Guerrilla Marketing: The Ultimate Inspiration Guide [9 Real-Life Examples]

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If you had a marketing secret so unique, so surprising, so shocking, so memorable that people spoke about your brand for years afterward - would you want it?

OK, we know you would. And we’re going to give it to you!  

Guerrilla marketing.

The best part of all is that guerrilla marketing won’t bite holes into your budget either. But, it will give you massive impact and massive returns!

So let’s unravel this little secret called guerrilla marketing.

What Actually Is Guerrilla Marketing?

We bet you just thought: “Is this some type of marketing that the military does?” You’re not entirely wrong.  

The term was coined in 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson (creative director of Leo Burnett) in his book called Guerrilla Marketing.  

While rooted in the concept of guerrilla warfare (because let’s face it, brands are fighting on the market battlefield for market share and share of customer minds and hearts), guerrilla marketing is actually the use of exciting, different, unique marketing tactics that make customers stop dead in their tracks, and think: “Wow! This is unbelievable!”

Like Deadpool on Tinder.

Yes, you read that correctly. To create awareness of the release of 2016’s movie Deadpool, some unexpecting Tinder users casually swiping left or right on Tinder suddenly came across a profile for…Deadpool?!  

Twentieth Century Fox cleverly built up massive hype about the movie through this (and other) initiatives which went viral.

The unconventional tactics used in a guerrilla marketing campaign position this type of marketing   to break the mold of traditional advertising

It is becoming increasingly necessary as consumers grow bored of the “old ways of doing things”.

Traditional Marketing vs Guerrilla Marketing

Traditional marketing includes above-the-line media (ATL). We’re talking about advertising in print publications, TV and radio ads, standard billboards, email, etc.  

ATL marketing generally requires big budgets and is usually used by bigger companies.  

Guerrilla marketing on the other hand relies on personal interaction. It always has the element of surprise and requires very small budgets (if any - if you do it right).

Features Of Guerrilla Marketing

  • Cost-effectiveness. When you have a low budget but lots of creativity, guerrilla marketing is an excellent way to gain powerful results.
  • Surprise. Guerrilla marketing is all about the element of surprise - disrupting a scenario, or a customer’s expectation of what they think will happen. It needs to be unconventional marketing, thought-provoking ideas, and just WOW your customer.
  • Customer interaction. One of the most powerful elements of guerrilla marketing is how it gets customers to interact with a brand, making it more memorable.
  • Emotional triggering. All purchases are inherently emotionally driven. Guerrilla marketing targets the emotional triggers of a customer to elicit a response of surprise or awe.
  • Creative and clever. Because guerrilla marketing is generally actioned on a low-to-no budget, creativity has to soar. So, most guerrilla marketing campaigns will be incredibly creative and smart and make customers think.

Guerrilla Marketing Examples: (9 Inspiring Real-Life Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns)  

Let’s take a look at some really clever guerrilla marketing examples from real brands.

Gold Toe Dresses NYC

In 2010, sock retailer Gold Toe launched its newest shirts and underwear ranges by dressing up New York City statues in t-shirts and underwear.  

From the fashion district to Wall Street, NYC saw a side of their city they’d never seen before! Of particular note was the huge gold bull watching the action on Wall Street.  

Old Charging Bull, who himself was a work of guerrilla art installed just after the 1987 Wall Street Crash, was showing his jocks to passersby who couldn’t help but snap hopeless numbers of pics and post them all over social media.

Check out Charging Bull’s undies.

The lesson here: Laughter is the best medicine. So, finding humorous and unique ways to promote your brand is a great guerrilla marketing tactic. This also helps to create buzz, which drives the success of your guerrilla campaigns even further.  

Barge Billboards

Who thinks of a barge as a spot to pin a billboard? Ballyhoo Media, in this case.  

In Miami, the media house floated barges along various waterways with billboards attached to them. The initial idea was to promote real estate with the availability of land decreasing and the price increasing.  

