What Is Guerrilla Marketing? 11 Examples to Inspire Your Brand
The word “guerrilla,” in its written form, looks pretty intense. It conjures images of rebellion and conflict. Put it next to the term “marketing,” which makes many people ask, “Huh?”
But guerrilla marketing isn‘t some sort of combative form of communication. In fact, it’s actually a very unconventional form of marketing in that it raises brand awareness among large audiences without interrupting them.
What is guerrilla marketing?
What is guerilla marketing?
Guerilla marketing is a way to drive publicity and, as a result, brand awareness by promoting using unconventional methods designed to evoke surprise, wonder, or shock.
The term itself was created in the early 1980s by the late business writer Jay Conrad Levinson, who wrote several books about guerrilla tactics in several professional areas.
Of course, marketing at that time looked very different. While guerrilla marketing is still used today, the ever-growing digital landscape is changing what it looks like.
Roots of Combat
When we hear the term “guerrilla marketing,” it’s hard not to think of guerrilla warfare — which makes sense since that’s where this marketing style got its name.
In the context of battle, guerrilla tactics depend mainly on the element of surprise. Think: “Ambushes, sabotage, raids,” according to Creative Guerrilla Marketing.
But how does that translate into the work we do every day? In marketing, guerrilla techniques mostly play on the element of surprise.
It sets out to create highly unconventional campaigns that catch people unexpectedly during their day-to-day routines.
What marketers enjoy about guerrilla marketing is its relatively low-cost nature. The actual investment here is a creative, intellectual one. Its implementation, however, doesn’t have to be expensive.
Michael Brenner summarizes it nicely in his article on “guerrilla content,” he frames this marketing style in the same context as repurposing your existing content, like taking specific report segments and expanding each into a blog post.
It’s an investment of time but not money, per se.
In a way, guerrilla marketing works by repurposing your audience’s current environment. Evaluate it and determine which segments can be repurposed to include your brand.
Types of Guerrilla Marketing
As niche as it might seem, there are a few sub-categories of guerrilla marketing, as outlined by the firm ALT TERRAIN:
- Outdoor guerrilla marketing adds something to preexisting urban environments, like putting something removable onto a statue or putting temporary artwork on sidewalks and streets.
- Indoor guerilla marketing. Like outdoor guerrilla marketing, it occurs in indoor locations like train stations, shops, and university campus buildings.
- Event ambush guerilla marketing. This tactic engages the audience of an in-person event — like a concert or a sporting game — to promote a product or service noticeably, usually without permission from the event sponsors.
- Experiential guerilla marketing. This includes all of the above but is executed in a way that requires the public to interact with the brand.
Without context, guerrilla marketing can be a little confusing, so let’s see how it’s been executed by a few other brands.
Guerrilla Marketing Examples to Inspire Your Brand
1. UNICEF’s Dirty Water Vending Machines
I’m as guilty as anyone of wasting money on bottled water. I have no excuse. I have a reusable one. My workplace offers filtered water from a machine, not a traditional cooler, yet it remains a bad habit.
This guerrilla marketing campaign from the relief organization UNICEF resonated with me. It posed the question, “What if those bottles of water you waste money on were filled with dirty water?”
It reminded the privileged masses that in too many parts of the world, entire populations have no access to clean drinking water.
So, instead of frivolously spending that money on bottled water, UNICEF suggested putting it toward efforts to bring clean drinking water to these areas.
It created makeshift vending machines that sold dirty bottled water, with each button labeled as a disease caused by a lack of clean drinking water.
The big takeaway: Guerrilla marketing works in the not-for-profit sector, too. And while scary, saddening images are often an impactful way of communicating your mission.
There’s a way to convey it by creating something less in-your-face and interactive for the public.
2. BBC’s Dracula Billboard
When I think of Count Dracula, I conjure the penultimate villain synonymous with everything that goes bump at night. The BBC wanted to capitalize on this feeling to promote their show Dracula.
By day, their billboard was designed to be minimalistic, with red text on a white background with a few bloody stakes. However, like its subject, the billboard changed completely every time night fell.
The stakes were strategically placed to cast a shadow of Dracula himself.
The installation was featured in Adweek and had some viral success for its creativity and skillful implementation.
The big takeaway: Think outside the box for your advertising materials. In this case, light and shadow were enough to convey the message and capture attention.
3. Burger King’s Moldy Whopper
In the history of fast food, who’d have thought that a rotten burger would be the face of a widespread ad?
