Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” This quote may seem out of place in a marketing article, but it actually unveils the secret of a powerful and innovative way of promoting a product or service. A way that surprises and delights the customers with unconventional and fun strategies. A way that breaks the mold of boring and intrusive ads that people have learned to tune out. Do you have a clue what it is called? It’s guerrilla marketing.
Guerrilla marketing is a concept that involves using creative and unconventional methods of advertising. It spices up the content with epatage, atypicality, humour and even eroticism to make it bright and memorable. It grabs the attention of the customers and sparks their curiosity about the product or service. It generates a buzz and a word-of-mouth effect. How does it work? Let’s find out.
What is Guerrilla Marketing?
Before we dive into the current concept of guerrilla marketing, let’s draw a clear distinction between it and the classic one. The term was coined by J. C. Levinson in 1984 (yes, not that long ago) as a way of describing a set of marketing campaigns for small businesses that could compete with big ones.
The main idea was to cut down on costs. After all, they are enormous in large projects. For example, did you know that the cost of all McDonald’s products accounts for only 30% of the total costs of the company? In other words: imagine that McDonald’s spends $100 to make and sell its products. Out of that $100, only $30 goes to the actual products, like burgers and fries. The rest goes to other things, like rent, salaries and equipment. But the biggest expense is marketing. McDonald’s spends more than $30 to advertise its products, like on TV, billboards and online. That means that marketing costs more than making the products. And that’s crazy, because McDonald’s only sells those products. But somehow it works, and works well!
Obviously, small businesses cannot afford such expenses. They have up to 50% of the cost of goods, plus logistics, rent, equipment, inventory, salaries, etc. How can they find money for advertising? And without advertising – no sales.
To solve this problem, Levinson came up with the concept of guerrilla marketing, low-budget and low-cost. He proposed using cheap and creative ways of promotion, such as business cards, flyers, stickers and so on.
One important note: this approach reduces financial costs, not labour costs (which are actually higher). But small businesses have more flexibility and freedom, while money is always tight.
Levinson proposed the low-budget method as a way to be effective and competitive in marketing. He recommended using clients’ emotions, unusual methods and even some negative publicity. The method was so successful that both medium and large businesses adopted it. Now, guerrilla marketing has evolved into a serious advertising tool to influence clients. How is it different from traditional options?
Guerrilla marketing methods include:
Creativity and originality. As the above-mentioned quote says, “Creativity is intelligence having fun”;
Balancing on the edge of the Overton window. That means pushing the boundaries, creating content that shocks and intrigues, but is not yet unacceptable;
Native elements, ways of influencing the consumer’s mind so that they get the message but don’t feel marketed to;
Constant change of techniques of influence, not staying in one place;
Use of persuasion techniques (comparisons, simplifications, rhetorical questions);
A thorough study of the target audience, constant feedback to collect responses;
And finally – complete elimination or minimisation of financial costs.
These features of guerrilla marketing have made it a handy tool for businesses of any level. Small projects can rely on it alone, while medium-sized ones use it as a supplement.
If you have opened your handmade workshop, you can get customers only through guerrilla marketing. But if you are promoting a large crypto offer, that’s a different story. You need to be more serious and professional, not shocking and funny. Guerrilla marketing can backfire and repel potential customers who are looking for reliability and security. When it comes to money, jokes are out of the question.
Pros and Cons of Guerrilla Marketing
Effective. Especially for small projects or new brands. And for others too, as long as they use it moderately. A big brand cannot rely on jokes and native ads alone for its entire advertising campaign. For example, IKEA used guerrilla marketing to transform a subway station in Paris into a cosy bedroom with its furniture and accessories, attracting commuters’ attention and showcasing its products. But it also used classic marketing strategies such as TV spots, online ads, and direct mail to promote its brand and offers.
Affordable. This is a key factor for a small budget, and a bonus for a large one. For a large company, the difference between spending human resources and financial resources is negligible. But for a solo entrepreneur, it is crucial.