The tactic was wildly successful.

This trick was taken up by other companies in other cities, which started promoting everything from television shows to travel.  

Unfortunately, when the barges started floating the waterways of Manhattan and Brooklyn, complaints had started rolling in from citizens, and the marketing tactic was shut down by the city.  

The lesson here: Not all cities/venues/countries/etc were created equal. Make sure that your guerrilla marketing tactics are legal and won’t cause drama with the local law.

Spotify’s Cosmic Playlists

What’s your star sign? There’s a playlist JUST for you!  

This was a very cool idea that streaming music service Spotify put into action in January 2019.

Working with astronomer Chani Nicholas, Spotify created “Cosmic Playlists” for US listeners. These were based on astrological readings by the astronomer to represent each star sign’s theme at the time.  

Nicholas commented in a media release:  

“When a song resonates with you, it might feel really personal like it’s speaking about your own experience. But it’s also speaking to a huge, broad audience. When there’s something collectively going on where a song resonates for a lot of people, it’s the same way that a horoscope will speak to the archetypal themes of the moment.”

Intelligence and creativity really came together here, and the campaign went viral, with the playlist still downloadable today.  

This is a great guerrilla marketing tactic that can be used in an internet campaign and on social media platforms.

The lesson here: Always be aware of what’s happening around you - events, occasions, celebrations, etc. You never know when a guerrilla marketing opportunity is “written in the stars”.

“Friendly” Banter At Intel’s 40th Anniversary

For its 40th birthday celebration, tech company Intel planned to give away 8,086 of its limited edition 6-core-i7-8086k computers.  

In a sneaky guerrilla move, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) jumped onto 40 of those prize winners and offered them its own 16-core Ryzen Threadripper 1950x.  

Many companies would be up in arms at this stage. But, Intel kept a cool head and smoothly called AMD out on Twitter, saying it reckoned AMD just wanted to win an Intel itself.

Pretty sharp right?  

The lesson here: Always be on your toes and remain agile to opportunities to capitalize on guerrilla marketing opportunities.

Singing Posters For The GRAMMYs

What would happen if posters of GRAMMY-nominated artists did just begin to sing around citizens as they went about their daily lives?

This guerrilla marketing example aimed to promote the nominees for the 58th GRAMMYs Album Of The Year category.  

If you had a BIG budget to throw behind this, you may get away with a few of these in a real-life setting.  

Watch it and see what you think.

The lesson here: Some ideas are so big and brilliant - but need the matching budget to bring them to life. When heading in the guerrilla marketing direction, think outside of the box for ways to make your big, brilliant ideas actionable with little budget.

Smart Stickers Piggyback Off Of Signs

Axe is renowned for its tongue-in-cheek, often saucy, marketing campaigns. One such marketing example saw Axe strategically place a sticker near an existing exit sign, completely changing the context of the sign.

This is an unconventional way of using a resource that’s already there - like street elements - to surprise people and create something memorable from something so simple.

The beauty of this campaign is that signs like this emergency exit sign are everywhere. This created a widespread opportunity for Axe to reach a large target audience and go viral as ladies and gents who see this smart piece of guerrilla marketing will no doubt have uploaded loads of pics to social media to share the humor.

The lesson here: See what is naturally in an environment, then think outside of the box to work with it. People who normally see something in their everyday life will be wowed by a clever switch-up that they didn’t expect.  

This is a great - and cost-effective - way of turning your campaign into a viral marketing campaign.

Nike Promotes Health The Real Way

Nike is another brand known for its sharp and witty guerrilla marketing.  

One such campaign was when they cordoned off the entrance to an escalator. With stairs right next to it and an opportunity to up the step count on someone’s pedometer, Nike saw the opportunity to get people to “just do it” and take the stairs.

This simple yet powerful action changed the perception of people who would normally use the escalator.  