Not many people — which is probably why Burger King thought it’d be a good idea to release a time-lapse video of their Whopper burger decaying for 35 days.
Many people complain about how near-perfect burgers and cereal look in ads, so Burger King did the exact opposite to show how successful they were at removing artificial preservatives from the Whopper sandwich in European countries and the United States.
The images show the mold growing over the burger, from the buns to the freshly sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and onions to the juicy beef patty.
In the ad, there’s a reference to the number of days that have passed since the burger was made. And underneath, a statement read, “The beauty of no artificial preservatives.”
While it may seem very gross, the target audience did appreciate the ad’s message, and some even admitted that they’d choose the Whopper burger over others.
The big takeaway: Don’t be afraid to go to the extreme when marketing your products. It just might have the effect you want. Be cautious — but don’t be afraid.
4. Airbnb’s ‘Night At’ Campaign
If you were jealous of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s shooting their “Apesh*t” music video in the Louvre and want to experience it, get in here. Quickly.
To demonstrate its appreciation for art and its dedication to providing positive, unmatched experiences, Airbnb offered customers a chance to experience a night at the Musee du Louvre (yes, you read that right. Free.).
For its experiential marketing campaign titled “Night At,” Airbnb transformed the glass pyramid in the Louvre Museum into an enthralling bedroom where guests can spend the night surrounded by the world’s most cherished (and expensive) artworks, including the famed Mona Lisa.
In doing this, Airbnb bridged the gap between art and hospitality, creating lifelong customers of art aficionados who experienced this.
But Airbnb didn’t stop at the Louvre. It transformed other iconic locations into homes for a night, including the Shark Aquarium, the Paris catacombs (for Halloween Night), Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania, and the Great Barrier Reef.
The goal is to offer people the chance to immerse themselves in places with cultural, emotional, or historical significance — something Airbnb has achieved to the max.
The big takeaway: Connect with your audience emotionally by offering experiences that capitalize on their desires and interests.
5. Paper Tree x Rock Paper Reality Campaign
Rock Paper Reality (RPR), an immersive content and design firm, collaborated with Adobe Aero and Google’s Geospatial Creator to create an augmented reality (AR) experience for the Paper Tree origami store in Japantown, San Francisco.
Visitors in the area would scan a QR code, allowing them to view large, 3D origami sculptures integrated into the world around them through their device screens.
Beside each sculpture was a list of materials people could purchase in the Paper Tree store to recreate the model.
This increased business for the origami store and showed how companies can use Adobe and Google tech to make 3D experiences more accessible to their customers.
The big takeaway: If you cannot create an elaborate marketing campaign in the real world due to budget issues (or any other inconvenience), you can make it into a 3D digital experience that your target audience will love.
6. Budweiser’s Reunited With Buds Campaign
The spread of COVID-19 made 2020 a challenging year for everyone, including brands like Budweiser that aim to bring people together for a good time.
So, to celebrate the reopening of bars, Budweiser launched their Reunited with Buds campaign, which focused on uniting people after a challenging year.
In the ad, Budweiser’s adorable Labrador retriever puppy and its famous Clydesdale horses each make long journeys to meet up, presumably after spending the past several weeks social distancing.
With the spirited song “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen playing in the background, the Reunited with Buds ad celebrated the excitement that comes with family, friends, and colleagues being able to grab a drink at the closest bar again.
In addition to accurately portraying the excitement of reopening, Budweiser displayed its product positively through balanced storytelling and nostalgic music.
The big takeaway: It’s okay to get a little sentimental and fill your campaign with elements that invoke powerful (and feel-good) emotions in your audience.
7. KFC Crocs
I’ve got two questions: Do you love KFC’s world-famous fried chicken? Now, do you like Crocs?
Suppose your answer is yes to both questions. In that case, you’ll understand the genius behind KFC’s decision to partner with Crocs, the pioneers of arguably the most comfortable shoes that exist right now (that’s just my opinion, though).
In 2020, KFC and Crocs released limited edition Clogs featuring a realistic Kentucky Fried Chicken pattern and the recognizable red-striped bucket.
The two Clog versions — the heeled and the regular — came with detachable drumstick-shaped Jibbitz charms attached to the top.
Beauty icon Me Love Me A Lot (MLMA) debuted the heeled version of these KFC x Crocs clogs at New York Fashion Week, one of the world’s most significant fashion events.
This garnered a lot of attention, which led to the limited edition Clogs selling out in less than an hour after the official release.
For every pair sold, KFC donated $3 to the KFC Foundation’s Reach Educational Grant Program, which helps KFC employees get college scholarships.
