involving small-scale and fast-moving attacks like ambushes and raids. 

Similarly, this form of marketing involves taking a customer by surprise, thereby leaving a lasting and dramatic impression on the consumer, hopefully creating something like a large social media buzz. 

Considering traditional advertising channels like print, radio, television, and mail have lost a lot of popularity, advertisers are now trying to directly interact with consumers and convey their messages in new and innovative ways, thus leading to these strategies. 

These marketing strategies heavily rely on creativity, imagination, and making a memorable impact on the consumer. 

This makes it more likely that the consumer who interacted with and liked the campaign will tell their friends and family about it, thereby creating positive word of mouth.

This is especially effective for 'edgier products' aimed at youth, as they are more likely to respond positively to the unlikely strategies and spread the word using tools like social media. 

These strategies are more about focus rather than frequency and require choosing the right location, time, and method, to ensure that a large enough set of people can see the initiative and respond positively to it. 

Guerrilla Marketing Features

Guerrilla marketing always tries to be more creative, unconventional, and edgy so that it can create an impact on a consumer's mind. Apart from this, these tactics, more often than not, have the following features:

  • Clever: These marketing campaigns can often be very witty and clever as it leaves a consumer thinking about the campaign, talking about it, and trying to interpret it. 
  • Compelling: These campaigns should be compelling enough to immediately grab the consumer's attention and make them appreciate the advertisement. Seeing that these are aimed at a smaller group of people, it is imperative that the people who see them are immediately captivated by them. 
  • Memorable: It is not only imperative that a consumer is attracted to an advertisement, but they should also remember it so that they continue to talk about it and thus continue to create buzz. Therefore, these campaigns should elicit an intended emotional response from consumers. 
  • Interactive: The campaigns often try to be more interactive. By interacting directly with consumers, firms can create a bigger impact on them, making the campaign more memorable. 

Guerrilla Marketing Examples

Guerrilla marketing can be done in a variety of ways. Companies like Coca-Cola have often used methods like painting graffiti on various walls to ensure that their new products are seen by the public. 

Being more of an edgy choice, this can also help popularize the brand amongst youth. 

Another method is often through product placement. This has been done by companies like Apple. Many characters in TV shows and movies can be seen using iPhones and other Apple products. 

This can subconsciously create a perception about a particular product in the consumer's mind and can help fans associate a product with their favorite TV show or movie. 

Companies often also make use of public properties to market their products. Companies like McDonald's have used zebra crossings to help market themselves. They painted the zebra crossing lines as french fries. This went viral and helped popularize the company. 

Similarly, companies like KitKat have used benches and painted them such that they resemble chocolate bars. Once again, such initiatives helped popularize the brand with the people passing through and created good word of mouth for the brand. 

In the same spirit, companies can strategically place witty and clever posters in areas like bus stops or make use of viral videos and flash mobs to generate a buzz around their brand as it helps catch the attention of a large audience. 

This can be seen in the cases of promotion for many movies like “Deadpool.” The 2016 movie had some hilarious posters made with unique messages. They also made tinder profiles with witty messages, which made the film one of the most successful R-rated movies in history. 

These examples, for the most part, are quite clever, witty, and unexpected, making them extremely memorable and thus helping in generating a lot of buzz. 

Additionally, as they are in public places and are something that most people use, like crossings, benches, bus stations, etc., they are also interactive, making them even more compelling. 

Guerrilla Marketing Types

It has a variety of types. Some of these types are as follows:

1. Ambient Marketing: This is advertising presented in elements of the environment like physical surfaces. An example is the benches KitKat used or branded stickers found in public washrooms. 

This results in the firm getting immediate attention from the customers as they are confronted with marketing in their surroundings. 

2. Ambush Marketing: This is when rivals of an official event sponsor covertly try to build an association with that event and increase their awareness, even if they are not associated with the event itself. 

This can be seen in the case of the 2012 London Olympics, where Nike showed its products through various athletes without ever referring to the Olympics directly. 

Thus, even though they had no connection to the Olympics, they tried to build an association with it in the eyes of the consumers. 

3. Viral or Buzz Marketing: This is a tactic that encourages people to spread a marketing message to others, typically via online social media platforms. It has the potential to increase the message's visibility and influence exponentially. 

It is also known as "word-of-mouth," "creating a buzz," "leveraging the media," and "network marketing."

4. Stealth Marketing: Undercover marketing, or stealth marketing, is a type of advertising where a business uses deceptive tactics to promote its goods and services in such a way that consumers won't notice. 

It alludes to advertising goods through creative strategies and "flying under the radar." Without making them aware of the manipulation, it affects customer decisions. 

For instance, a covert marketing operation that left enormous King Kong footprints on sand beaches was launched before the debut of the movie "King Kong." 

Many individuals were drawn to take pictures of and share about this public spectacle on social media. This generated discussion and anticipation for the film's release.

5. Astroturfing: Astroturfing is one of the most contentious marketing techniques, and it carries a significant risk of failure for the business using it. It refers to fraudulent endorsements, testimonials, and recommendations. 

Through a review or conversation on an online blog or forum by a person who is paid to express a good view but conceals their genuine motivation, the artificial buzz around a specific product or brand is created. 

It can, however, lead to negative press and sometimes even litigation. 

Guerrilla Marketing Benefits

Guerilla marketing has the following benefits

1. Low budget

These campaigns are typically low-budget and rely heavily on unconventional methods to reach the consumer. 

As there is no expenditure on things like mass or print media and the focus is on a smaller group of people, the strategy is a cost-effective way to build brand awareness. 

With such a marketing strategy, imagination and creativity are more important than budget.

2. Helping a firm go viral

In today's world, with the huge amount of technology and the increasing number of people gaining access to the internet and especially social media, a memorable and creative campaign can create a lasting impact on a consumer. 

This can then be captured by consumers and spread around the world.

Marketing campaigns can easily go viral on social media, gain exposure to millions of people, and create a lot of buzz with very little cost. 

3. Memorable

These marketing campaigns are memorable, creative, imaginative, and unconventional by nature and show the ability to leave a lasting impression on consumers. 

With a successful campaign, buyers are left amazed, impressed, and wanting to learn more about the products or services of a business. 

This marketing strategy helps with brand recall and will lead to a lot of positive word of mouth. 

Guerrilla Marketing Effectiveness

Guerrilla marketing, despite its benefits, has a lot of risks considering it often involves traversing uncharted water when it comes to coming up with innovative marketing ideas. Thus, with the risks inherent to it, there are several examples of campaigns gone awry.

  • Companies can often get into trouble with the law because of these campaigns. Coca-Cola is a great example of this. 

They had used graffiti in many of New Orleans' historic areas to gain attention. They, however, didn't get the required permission from the authorities and thus were fined a large amount.  

  • In 2007, the Cartoon Network promoted a show by placing LED signs resembling a character from the show all over Boston. 

The signs eventually ended up creating a bomb scare and cost Turner Broadcasting, the network's parent company, $2 million in fines.

It melted faster than expected and ended up covering the park in a sticky goo requiring the fire department to come to hose it down.

Thus, it should be ensured that the campaigns are well thought out and the correct time and location are chosen, as a failure may end up resulting in bad publicity and fines. 

Guerrilla Marketing FAQs

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Researched and authored by Soumil De | LinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

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