It went from a negative (needing to take the stairs and make the extra effort to get to where they were going) to a positive: “Escalator is broken - cool! I’m going to get some healthy exercise in by taking the stairs.”

This is an excellent example of experiential marketing, which is gold for guerrilla marketers.  

Experiences tap into customers’ emotions - and memories - which is where you want your brand to be!

The lesson here: Look at turning something unpleasant into something that will benefit the audience, make them smile, or help them to see it more positively.

If you’re bringing more positivity into an audience’s life, they are more likely to remember you.

The Flash Mob

What more shocking way to get attention than a flash mob suddenly appearing around you - singing, dancing, running, or whatever?

Strategic flash mobs are great magnets for photo and video opportunities, getting fresh content posted on people’s social media accounts, and liked and shared.  

This is as powerful a “memorability tactic” as it is a word-of-mouth marketing tactic - with people talking about the “impromptu” event for years to come.

One such example was used by Tic-Tac when a different type of flash mob fell unconscious and only a Tic-Tac could bring them back to life.  

Have some tissues handy as you watch this.

The lesson here: Flash mobs can be very powerful allies in guerrilla marketing tactics. They need to be strategically coordinated - and there should always be a happy ending if the customer is going to experience a bit of a shock.

Happiness Is Contagious

When the unexpected happens - and it’s a GOOD unexpected thing - magic can happen. And more importantly, the magic can spread.

Like when Coca Cola decided to install a Happiness Vending Machine in the canteen of a university, and for a few coins it delivered - a Coke. Or a pizza. Or some dazzling sunglasses. It even crafted a balloon animal.  

When the “happy” unexpected happens, surprise and delight will follow. And happy emotions are some of the most powerful results that a marketer could wish to achieve.  

People who are happy want to share their happiness - which is what Coca-Cola is all about. So, it drives their brand positioning home ever more strongly.

Would you want this happiness machine in YOUR workplace? Watch this and decide.

The lesson here: Emotions are powerful allies in driving customers to make a purchase. If you connect with the happiness centers of your customers and give MORE value than they expect, the happiness grows. And so will your business.

Guerrilla Marketing Ideas For Small Businesses

Guerrilla marketing is a great marketing tool that small businesses can use. It is low cost and really only requires creative thinking and a bit of in-your-face pizazz.

Here are some ideas to sky-rocket your brand’s awareness and generate buzz.  

Use The Senses  

Involving people’s senses in a guerrilla marketing activation will get your business a whole lot more notice and make the event more memorable.

Depending on what your business does, you could hand out samples packaged in a way that grabs attention.

Take this example as an idea: a woman gave birth at one of the Chipotle outlets. So, the brand decided to throw her a Chipotle-themed baby shower. Burritos on a birthday cake, little burrito cupcakes - they switched up the norm to create something unique and different.

And ‘unique and different’ is what journalists love.  

There was widespread media coverage of this out-of-the-ordinary event, raising awareness of the Chipotle brand, and creating a “warm and fuzzy” feeling for those reading the story.

Get Arty On The Street

Street art isn’t a new thing. But, artists and brands are starting to use street art in really interesting and memorable ways.  

If you can partner with a local artist (who’s really good at what he or she does), find a (legal) spot near a busy shop that complements your brand. Get your artist to create an interactive piece of art.  

So, for example, if you’re a bottled water brand, get some water artwork done near an Indian food take-away joint of a caricature drinking a bottle of water, and a message along the lines of: “You’ll need a drink after that spicy curry”.  

Then have a little pop-up stand where you either give away samples or sell bottles of your water.  

It’s bound to get your attention (and gratitude, when that hot spicy curry kicks in!)

We highly recommend that you speak to the local municipality to make sure you may legally “pull off your stunt” - and also make friends with the curry shop owner.  

Working in partnership with other businesses will get you far!

