What is guerrilla marketing and what can it do for your brand?
noun 1. a member of a band of irregular soldiers that uses guerrilla warfare, harassing the enemy by surprise raids, sabotaging communication and supply lines, etc.
adjective 2. Pertaining to such figures or their technique of warfare:
guerrilla strongholds; guerrilla tactics’
Upon hearing the term ‘guerrilla marketing’, one might initially be a bit shocked, confused and uncertain of its intention as a method. With a name which by definition means irregular warfare, sabotage and elements of surprise, surely guerrilla marketing must have adopted the definition and turned it into something else right?
Guerrilla marketing is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Inspired by guerrilla warfare and its clever tactics of surprise and ambush, guerrilla marketing uses the same techniques, but just without as many weapons and (hopefully) less fatalities.
What is guerrilla marketing?
It is an advertising strategy that uses unconventional marketing tactics at a low-cost budget to achieve memorable marketing strategies which are ‘high energy’ and imaginative. It’s all about taking the consumer by surprise and planting a memory into their minds to create a strong impression and generate social buzz around it.
Usually, guerrilla marketing strategies are used by smaller businesses that want to reach out to a large audience without taking out a small loan. However, it is also used by big companies to run alongside expensive and on-going mass media campaigns. Similarly, such tactics have been used by individuals on a much smaller basis to find a job (think graduates standing in King’s Cross Station holding a sign post and a CV), or to get noticed for some other reason.
Much like the traditional battlefield, guerrilla marketing campaigns involve alternative and unconventional techniques to create a buzz and lasting impression. The aim is to hit the consumer at a more personal and memorable level than other advertising strategies (and by hit we mean in a metaphysical sense rather than an actual physical blow to the head like the warfare interpretation of guerrilla). Engraining an experience into the minds of consumers is by far the best way to get noticed.
Advertising has been around for as long as humans have been trading. From cavemen exchanging rocks for sticks, to Anglo-Saxons competing to sell the fattest chickens, it has been at the core of human prosperity. We’ve even found evidence of actual print marketing (kind of) from Egyptians in 4000BC who created sales messages and wall posters.
Alongside the evolution of mankind and all of our other advances, advertising and marketing has been developing too. In the 1900s, marketing and advertising’s primary purpose was to educate consumers on products rather than to try and entertain or really engage them, and coming into the infamous Mad Men era of the 1960s, advertising and marketing was booming. Campaigns began to have huge amounts of money injected into them and everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse for those in the industry. However, what goes up, must come down and that’s exactly what began to happen.
Agencies began to have trouble coming up with new and innovative ideas to gain consumer interest and consumers were tired of being marketed to – nothing was exciting anymore and the techniques being used were monotonous and predictable. Enter: Jay Conrad Levinson and his fancy, new and dangerous “Guerrilla Marketing”.
Levinson was old hands in the advertising industry; a wise owl with wisdom to impart. In his book, he suggests plans and marketing strategies that combat traditional forms of advertising which would break the mould and start to bring excitement back into consumer marketing.
At the time, radio and TV were on the rise, but neither were giving consumers the thrill sellers desired. After seeing this decline in interest, Levinson suggested that the new way to market products and services was to create a shock factor; something unique, outrageous and clever. This tactic was aimed at small businesses who, after hearing about the savvy nature of guerrilla marketing strategies, jumped at trying their hand at this brand new way of appealing to consumers.
Since the initial launch of Levinson’s idea, guerrilla marketing has grown and adapted to modern times. Particularly over the last 10 years, digital guerrilla marketing has grown wings and taken flight across the World Wide Web and into the homes of millions of consumers.
How is guerrilla marketing budget-friendly?
