What is Guerilla Marketing?

guerilla marketing
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Guerilla Marketing

Guerilla marketing is a customer acquisition or brand promotion strategy that is unconventional, imaginative and cheap. The best guerilla marketing campaigns are buzzworthy, if not viral.

guerilla marketing

Guerilla marketing was first mentioned by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book about the topic, aptly named Guerilla Marketing.  Especially as traditional marketing mediums like Facebook and Google Adwords get more and more crowded, it’s increasingly important that savvy marketers like us try to capitalize on cheap ways to acquire customers. If done right, guerilla marketing can yield huge results on a budget.

Brett Zaccardi of Street Attack, describes it as anything “unauthorized and disruptive” and “sticky.”

Geurilla marketing can be very effective for smaller companies looking to dethrone larger competitors or simply, make a big splash. The best campaign activations carry a message that is “to the point”; campaigns only go viral when the message is concise and crystal clear. An advertiser has 3 seconds or less to make an impact in a Snapchat ad. The best guerilla campaigns operate in similarly short time windows, eliciting an emotional reaction, often in a matter of seconds.

Guerilla marketing campaigns often touch people’s most primal emotions and can be very engaging and convincing. Scrappiness and creativity go a long way in this form of marketing. Guerilla marketing is in some ways, growth hacking – you’re creating customers out of thin air (sorta).

10 Examples of Guerilla Marketing

Red Bull: Red Bull is an energy drink brand known for extreme sports. Red Bull’s 2014 revenue was over $5 billion. However, before Red Bull became the giant it is today, they were a bit more frugal and creative with their ad campaigns. I was in Australia in 2008 and somehow, convinced by friends (and a couple beers) to bungie jump. It was the most extreme thing I had ever done.

Alas, I found myself at the top of the platform looking 200 meters down, while a crazy Australian guy urged me to jump. Holy shit I did it and when I hit the bottom of the jump and was catapulted back upward by the elasticity of the rope, I saw a huge Red Bull ad beneath the bungie jump platform. In the midst of the most extreme thing I’d ever done, all I could see was a huge Red Bull banner. It’s not premium ad space, so I imagine they got it for real cheap. I was so impressed, when I got back to the bar, I bought Red Bull vodkas for me and all my friends. I asked the bartender how often that happens. He said, “every day.”

It’s worth mentioning that Red Bull is still one of the masters of guerilla marketing. They’ve sponsored space jumps and an annual Flugtag – an event in which you ride a homemade float off of a Red Bull-sponsored platform into a body of water.

guerilla marketing

Fixed: Fixed was an ingenious service that operated in California for a few years before being shut down by cities. It even appeared on Shark Tank, commanding a $14M valuation. Essentially, Fixed fought parking tickets on your behalf through a sleek mobile app. Unfortunately, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose didn’t like losing the income afforded by parking tickets.

guerilla marketing

However, when Fixed was operating, they were producing significant revenue through one guerilla marketing hack: Fixed would pay part-time employees to follow meter maids around cities, dropping Fixed flyers on the unfortunate vehicles which were getting parking tickets.

When the vehicle owner returned to a parking ticket, they would also see a flyer for Fixed, the very app that might get them out of the ticket. Genius right?

DodoCase: For more detail on this hack, see ecommerce marketing hacks. DodoCase, similar to Fixed, used Craigslist freelancers to execute one of my favorite guerilla marketing tactics ever.

DodoCase creates beautiful protective cases for iPhones and iPads. Naturally, demand for their product would likely surge with the release of new Apple products. DodoCase took advantage of this fact and paid Craigslisters to stand in line at different Apple stores throughout the U.S., handing out discount codes. The founder of DodoCase said this about the guerilla marketing campaign:

We went on Craigslist and we found people in different cities to basically go out to Apple stores and hand these out. We gave everyone a code so we could track who sold what and we gave them a commission on whatever they could sell.  

Half.com: In December of 1999, Half.com (now owned by Ebay) paid Halfway, Oregon to change its name to half.com, Oregon. In exchange for just over $100,000 cash and other undisclosed sums, the town unofficially changed its name and posted signage welcoming visitors to “America’s First Dot-Com City.”

The activation yielded a lot of press mentions. In fact, the story is still getting press mentions today according to Google News. The Halfway, Oregon Wikipedia page still makes mention of the stunt. Unfortunately, things didn’t end well with this story – Halfway, Oregon ended up suing Ebay for $530,000 in unpaid funds.

Warby Parker: The $95+ glasses company, now valued over $1 billion, has proven to be one of the best companies at executing guerilla marketing campaigns. Warby Parker started a 2012 “Bus Tour” that evolved into a sustained PR and brand-building effort.

They converted an old school bus into a Warby-themed “Class Trip” bus. In order to create maximum exposure, Warby drove the bus into cities and towns, activating local press and their social media to draw visitors, who would try on frames inside the parked bus. By parking the bus in very public places, Warby developed a line of people, which turned curious passerby’s into potential customers.

Allegedly, the original bus trip cost $800k, a steep risk for a company with small revenue. But apparently, the activation paid off.

Warby Parker: Part 2 for Warby Parker! New York Fashion Week is usually a pretty tame affair. In 2011, Warby Parker stole a little bit of the show when they organized influencers, models and fashion designers wearing Warby Parker glasses to have a “flash mob” in the silent reading rooms of the New York library.

guerilla marketingWarby Parker allegedly invited plenty of media to the library and as soon as the clock struck 3:30 pm, the tables of participants raised robins egg blue books engraved with “Warby Parker.” Guerilla marketing campaigns can lead to PR. Racked, Vogue and several other large publications covered the activation. While this sounds hard to coordinate, editors like the grandiose and the weird.

Obey: Obey is a millennial clothing brand that hasn’t ever played by the rules. Founded by RISD designer and street artist, Shepard Fairey, Obey actually got off the ground through a guerilla sticker campaign.

The politically-charged brand launched in 2001. In the early 2000s, Obey plastered cities with two variations of stickers and posters. One variation featured a character called Andre the Giant and the tagline “Andre the Giant has a Posse” and another with a close-up face with the tagline “OBEY.”

guerilla marketing

This activation was high impact and while they didn’t directly shine a spotlight on their brand, they created a lot of mystery that eventually translated into sales.

Ikea: Ikea garnered a lot of media love when they turned Australia’s Bondi Beach into a library for a day. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its shelving unit, The Billy, Ikea set up a huge bright red one on Sydney’s most famous beach, fully stocked with books.

guerilla marketing

Ikea of course, wrote its name in the sand. Beachgoers could take a book with them or donate one to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

World Wildlife Fund: WWF got a lot of press when they placed 1,600 paper mache pandas around Paris. Quickly, viewers realized that the activation was meant to bring awareness to the fact that only 1,600 pandas existed in the wild. The activation still garners press today and is thought of as one of the best examples of guerilla marketing ever.

guerilla marketing

The Man in the High Castle: Amazon’s World War II era show created a big buzz when it covered New York subway cars with Nazi and Japanese WWII propaganda. One subway car had its benches completely wrapped in flags.

New York city-dwellers didn’t think Amazon’s activation was in good taste. Many, including Mayor, Bill de Blasio insisted Amazon take down the propaganda or the MTA would do it for them. Amazon immediately cooperated, but not before the internet caught wind of the everything!

guerilla marketing

Guerilla marketing can be creative, fun and viral. It’s all about knowing where your customer is and locating them in unique ways – even better if your campaign elicits an emotional response in the end user.

Read more from our viral marketing post if you want more examples of creative and buzzworthy activations.

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