Gamify Your Experience

Experience is everything when it comes to guerrilla marketing. A fun and interactive experience is worth its weight in gold.

A great example is when footwear brand Adidas opened a new store in Pilestraede, Copenhagen during Fashion Week.

To gain attention, it scattered blue rubber ducks in the fountain at 'Enghave Plads', with each one bearing a message saying that it had swum too far and needed help to get back home.

Home, of course, was the Adidas store.  

No volumes of money spent, no flashy ads - just a simple concept. But one that got people to interact with the brand by playing a simple “game”.

Other Tips To Consider

  • Younger audiences are ripe for guerrilla marketing experiences. Generations Y, Z, and Alpha (that’s your 2010+ generation) almost actively avoid marketing presented to them the traditional way. They want bold, they want shocking, they want mind-blowing. So think about unconventional means of wowing this audience.
  • DO look at guerrilla marketing examples that other businesses have done. While it’s a terrible idea to copy any of them (you’d never want to be known as a copycat), it can provide inspiration and ideas for your own guerrilla marketing campaign.
  • Any major events happening around you? Think of interesting and unconventional marketing ways to get in there (without breaking the law or putting yourself in line to get hate mail from the organizers!)

Sporting events or other public events provide an already-organized audience for you to share your amazing brand with.

  • Never discount the power of freebies in marketing. It needn’t even be a sample of your product. It could be a free ice cream with a little note written on the napkin with your website address.

Guerrilla Marketing: Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Examples Of Guerrilla Marketing?

Think creative, unexpected, and different.  

Like business cards that are made from biodegradable paper and embedded with seeds. People throw them away anyway, so why not make yours a flower in their gardens?

What Are The 5 Basic Rules Of Guerrilla Marketing?

  1. Know your audience. ANY marketing tactic will fail if you don’t know who your audience is. Different segments respond differently to marketing tactics. So, make sure the guerrilla marketing tactic you’ll be using aligns with the type of people you’ll be using it with.
  2. Analyze the environment. Make sure that any guerrilla marketing tactic that you’ll be employing in a space is within the rules and regulations of that space, the owner of the space, and even the city (if it’s going to be in a public environment). If you’re doing something active, make sure you won’t hurt other people or potentially damage property.
  3. Set goals. No marketing activation can be properly successful if there are no goals. Goals give you direction on WHAT you want to achieve, so you can tailor HOW you will achieve it.
  4. Execute the plan. Too many promising opportunities are missed because they got stuck in the planning stage, and are never executed. Doing guerrilla marketing takes guts - but it’s worth it to make your brand stand out from the crowd.
  5. Measure your results. Results show you if something worked or not. If it did, great - do it again! If it didn’t, pull your team together and brainstorm another idea.

Why Is It Called Guerrilla Marketing?

Because it is unexpected. It is disruptive to the old traditional ways of thinking and takes people by surprise.

Like its military comparative, there are different types of guerrilla marketing designed to achieve different results.

How Does Coca-Cola Use Guerrilla Marketing?

Coca-Cola might be considered the king of guerrilla marketing and unconventional methods.  

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, Coke has always brought the customer into the center of its guerrilla marketing campaigns - be it the Happiness Vending Machine, or personalizing Coke bottles with people’s names.  

By making its customers ALWAYS feel like they are the superstar of Coca-Cola’s brand, they have made Coke a household name.

Final Thoughts

Guerrilla marketing can be used by ANY business - whether you’re a big business or small business, and it doesn’t require big budgets.  

All it requires is a willingness to think differently, a massive dose of creativity, and a bit of courage to actually go out there and DO IT!

Use small tactic strategies to start with, and build surprising guerrilla marketing ideas into your advertising strategy.  

Pull your social media team, your sales team, your editorial team, and others into brainstorming sessions (you’d be surprised how many wild and wonderful ideas your “non-creative” staff have!).

Ultimately, guerrilla marketing is a tactic that really works so start brainstorming today!  

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