When you think about marketing, what comes to mind? For most business owners and marketers, traditional strategies and textbook campaigns are first up. But what do you do when you have (a) a lack of funds, and/or (b) need a way to cut through the noise and reach people in new ways? For many, guerrilla marketing is the answer.
The concept of guerrilla marketing is derived from the idea of guerrilla warfare. It’s a gritty, under-the-radar approach that aims to disarm the competition through clever, creative, and unforeseen methods that are unique and organic.
In the context of warfare, guerrilla tactics are predicated on the element of surprise. Armies use sabotage, ambushes, raids, and decentralized fighting forces to overwhelm much stronger enemies with unpredictable attacks. And while guerrilla marketing isn’t nearly as intense, it’s equally as creative.
The term “guerrilla marketing” was coined by business writer and entrepreneur Jay Conrad Levinson in the early 1980s. The father of the movement wrote numerous books about so-called guerrilla tactics and his thoughts surrounding marketing have become increasingly relevant in the digital age.
The goal of guerrilla marketing is to play on the element of surprise. This approach is effective for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it yields benefits like:
While traditional ads still have a place in today’s marketplace, people are becoming less and less attuned to standard billboards, flyers, and banner ads. The only way to stand out is to do something unique and different. guerrilla marketing plays on this idea by initiating clever marketing campaigns that stand out above the rest.
guerrilla marketing is at its best when it’s unique, instantly relatable, and able to be shared. (This latter aspect increases its potential for virality). Here are some ideas you can use to inspire your own campaigns:
If you notice everyone in your industry moving in one direction toward an obvious angle, it could be a good tactic to temporarily move in the opposite direction. (We say “could” because this isn’t necessarily true in every industry – particularly ones with sensitive subject matter.)
Let’s say, for example, that every one of your competitors is talking about how they offer the lowest or best price. You could run a guerrilla marketing campaign where you talk about how you offer the highest price. It can be done so in both a tongue-in-cheek manner, as well as a serious proposition that positions you as the authority figure and leader in quality.
When you take a strong contrarian stance, people take notice. And though there will always be a certain faction of people who are turned off, many will be magnetized to what makes you unique. If nothing else, your brand will be memorable.
Who says business cards have to be boring? Even a small slip of paper can provide an opportunity to engage in guerrilla marketing. And while it may cost you significantly more on a per-unit basis, clever cards can make a huge statement.
Examples of creative business cards include:
We often think of business cards as a boring and predictable piece of marketing. However, even traditional elements such as this can be utilized as clever guerrilla-style “attacks” for increasing engagement.
Sometimes it’s best to let your hair down a little and not take your brand too seriously. You aren’t the only one who can create content for your brand. In fact, your customers might even be better equipped to do so. And it’s for this reason that sharing user-generated content on your website and social media platforms can be effective.
User-generated content works especially well when you have a rabid fanbase who is skilled at creating visual content like images, videos, and creative designs using your products.
Fashion and athletic wear brands are good examples. By getting people to post pictures wearing the attire, companies can repost for free and highly-effective social proof that outperforms the efficacy of paid content with professional models.
Street marketing is one of the classic use cases of guerrilla marketing. It provides an outlet for almost unlimited creativity. And when compared to other categories, this tends to generate the most noticeable impact and chance for virality. (It can also be among the most expensive options, depending on how you execute.) Two specific examples come to mind.
The first example is a campaign that Bounty executed a few years back. They erected life-sized “messes” throughout the streets of New York City – including a giant coffee cup that was knocked over and a melting popsicle – worked with the slogan “Makes small work of BIG spills.”
Not only did these “statues” grab visual attention, but they served as natural photo ops. And guess what each of these photos had in common? Bounty’s logo and slogan was sitting in the background for millions more to see on social media.
Another good example comes courtesy of Frontline, which makes flea and tick prevention products for pets. They found a large shopping mall with an atrium that stretched multiple stories high and used vinyl covering across the entire floor of the bottom level. The covering featured a golden retriever on a neutral background. The dog was seen scratching his head with his hind paw and the ad copy read “Get them off your dog. Frontline.”
If you were on the ground floor walking around, the advertisement didn’t look like much. But to those peering over the balcony above, the people look like tiny fleas on the dog’s coat. The beauty of this ad is that Frontline was able to get involuntary interaction with the ad. People played the part perfectly, which eliminated any need to pay for actors or conjure up massive involvement for a topic (fleas) that isn’t exactly sexy.
This method of marketing could technically be a subset of other strategies mentioned in this article, but it’s important enough that we give it its own little section.
Ambient marketing refers to any method of marketing that promotes a specific product or brand by interfering with the normal order of flow of things. In other words, you put items in places that they don’t belong.
This “lawn shaving” ad from Bic is a tremendous example. (A razor cutting through thick grass isn’t something that you’d expect to see. This unique angle to a traditional product makes it eye-catching and memorable.)
Ambush marketing is a lot like the classic content marketing tactic of “newsjacking.” It’s based on the premise that sometimes you don’t have to create the news – you just need to latch onto it.
In ambush marketing, you take an existing trend or movement that’s hot at the moment and attach your brand to it in an indirect, yet related manner.
This ad from Rona, a Canadian hardware retailer, is a fantastic example. They found an existing ad for the iPod Nano (which was popular at the time) and then placed their own banner directly beneath the ad to make it appear as if the iPods were dripping into different colored paint buckets.
While you have to be careful not to infringe on another brand, ambush marketing can prove to be highly effective when the circumstances are appropriate.
If you’re okay with being controversial and potentially ruffling a few feathers, astroturfing could provide a good opportunity for high-ROI guerrilla marketing. And while there is certainly some downside risk involved with this approach, it can generate significant results for brands that have the gall.
Astroturfing, which gets its name from the artificial turf that mimics the real thing, is a way of using fake/paid endorsements to mimic social proof. In other words, you pay people to make it appear as if everyday people are supporting your business.
In a classic example, McDonald’s secretly compensated 1,000 customers to stand outside of a Japanese franchise and wait in line for the brand new quarter pounder menu item. Other customers were paid to leave positive reviews, share positive social media content, and create buzz.
While it can be effective when executed with a good vision, astroturfing can also raise questions around legality, ethics, and authenticity (should the truth of the campaign be exposed).
Buzz marketing could be described as the opposite of astroturfing. With this method, you identify glowing, organic endorsements and feature them prominently in your marketing campaigns. This is usually done by setting up social listening tools that allow you to gather positive feedback on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Buzz Marketing is free and effective, though it can’t be counted on. Because the buzz can’t be forced, you have to wait for opportunities to naturally emerge. And once the opportunities arise, you have to be clever and fast enough to respond in a timely manner.
This method of guerrilla marketing leverages the use of experiences to encourage participation and brand loyalty. It stands in stark contrast to the typical approach where customers are asked to behave in passive ways. By involving people in the marketing, they get to participate in the use of the products, which provides real-time social proof for those who aren’t able to experience it firsthand.
One of the most interesting and effective modes of indirect guerrilla marketing is a concept known as stealth marketing. With stealth marketing, you target customers through subtle methods that appear to be natural (not paid advertisements). In these situations, the individual usually doesn’t even know they’re being marketed to.
The famous Tom Hanks film, Castaway, is a great example. As anyone who has seen the movie knows, FedEx enjoys a lot of exposure in the film. And while their branding is integrated in a very natural manner, you can bet FedEx paid a pretty penny to get that sort of prominent placement.
While you might not have the budget to invest in a stealth marketing campaign that coincides with a Hollywood film, there are plenty of other ways to get creative with local events, influencer marketing, and product placement.
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