Competitive. It used to be impossible to win against a competitor with a “big purse” when you had a limited budget. But that changed with the advent of guerrilla marketing. Now it is quite doable.
Diverse. You can mix and match, use complexly and choose the most suitable ones.
Creative. More freedom of thought, less financial maths and technical analysis.
Simple. You don’t need to be a marketing genius, an experienced professional or have a specialised education. Anyone with a good idea can create effective advertising content, even without opening an ads manager.
Narrow. Atypicality is not for everyone. You cannot create a “WTF-like” ad that will appeal to everyone. You always target a small group.
Misunderstood. Balancing on the edge of the Overton window inevitably risks crossing it. Plus, each person has a different idea of where that line is. PETA’s “Holocaust on your plate” campaign that compared animal slaughter to the genocide of Jews is an example of a failed guerrilla marketing campaign that went too far and offended many people.
Illegal. Yes, some guerrilla marketing techniques involve putting your content in unusual places, reaching out to your target audience in unusual ways. And some of them, if caught, will be considered as administrative offences. Sony’s fake graffiti campaign that involved spray-painting PSP ads on walls and buildings without permission is an example of a guerrilla marketing campaign that faced legal troubles and backlash.
Guerrilla Marketing Types
Guerrilla marketing is constantly evolving and expanding. It is the most cutting-edge and creative form of advertising, always adapting to new trends and technologies. However, there are some established categories that can be identified.
This is the ideal guerrilla advertising. It consists of various videos, pictures, audio recordings or even posts that users share and spread by themselves. They usually belong to one of these categories: memes, life hacks or challenges. Yes, the popular TikTok Challenges are also a form of guerrilla marketing. The developers have cleverly captured the essence and turned it into a powerful tool.
Viral content is exclusively online guerrilla marketing. It is distributed through social media platforms and… well, only through them. Forums, boards and personal blogs are already outdated. It’s time for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest and others. The key to this tool is a unique idea. Something that is funny, interesting, educational or anything else that people would want to replicate and send to their friends. Examples of this type of guerrilla marketing are everywhere. From the famous Gangnam Style to a simple word construction: Nobody:… Absolutely no one:… “username”: phrase
Almost all memes on the web are viral content and many of them are created for commercial purposes. The power of viral content was clearly demonstrated in the series “The Boys”.
There, the reputation of the great Homelander was ruined in a couple of days, simply by posting hilarious memes about him on social media, and then he was restored by the same method.
Word-of-Mouth or Recommendations
This method existed long before guerrilla marketing, but became an integral part of it. A satisfied customer can bring new ones by becoming an advertising channel. He will simply tell his friends about his purchase, who will tell their own friends and so on in a geometric progression. Sounds super cool, but there are a couple of serious drawbacks. To achieve such results, you need one of two factors (or better both).
The first one is that the product or service must be truly high-quality and profitable. Better than all the alternatives the customer has tried for that money. This is not easy for large brands, but is feasible for smaller projects where the focus is on the individual customer.
The second one is a bonus system that allows you to get some perks, cashback or something similar for each friend you refer. The referral system also falls under this category.
Epatage is a form of guerrilla marketing that involves shocking, surprising or arousing the audience with hidden erotic overtones. It is based on the human nature of being attracted to sexuality, humour and controversy. However, epatage requires a careful balance between being bold and being moderate. If done wrong, it can backfire and cause negative reactions or consequences. For example, the Wonderbra billboard that featured a model looking at her cleavage with the slogan “Hello Boys” was provocative and eye-catching, but it also caused controversy and criticism for being sexist and distracting drivers.
On the other hand, if done right, epatage can be very effective and memorable. For example, the Old Spice campaign that featured a humorous spokesman who addressed female viewers directly and urged them to buy Old Spice products for their men was a viral hit and generated millions of views, comments and shares on social media. The campaign also boosted Old Spice’s sales and brand awareness. Epatage is a powerful tool, but remember, it can also work for black PR. And that’s not always good for commerce.