One aspect of guerrilla marketing that has particularly appealed to marketers, is its ability to be carried out in an effective way, at a low cost. While a lot of creative and intellectual investment is required to create a successful campaign, it doesn’t need to be expensive in execution. Michael Brenner, a content marketing specialist, summarised the concept of guerrilla content in his article, explaining that this style of marketing is like expanding on current content and repurposing it – it’s a an investment of time as much of anything else. While time does equate to cost, guerrilla marketing negates the eye watering fees associated with press space, TV and radio coverage.
Guerrilla marketing utilises existing environments, be they real or virtual, so they become a vehicle for brands wishing to think outside of the box.
The concept is somewhat difficult to grasp without examples so sit tight and read on while I elaborate with some awesome examples of guerrilla marketing. But first, let me tell you a little more…
Types of guerrilla marketing
Let’s put some context to this unorthodox strategy. What are the types of guerrilla marketing? Despite it being a relatively niche concept, there are sub-categories of guerrilla marketing:
Outdoor guerrilla marketing: Unsurprisingly, this involves adding something to a preexisting urban environment such as putting temporary artwork on the pavement or walls of a street.
Indoor guerrilla marketing: Pretty much the same as outdoor, but it happens in public locations indoors, such as train stations, malls, shops etc.
Event ambush guerrilla marketing: Our personal favourite. Taking it back to guerrilla warfare, this exciting tactic of essentially gatecrashing a public event without the permission of the event sponsors to promote a product or service.
Experiential guerrilla marketing: Can be all of the above but executed in a way that requires the public to interact with whatever’s going on.
Digital guerrilla marketing – how it works
We’re in a digital age and around us technological advances are moving at an astonishing pace. It’s important to the success of any businesses that it remains up-to-date with digital marketing techniques, and this includes digital guerrilla marketing.
Although the channels have changed since Levinson’s time, his message is more relevant than ever before: the marketing and advertising industry has never been more saturated with businesses pushing their creative ideas onto consumers. Because of the growing competitive nature of the industry, companies are needing to up their game to get noticed.
Consumers are more desensitised to the power of ads than previous generations, and this is exactly why digital guerrilla marketing is beginning to take centre stage. So what’s the best way to stand out online when every Tom, Dick and Harry has a website, a social media account and the ability to voice their opinions to the whole world?
We all know that the fundamental pretence of a guerrilla marketing strategy is to connect with your customers and potential customers in the most unique and emotional way possible. In order to do this, extensive research is required into your target customer. This can be done by combining your CRM, sales, web analytics, social media followers etc. to understand who your prospects are and where they visit online. Similarly, ensure you know the buyers’ demographic such as: age, gender, education, interests etc.
Digital guerrilla marketing techniques
Transferring all the guerrilla marketing tools over to digital is super easy and nothing out of the ordinary:
Use visuals and imagery: Those who use visual aids in campaigns are significantly more likely to persuade consumers to carry through a call to action.
Tell an engaging story: Storytelling is just as important for the attention span of adults as it is for children. It’s important for consumers to feel emotionally attached, connected to and interested in the outcome of your campaign. This is super easy to do online and you can reach millions of people with minimal effort.
Do something unpredictable: Rule No.1 for guerrilla marketing is do something unexpected, weird and fantastical. Do something online that’s never been done in your industry before. This may require a bit of thought as at a glance it may seem like it’s all been done before. But trust me, it really hasn’t.
Connect on a subconscious level: Emotional attachment and feeling of buying into a lifestyle is key in today’s world. The taking over of image-led social media such as Facebook and Instagram has promoted the use of images to sell a lifestyle and a feeling, which means other channels have to be able to compete. Use imagery to enchant your audience rather than to sell to them.
Recreate the same message: Use the same message over and over again, across multiple channels. Once you’ve created your ground-breaking message, make sure you duplicate it across video, audio, image, written content etc.
Use a broad mix of mediums: Make sure you exploit all of the options out there in the digital world: PR, social media, custom landing pages, games, podcasts, apps and competitions.
