Guerrilla marketing: what is it?

May 18, 2014

Guerrilla marketing: what is it?

The term "guerrilla marketing" is traced to guerrilla warfare, which employs atypical tactics to achieve an objective. Guerrilla marketing is a marketing strategy in which low-cost, unconventional means are used to draw attention to an idea, product, or service."


"[Guerrilla marketing] works because it's simple to understand, easy to implement and outrageously inexpensive."

Jay Conrad Levinson, father of the term "guerrilla marketing".

It may have been an overused buzzword a few years ago, never-the-less "guerrilla marketing" is still a popular and effective way to cut through the messaging clutter, and can be a crucial weapon in an Account Manager's campaign arsenal.

A few years ago, I sat with one of my clients, brainstorming various guerrilla marketing tactics that we could use for his company to gain some cheap publicity and increase sales over the coming summer period. The company sold quality shaving products but had a low national profile in a crowded, competitive marketplace.

We contemplated putting a brand new shaver inside a zip-lock plastic bag, along with a discount voucher and product information. We would then take 100 of those packs (very early one morning) to a popular local beach and half cover them in the sand. The idea was that beach-goers would easily find the packs as they set themselves up for a day in the sun. However, as we imagined a 6 o'clock news item about razor blades (even blades in heat-sealed plastic packaging) being uncovered on a family-friendly beach put an end to that particular guerrilla marketing idea.


What is "guerrilla marketing"?

When cash-flow or budget is an issue (especially with small businesses), high-cost marketing techniques are sometimes just not an option, especially when return on investment cannot be quantified beforehand. Guerrilla marketing techniques allow small to medium sized businesses - and larger companies wanting to make an impact - effective ways to broadcast their message for little cost.

A guerrilla marketing campaign is more than just a really clever advertising initiative (or stunt). The essentials for guerrilla marketing are time, energy, imagination, information and minimal cost.


What an Account Manager needs to be aware of

Often we Account Managers are under pressure to come up with effective marketing or advertising solutions on a tight budget. The temptation to add guerrilla marketing into the overall campaign mix can run high.

As with my razor blade client, you need to weigh up the risks inherent in running a guerrilla marketing campaign. Depending on how the campaign is received - and perceived - by the public, what started out as an exciting idea, can sometimes have negative effects. We have all witnessed countless "cutting edge marketing ideas" being torn apart in the daily news, social media and via word-of-mouth.

The last thing you want is for your client's brand to be damaged, sales to drop, loyal customers to walk away or sponsorship to be cancelled as a result of a guerrilla campaign gone awry.

When your creative team is running hot on an idea, it is sometimes difficult to be the "wet blanket" in the mix. The main thing to remember is that you are the voice of your client within your agency. You need to think past a "fun" idea and question whether it is (1) legal; (2) the best idea for your client's requirements; or (3) whether there are any potential pitfalls. You need to be confident enough to be the wet blanket (if necessary), or the Devil's advocate, or just simply to ask the right questions to help your team stay on track.

Here's an example of a guerrilla marketing stunt that backfired to the tune of around NZ$15,000 (US$8,500) - though the event promoters probably considered the effort a roaring success!

If you decide that a guerrilla marketing campaign is the right approach for your client, then you'll also need to be aware of the costs. Some campaigns can certainly be run on the smell of an oily rag (e.g. flyers handed out at an event), but there are some campaigns that may seem cheap but really aren't (e.g. flash-mob man-hours). Time is literally money (though not so significant if your client is providing the labour), so you will need to quote guerrilla marketing initiatives very carefully.


Must-see website

For a detailed overview of what guerrilla marketing is, how it compares to traditional marketing, and how it can be applied, I recommend you visit

The following is a table (by Vit Horky, via outlining the 11 main types of guerrilla marketing, how the public is likely to perceive the tactics and what the likely risk is to the advertiser's brand image, sales or potential loss of customers.


Traditional (offline) guerrilla marketing in action:
  • Advertising via:
    • Posters (either on paid sites or "wild posting")
    • Tear-off tab posters
    • Sidewalk / footpath graphics
    • Postcards
    • Bus hand grips
    • Car window stickers
    • Airport baggage claim belt graphics
    • Murals
    • Peepholes
    • Coffee cups and sleeves
    • Sticker bombing
    • Graffiti
  • Experiential marketing (people interacting with the product)
  • Street marketing
    • Street teams
    • Sandwich boards
    • Costumes
    • Flash mobs
  • Projected images (e.g. onto buildings)
  • Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) - oral communication
  • Ambush marketing (attempt to ambush or undermine the event sponsorship activities of a rival)
    • Aerial advertising
    • Flyer/voucher handouts outside a venue
    • Mobile billboards
    • Ads implying (but not naming) association with the event
  • Stamp on a post-it note (e.g. logo, website, clever/funny copy) stuck onto:
    • Car windows
    • Magazines or newspapers in coffee shops / waiting rooms
    • Tables in fast food places
    • Competitor's flyers/brochures
  • Business card slipped into a relevant publication in:
    • Libraries
    • Bookstores
    • Magazines in salons, waiting rooms


Online guerrilla marketing in action:
  • Viral marketing campaigns (online)
  • Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) - via social media, blogs and websites 


For 100+ excellent real-life examples of guerrilla marketing take a look at this Slideshare presentation by Martijn Arts of Total Active Media.


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