Native Advertising or Hidden Marketing
Native advertising is a form of promotion that disguises itself as “natural” or “organic” content. It is a broader concept than guerrilla marketing, which is a subset of hidden advertising – a way to promote a product or service without the target user realising that they are looking at an advertisement.
A good example of guerrilla marketing is the product placement of Pepsi in Back to the Future Part II. The movie shows various futuristic versions of Pepsi products, such as Pepsi Perfect, Pepsi Free and Pepsi Max. The product placement was meant to show how Pepsi had evolved and adapted to the changing times and tastes of consumers. Pepsi paid $1.5 million to be featured in the movie and also launched a promotional campaign with tie-in merchandise and commercials. The product placement was effective and memorable because it was relevant to the movie’s plot and setting and it appealed to the movie’s fans and target audience.
But some marketing campaigns are so awful and absurd that it spoils the whole movie. One such case is the product placement of Head & Shoulders shampoo in Evolution. The movie’s plot revolves around a group of scientists who discover an alien invasion and try to stop it with a chemical weapon. The chemical weapon turns out to be Head & Shoulders shampoo, which is conveniently available in large quantities at a nearby mall. The product placement was ridiculous because it ruined the suspension of disbelief for many viewers and it felt like a long commercial for Head & Shoulders, not a sci-fi comedy.
Product placement of Head & Shoulders in Evolution
Native advertising is often ordered from influencers, who casually mention the product in their posts or stories. The approach is used in music videos, TV shows and especially clips on video hosting sites, mainly YouTube. That’s where you can’t escape from native ads. And in general, guerrilla marketing on social media is divided into native advertising and everything else.
This is a shady tactic, but some people think that all is fair in love and war. It involves using fake customers who leave positive feedback about the product. And it is better to be slightly positive, because over-the-top praises are not believable as recommendations. You can spot a paid review from a mile away. By the way, there are whole freelance platforms where an entrepreneur can order a video review from any type of customer. It could be a 65-year-old pensioner with a splendid grey beard, a young and attractive beauty, a dignified “businessman” in an expensive suit or a teenager.
Small companies often use their own friends, relatives or acquaintances for this work. The effect of this approach is surprisingly strong, because that is how our mind works. We trust the recommendations of a person who has already tried the product more than any advertisement.
This is placing advertising slogans, logos, signs or short texts on unusual places. It could be on the ground, on the door handles of buildings, on traffic lights or trees, on curbs or even bushes. Basically, anywhere that the heart desires and the creative message suggests.
And it really works, because when we see a promotional element where we do not expect to see it, our built-in function of “blindness” is turned off. We are startled, maybe even puzzled. But, we remember the content clearly. Unless the specific technique has already become cliché.
But we also remember that this is the case where one can get a fine for vandalism or similar offences due to carelessness. So we recommend familiarising yourself with the Code of Administrative Offences beforehand.
This is a popular method nowadays, through which very large advertising campaigns are carried out. It is a combination of two or more brands in a common advertising campaign. They are not directly competing, but complementing each other, ideally, so that the products are suitable for cross-selling. But now you can even find collaborations between brands that are not related to each other at all.
How about Louis Vuitton and the NBA, for example, or Netflix and Balmain? Such joint projects allow them to exchange their audiences without harming each other. After all, the projects are not direct competitors and they do not need to fight for the customer, they just need common consumers.
Plus, the costs of such an advertising campaign are understandably split between two. So trying to find a cross-brand to collaborate with is always a good idea.
How Guerrilla Marketing Works on the Internet
The web is a great platform for promotion. And 90% of all guerrilla marketing happens online. So how does this technique work? It’s actually quite simple. You just need to consider three main aspects:
Channels for promotion. In most cases, these are social networks. There are also advertising networks, forums, boards, individual sites, but they are very minor. It is important to choose the right social network for your target audience. For example, if you want to reach young adults, you might use TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat. If you want to reach older adults, you might use Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. If you want to reach a specific gender, you might use Pinterest for women or Reddit for men.