Examples of guerrilla marketing
Guerrilla marketing can be low-cost, but it can also be high-cost, depending what you want to do and achieve. Which is what makes it such an accessible form of advertising for a variety of companies, for small to large. While it was originally a concept that was targeted towards small businesses with a low budget, big businesses have taken the idea and really run with it. However, it can be more risky for larger businesses to undertake guerrilla marketing. If a guerrilla stunt were to flop, it can become an absolute PR nightmare.
Some of the most effective campaigns are a blended mix of high and low budget stunts. The following provides a glimpse into the imaginative world of guerrilla marketing…
This is a seriously effective and eye catching guerrilla marketing campaign. Frontline, manufacturers of a flea and tick spray, decided to use large scale shock tactics by placing a huge image of a dog on the floor of a mall. It assumed people looking down on the image from a higher level would see a dog covered in what appear to be flies – while they’re actually people on the lower floor. This super clever strategy let the public do the real work for them, and probably left viewers itching.
This digital guerrilla campaign is still being spoken about years later because of the emotive and touching sentiment of the topic. Combating sexism has been a big talking point in the media from the ‘I Need Feminism because..’ campaign to the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ Elle campaign. The original ‘Like a Girl’ Always video was more subtle and because of that, touched upon the emotions of many viewers. This campaign is still going on and evolving:
Guerrilla marketing doesn’t always have to be a really obvious, in your face statement. It can be subtle and attention grabbing for other reasons. Keeping with digital strategies, Burger King seemingly pulled a pretty good stunt that still, to this day, is up in the air as to whether or not was a genuine situation or a Burger King construction.
4. Gold Toe
Although this is another big brand, the concept and execution was so simple and cheap, that it could have been carried out by a child. The idea was to promote a new line of underwear which they did by placing large garments on iconic statues around New York City. Understandably, this caught the eye of tourists and locals alike and was shared around social media like wildfire. Sometimes simple really is best.
5. Campaigns Against Landmines
A hard-hitting and effective strategy. Professional creative agencies generally advise their clients against guerrilla marketing with negative messaging. But, if it’s important, and it works, then go for it. This campaign highlights the gruesome reality of what the charity is fighting against and what better way to present home truths to potential donators than with graphic imagery on their food? It might put you off your fish ‘n’ chips, but it won’t go unnoticed.
6. Cover Girl Mascara
This simple yet vivid idea demonstrates how we can easily turn a normal, everyday environment into a guerrilla marketing experience. Here, a city turnstile has been turned into Cover Girls latest mascara application brush, with the advert right next to it. Essentially, people become an eyelash.
Another example of glaringly (excuse the pun) obvious campaign that will still make you chuckle, is the Duracell sticker campaign. Duracell stuck images of torches to illuminated objects around a city to demonstrate the battery’s power and longevity. Simple, yet satisfyingly effective.
Similar to in principal to the Duracell campaign, Guinness added small custom wraps to pool cues in bars. This serves (no pun intended) as a reminder to players that it’s time for another pint, every time they take a shot. As well as being pretty adorable, this stunt is super targeted to the primary audience.
9. The Blair Witch Project
Created on small budget, the Blair Witch Project was an unprecedented success, which can be attributed mainly to a clever guerrilla marketing strategy. The campaign involved spreading rumours about the fictitious legend of the Blair Witch. It ran with the tagline ‘In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later, their footage was found.’
The producers were asked to create a standalone website to hold online discussions about a film that hadn’t even been finished. As a result, it was accepted into the Sundance Film festival and was a huge hit, grossing $248,639,099 worldwide.
10. Lush Cosmetics
In 2012, Lush Cosmetics carried out a guerrilla marketing stunt to promote the legislation against animal testing for cosmetics. This was a truly shocking piece of endurance performance which showed a 23 year old actress and activist going through the process of being tested on in the same way animals in a lab are. This truly shocking and heart-breaking campaign brought in thousands and thousands of signatures on a petition to ban cosmetic animal testing in Britain and the EU.