The big takeaway: To get as many eyes as possible on your campaign, launch it at a big event. You can also incentivize people to buy your product by making donations or doing some charity work that you love.
Or you can do both, like KFC and Crocs.
8. McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Fan Club
For nearly five decades, McDonald’s Quarter Pounder burger has been a fan favorite. In 2020, McDonald’s decided to capitalize on the Quarter Pounder’s popularity in Sweden to generate more buzz for it.
And it did so by setting up a Quarter Pounder Fan Club — a secret club for Quarter Pounder enthusiasts.
Not only did this club have limited membership slots, but the people who were accepted were given a special club card and access to Quarter Pounder-related perks, such as a candle pack, mittens, calendars, T-shirts, stickers, and pins.
This campaign motivated members of the fan club to share their experiences and love for the Quarter Pounder on social media platforms.
This piqued the interest of those who haven’t tried the iconic burger (or any McDonald’s menu item), and the giant fast-food chain got more customers through the campaign.
The big takeaway: Create a sense of exclusivity and make your customer feel special by creating a fan club or group of some kind. Then, offer them incentives to draw more attention to your campaign.
9. Samsung’s Capture The Night Campaign
To promote the launch of the new Galaxy S23, Samsung launched its Capture The Night campaign, which served to bridge the gap between creativity and technology.
Originally titled “Captura la noche” for its Argentine users, Samsung showed how much love and appreciation its users had for music as a way of life, as an intimate language, and as a coping mechanism.
Samsung created a web platform where its users can upload their night photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S23’s unparalleled night camera. This platform analyzes the photos and uses AI algorithms to define the style of music for each photo.
Not only can Samsung users figure out the kind of music they’d like to listen to, but they can use the platform’s suggestions to create original songs of their own, just like Agusto Schuster did.
The big takeaway: Figure out something your target audience loves and find a way to give it to them through your campaign.
10. Google Pixel Fold campaign
Foldable devices have been all the rage for nearly a decade, so when Google Pixel launched the Pixel Fold, it knew it had to go above and beyond to highlight its amazing features.
Working with Anomaly, an innovative marketing agency, Google Pixel launched a campaign with 3D anamorphic DOOH.
Anomaly used larger-than-life 3D illusion billboards and animation to showcase the foldable phone’s sleek design and highlight its immersive display features, among other things.
There is also footage of the displays that’ll be shared across social media to garner more attention.
The big takeaway: Figure out some innovative, novel ways to use regular marketing channels, such as billboards, video commercials, and social media.
11. SPAR Dress To Impress the AI Campaign
When it comes to guerrilla marketing, nothing beats interactivity. SPAR Slovenia knew this when it partnered with advertising agency AV Studio to set up an interactive city light right at the entrance of Interspar stores.
When a customer stands in front of the city light, the machine learning algorithm will scan their clothing style and use that to determine the customer’s musical tastes.
The process takes less than ten seconds and is safe as the system doesn’t store users’ photos. It only scans a customer’s clothing and plays music that matches their style, including rock, pop, and hipster music. The city light also recommends songs that customers might enjoy.
The big takeaway: Think about the things your audience might just pass by every day — and make those things do something unexpected and interactive.
Guerrilla Marketing Tips From Experts
Here are some tips to help you run a successful guerilla marketing campaign:
1. Know your target audience.
Since you know the product you‘re promoting, you likely have a good idea of the kind of people you want to target with your guerilla marketing tactics.
However, because of the spontaneity, creativity, and sometimes interactive nature of guerilla marketing campaigns, you’ll need to develop a deeper understanding of your target audience.
Guerilla marketing isn‘t just about reaching people but about forming a connection with a segment of your target market that has the same interests, needs, and values as the brand you’re promoting.
To do this, study your audience and figure out:
- Where they hang out (online and offline).
- What they like and dislike.
- What they care about.
- How they communicate.
- What their routine looks like.
- What can surprise them?
- How they spend their leisure time.
Knowing this information can help you choose an appropriate location, craft a message that resonates, and pick out the right online promotion channels for your campaign.
Khatwani explains, “It’s about chatting with them, understanding their quirks, and figuring out what really gets them excited. When you nail this, you can whip up a campaign that feels like a heart-to-heart chat rather than a sales pitch.”
That‘s what Red Bull did with their Stratos Jump campaign. It was a huge success because the brand understood and tapped into its audience’s interest in adventure and extreme sports.