Type of guerrilla marketing. You can use any of the methods listed above. But remember, you don’t have to stick to one method. Mixing approaches is more creative. Today you might order a native ad from a blogger and tomorrow you might create a meme for your product.
Budget. This is the tricky part. But in our case, everything is simpler. We can do guerrilla marketing with no budget at all – some methods, like memes or fake clients (friends), are free. We can do it with a small budget – other methods, like native ads, are affordable. We can do it with a large budget – some methods, like collaborations, are expensive.
Guerrilla Marketing Examples
Creativity is the key to guerrilla marketing. But when you start, you may not have a clue about what kind of ideas you can use. To inspire you, here are some examples of successful guerrilla marketing campaigns.
Let’s start with Burger King, the fast-food giant that is known for its bold and witty marketing campaigns. Burger King has used guerrilla marketing to create buzz, engage customers and challenge its competitors. For example, they launched a campaign called “Burn that Ad”, which used augmented reality (AR) technology to let customers set their rivals’ ads on fire by pointing their smartphone camera at them. This gave them access to a coupon for a free Whopper burger at the nearest Burger King restaurant. The campaign was fun, interactive and rewarding for the customers, plus it showed Burger King’s confidence and superiority over its competitors.
Another campaign they did was called “Mouldy Whopper”, which showed a time-lapse video of a Whopper burger getting mouldy over 34 days to promote the fact that Burger King removed artificial preservatives from its burgers. The campaign was shocking, provocative and honest, it also highlighted Burger King’s commitment to quality and freshness. The campaign generated a lot of buzz and increased store visits by 22.8%.
A perfect example of guerrilla marketing was a campaign launched by Durex in 2012 to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and encourage people to use condoms. The ad used a clever slogan “Protect Yourself” that had a double meaning: it referred to both using a condom and wearing a superhero costume. The campaign was successful in generating buzz and increasing condom sales by 8.5%. It was a creative and fun way to promote safe sex and social responsibility.
Let’s leave the online world and explore some outdoor advertising. Billboards are also a great medium for displaying bold and emotional creativity. This specific example of adult toy advertising definitely caught everyone’s eye.
Many companies have used memes from Game of Thrones, the popular fantasy TV show, to create catchy and creative ads for their products. One of them is Richesmonts, a French cheese brand, that launched a campaign to promote its fondue cheese and grill products. The campaign used the slogan “Winter is Coming” from Game of Thrones and featured an image of a fondue fork throne, inspired by the iconic Iron Throne from the show. The campaign was a clever and humorous way to connect with Game of Thrones fans and make them crave for some warm and cheesy fondue.
Nike once exploited a meme from Shia LaBeouf’s hilarious and quirky performance. His loud screams of “Just do it” were the source of much amusement. The brand seized the opportunity to collaborate with him after hundreds of memes and YTP videos went viral.
One of the examples of ambient marketing is a campaign by Folgers, a coffee brand. The campaign used the slogan “Hey, city that never sleeps. Wake up” and placed giant coffee cup lids on top of manholes, with steam coming out of them. The campaign was a creative way to associate the brand with freshness and energy.
Here is another example of ambient marketing, this time at the airport. It uses a striking visual technique: a roulette wheel that is instantly recognizable.
For dessert, we have a similar type of promotion, but from The Simpsons. To celebrate the release of their movie, Homer indulged in some doughnuts on the escalator. Simple and delicious.
How to Organise Guerrilla Marketing
To plan a successful guerrilla marketing campaign, you need to follow these steps:
Define your goal. You should have a global and a specific goal. The global goal is the general purpose of your campaign, such as selling more products, attracting new customers, expanding your audience, introducing a new brand or informing about a new offer. The specific goal is the measurable outcome of your campaign, such as selling 1,000 units of products by a certain date, getting 10,000 registrations, collecting a lead list with 1,000 contacts, etc.