Whilst we know very well how effective guerrilla marketing is in the B2C world, it’s taking some time to hit the B2B arena.
B2B communication is usually associated with writing press releases, coming up with features, finding comment and speaker opportunities, creating roundtable events etc. However, things are slowly changing and B2Bs are beginning to think more about using guerrilla marketing tactics to get noticed.
Some people argue that the reason B2B comms is having to go down this route is because the business media has become too difficult to break though. Former MediaWeek editor Tim Burrowes has been quoted as saying that traditional print stories in publications are outdated and read like ‘glorified advertorials.’ He says that ‘This is tired PR. Other ideas are much better at getting a brand mentioned’.
Burrowes continues on to point out that while B2Bs should consider guerrilla marketing techniques, they should not be the same as the physical stunts performed by B2Cs. He suggests debate pages or imaginative partnerships for a conference.
The realisation that business people are also consumers has been a turning point for many companies and agencies looking to come up with unique strategies to generate business. We are all becoming more resilient to traditional media-based messages that we’re exposed to all day, every day, and have been for years. Companies who haven’t clocked onto this yet – and aren’t starting to rethink their comms – are going to be left behind.
As with any innovation, guerrilla marketing techniques within B2B has its critics, and not everyone agrees with the idea that the consumer purchasing model translates well to B2B. Several PR experts have voiced concerns about the techniques not being sustainable – while shock tactics can be refreshing, they will not be enough to change or persuade the cynical business market. As B2B tends to deal with the more expensive and serious end of business, gimmicky stunts don’t demonstrate the business benefits and USPs needed for a B2B transaction.
So, is guerrilla marketing and PR something that B2Bs should be doing more of? Some people in the industry have said that doing such techniques is just about creativity for creativity’s sake (is there such a thing?!) and that the activity would not be targeted enough to the end goal of the campaign.
Similarly, while there is a great risk of larger consumer companies damaging a reputation with something going wrong during a stunt, the risk could be even more catastrophic should a B2B stunt go wrong. This is something that PLCs recognise and subsequently stops a lot of B2Bs doing something so risky.
However, there are examples of B2Bs getting stuck in with some more unusual PR techniques. While larger brands may not feel the need for it because gaining editorial coverage is easy for them, smaller, or less well known B2Bs use these techniques to get their foot in the door, or, just to raise a smile.
B2B guerrilla marketing example
One early example of B2B guerrilla marketing, was in 2003 when Telford Shopping Centre wanted to make itself known as a luxury, high-end retail centre.
The primary challenge here was getting retailers to understand that Telford Shopping Centre is based in the affluent Shropshire area rather than just in the middle of nowhere with only local footfall. The owners realised London-based retailers would have no idea of the potential for high-profit customers in Telford, so set out to show them.
Alongside getting features and coverage in good magazines and newspapers, Primal PR’s Managing Director, Ivor Peters, went to many one-on-one meetings and presentations with potential retailers. He soon realised this lengthy process needed some momentum. To do this, he chartered the Oriental Express for the day and hand-picked 200 people to come aboard. During the 2.5hour journey to Telford, retailers were bombarded with information about the Centre and informed of the benefits.
Once they’d arrived [in Telford] Primal had changed one of the potential units into a VIP suite, and organised a carnival to pass through the Centre and the VIP suite on that day. The aim of this was to show first-hand the potential the store had for luxury and just how busy it was. Visitors were surprised by the potential on offer.
The result of this was 17 expressions of interest.
If you previously knew little or nothing about guerrilla marketing, what it involves and what it can do for your brand, now might be the perfect time to put it on your radar. The concept of guerrilla marketing might not be anything new, but it still feels fresh and is limited only by imagination. It provides scope to create and execute unique campaigns, often at a whim, with little planning and even less budget. Open your mind to the possibilities of guerrilla marketing, and you might never go back to conventional marketing again.
‘The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea’
– Mao Zedong
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