That’s why they sponsored Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s groundbreaking freefall from Earth’s stratosphere, generating worldwide attention and increasing brand awareness.
2. Be creative and original.
The beauty of guerilla marketing is in its idiosyncrasy. It’s a marketing tactic that requires you to think outside the box for a way to embrace the element of surprise and create something relevant yet unexpected.
With guerilla marketing, the last thing you want to be is a copycat.
So the onus is on you to either come up with something that’s never been done before or put a unique spin on an existing concept — while ensuring that your idea aligns perfectly with your brand identity and values.
Ambient marketing involves integrating your messaging seamlessly into the environment in which your target audience interacts.
“It’s about becoming a part of their world, whether through strategically placed visuals, memorable experiences, or interactive elements,” Samson explains.
Samson says, “This approach ensures that your marketing efforts feel natural and unobtrusive, capturing potential customers’ attention without being intrusive or disruptive.”
Location does make all the difference with guerilla marketing. Jon Morgan, the CEO of Venture Smarter, knows this all too well.
“One memorable guerrilla marketing campaign involved a travel agency placing life-sized cardboard cutouts of exotic animals in unexpected urban locations. This sparked intriguing conversations, ultimately driving more people to their travel packages,” Morgan says.
This campaign’s goal was to encourage people to explore new destinations and experience wildlife in their natural habitats. It worked.
As Morgan says, “The key is to evoke emotions and make people stop and think.”
3. Test your idea before executing it.
The main goal of a guerilla marketing campaign is to wow your target audience. But if you execute your unconventional campaign without testing it first, you might end up doing the exact opposite.
“Guerilla marketing is unique and awesome, but it’s always a good idea to understand and respect the limits of your target market so as not to cause an opposite effect,” Golubovich says.
“Pick a small group of people to test your ideas beforehand, ask them for their thoughts, opinions, and feedback, and make your decisions accordingly,” he explains.
Testing your idea on a small group of people helps you predict how your larger audience will react to your campaign and the results you’ll get from it.
4. Promote your guerilla marketing campaign online.
After executing your guerilla marketing campaign, what happens next?
Some marketers choose to sit back and watch results pour in.
“Once the show is over, maintaining momentum is crucial. Keep the buzz going by hyping the success of your guerilla marketing campaign across your brand’s online channels. This extends the life of your campaign and keeps your audience engaged and excited about your brand,” Gill says.
Gill’s right. The presence of an offline guerilla marketing campaign shouldn’t mean the absence of an online campaign.
Instead, both your online and offline campaigns should work in tandem to increase awareness and generate qualified leads for your brand.
You can use different online channels, such as social media, email, blogs, podcasts, and PR, to promote your campaign, amplify user-generated content, and share testimonials and behind-the-scenes content.
You can even create a hashtag for your campaign and use it across all your marketing strategies, including content marketing, influencer marketing, and paid advertising.
5. Don’t focus on going viral.
Who wouldn’t love their marketing campaign to go viral? I sure would!
However, don’t let the prospect of virality make you take your eyes off the goal you want to achieve — providing value and getting more customers for your brand.
Going viral simply means that your campaign will reach many people; it doesn’t guarantee that it will reach the right people. So, while the guerilla marketing campaigns outlined above went viral, this shouldn’t be what you pursue.
Focus first on adding value to your target audience. If you go viral in the process, that‘s great. But if you don’t, you‘ll still get good results because you’re targeting the people that matter.
6. Analyze and learn from the results of your campaign.
When your guerilla marketing campaign is over, you need to analyze your results and see what you did right (and what you didn’t).
Jon Morgan, the CEO of Venture Smarter, proposes that you measure the success of your guerrilla marketing campaign using both quantitative and qualitative metrics.
“Track engagement, website traffic, social media mentions, and sales, but also pay attention to the conversations and brand sentiment it generates. These insights will help you fine-tune your strategy for future campaigns,” Morgan says.
You can also collect feedback from your target audience, partners, and stakeholders. Through this feedback, identify what worked well and what could be improved.
Document the entire process and note some best practices to adhere to for future reference. This ensures that you don’t struggle too much when you run another campaign in the future.
Guerrillas in the Wild
Starting to make a little more sense?
Hopefully, you’ll be inspired by these examples, especially if you’re promoting a smaller brand. Don‘t be afraid to crowdsource the content for these campaigns.
After all, creative approaches to your work help maintain guerrilla marketing’s budget-friendly, inbound nature.
Remember: Catch people where they are, and insert your brand there. Don’t interrupt, but invite them to participate.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.