Set your budget. Guerrilla marketing can be very cost-effective and sometimes you can even do it without spending any money. But if you have a budget, you need to decide how much you are willing to spend and how to allocate it. Having a budget can help you increase the effectiveness of your campaign and use more techniques. Yes, guerrilla marketing is not financially demanding, but it can be a strong catalyst for the effect.
Know your target audience. Guerrilla marketing is characterised by targeting a narrow and specific audience. Therefore, you need to identify and analyse your potential customers. If your audience is too broad, you need to segment it into smaller groups based on age, gender, location, interests, income and behaviour. And each group needs its own set of creatives and sometimes even channels of implementation. You can read more about creating a portrait of your target audience here.
Choose your promotion channel. You need to decide whether you want to do your campaign in the real world or on the Internet. There is a big difference between using billboards or ambient marketing and using viral content on social media. They require a different approach. If you choose to do guerrilla marketing online, the ideal option is to use one or more social media platforms. You can choose from TikTok, FB, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Twitter and others. Each platform has its own vibe, audience and trends. You need to match them with your target audience. By the way, we recommend combining online and offline promotion if your business involves creating physical outlets for your products or services.
Launch your campaign. Once you have determined all the parameters above, you can start implementing your campaign. Be creative, original and bold, but also ethical, respectful and responsible. Guerrilla marketing can be a powerful tool, but it can also backfire if done wrong.
The Best Books on Guerrilla Marketing
By now, you have already grasped the concept of guerrilla marketing and its effectiveness for your business. If you want to master this strategy, you should read some of the best books on the subject. Here is our list of the top picks.
“Guerrilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson
This book is the bible of guerrilla marketing, written by the father of the concept. It explains the original principles and tactics of this strategy and how they have evolved over time. The book has been updated regularly, with the first edition dating back to 30 years ago. Jay Conrad Levinson has kept up with the changing times and added new techniques that make guerrilla marketing an art form.
“Guerrilla Social Media Marketing: 100+ Weapons to Grow Your Online Influence, Attract Customers and Drive Profits” by Jay Conrad Levinson and Shane Gibson
This book is co-authored by Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of guerrilla marketing, and Shane Gibson, a social media expert. It shows you how to use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to reach your target audience and generate leads, sales and referrals. It also provides tips and tools for creating engaging content, building relationships and measuring your results.
“The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook” by Jay Conrad Levinson and Seth Godin
This book is another collaboration between Jay Conrad Levinson and Seth Godin, a bestselling author and marketing guru. It is a comprehensive guide to the principles and practices of guerrilla marketing, covering topics such as research, strategy, branding, media, advertising, publicity, promotions and partnerships. It also features hundreds of examples and case studies from successful guerrilla marketers around the world.
“The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life Lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing” by Emanuel Rosen
This book explores the science and art of creating buzz, or positive word-of-mouth, for your product or service. It explains how to identify and reach influential customers, leverage online and offline networks, craft compelling stories and messages and track and optimise your buzz campaigns.
“Branding Only Works on Cattle: The New Way to Get Known (and drive your competitors crazy)” by Jonathan Salem Baskin
This book challenges the conventional wisdom of branding and argues that it is no longer effective in today’s crowded and sceptical marketplace. It proposes a new approach to marketing that focuses on delivering real value and solving real problems for customers, rather than creating artificial images and emotions. Baskin suggests that companies should use guerrilla marketing tactics to engage customers in meaningful and memorable experiences that influence their actions.
Guerrilla marketing is a powerful and creative way to promote your business in a competitive and crowded marketplace. It can help you attract attention, generate buzz and create loyal customers. You don’t need a big budget or a fancy agency to do it. You just need a good idea, a clear goal and a willingness to experiment.
We hope you have learned a lot from this article and the books we recommended. Now it’s time to put your knowledge into action and unleash your inner guerrilla marketer. Good luck and have fun!