Guerilla Marketing: What is it and How Does it Work?

What is guerilla marketing?
Scott Kalapos on Nov 16, 2022

How do you generate buzz for a brand? Marketers all over the world may have different answers to that question. Some swear by more traditional marketing ideas like television advertising, printed materials, direct mail campaigns, and community involvement. Others focus more on digital marketing initiatives like email campaigns, social media platforms, pay-per-click ads, and website SEO.

Every business has to workshop its own marketing strategy to suit a target audience and the product or service that is being offered. Finding the right combination of medium and message is the goal of every marketing department, all to increase sales for the brand.

What is Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is a rather young concept in the advertising world. It was coined by the author Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book, Guerrilla Marketing. To define it, let's first take a look at what guerrilla warfare is. When a certain group is outnumbered by a larger force, especially on their home territory, they will employ guerrilla tactics to defeat the enemy. This involves limited engagements that take advantage of the terrain to mitigate the numbers advantage of the opposing force. Essentially, guerrilla campaigns allocate a finite number of resources for a much larger impact.

Guerrilla marketing operates within similar parameters. Brands will attempt to make a huge impact with a campaign for a relatively low cost. Often, the goal is to generate attention for the brand with a spectacle that results in word-of-mouth marketing and viral sharing. These unconventional methods require creative thinking and great timing to be effective.

Guerrilla Marketing Examples

Examples of Guerilla Marketing by Big Brands

To better understand what guerrilla marketing really is, let's take a look at some guerrilla marketing examples that companies have used in the past to go viral or create a spectacle that generated buzz for the brand. Though these examples are all for massive brands, they can, at the very least, serve as inspiration for businesses of any size that want to make a splash with their marketing.

Coca-Cola: "Happiness Machine"

Coca-Cola decided to try something new by creating the "happiness machine". A coke vending machine was installed in a cafeteria on a college campus with multiple hidden cameras set up to record raw footage. This machine had a hidden person inside who would hand out not just Coca-Cola, but other gifts as well. The ensuing reactions by college students to receiving these extra doses of happiness were cut into a video that was widely shared, earning the company multiple awards for interactive marketing.

Century 21: Walter White's House

One of the most popular TV shows at the time was AMC's "Breaking Bad." To build excitement around the brand, Century 21 took advantage of the upcoming series finale to post a Craigslist ad for the home of the titular character, Walter White. This stunt saw a ton of engagement on social media, particularly Twitter, and resulted in skyrocketing awareness of the real estate company's brand.

Red Bull: Skydiving

Red Bull knows all about creative marketing. In 2012, they set the record for the highest skydive when Feliz Baumgartner jumped from 128,000 feet above the surface of the earth. This stunt was viewed live on Youtube by millions, achieving the desired effect.

Deadpool: Tinder Profile

To build excitement for the Deadpool movie, a Tinder profile was set up for the fictional character. The bio and pictures were all in line with the personality of the character, and swiping right on him would take you to a link to buy tickets to see the movie. It was even more effective because the movie's release date was Valentine's Day.

Types of Guerrilla Marketing

The above examples are massive in scale and were all implemented by large companies. But if you own a small business, how can you adopt similar tactics to reach a broad audience with minimal investment of resources?

Different Types of Guerilla Marketing

Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing, also known as undercover marketing, is a tactic used to secretly promote a product or brand to the public. Some companies will use actors in public to talk positively about a certain item. Product placement in movies is another popular stealth marketing idea. Creating fake viral videos can also generate buzz for a brand. Investing in large numbers of promotional products that people can wear or use in public will slowly build brand awareness and recognition, sometimes without people even realizing it. Any method that is subtle or hidden is considered undercover marketing.

Ambient Marketing

This advertising method uses the surroundings and street elements in a non-intrusive way to market a product or service. One such example is a massive street art depiction of a McDonald's container of french fries that was drawn on the road at an intersection, and the "fries" formed the stripes of the crosswalk. This tactic grabs attention, is not intrusive to passersby, and can be very cheaply done.

Event Ambush

Exactly the opposite of the non-intrusive ambient method, ambush marketing can be very in-your-face. Think of the flash mob era from several years ago when massive groups of people would break out into a choreographed dance in a public space. Some companies used these types of major events to promote themselves or the company's products.

An event ambush uses the concept of the spectacle to interrupt the regular rhythms of the public's circumstances to leave a lasting impression that people will remember.

Grassroots Campaigns

Grassroots marketing is a very targeted form of advertising. It focuses very intensely on a specific niche of loyal customers or superfans of a business that would want to spread the brand's message. As a guerrilla marketing campaign, this method often takes advantage of trending topics and cultural issues to encourage consumers to support the brand.

Viral Marketing

Every marketer hopes to create an ad or marketing piece that goes viral. It prioritizes organic word-of-mouth and social media sharing to create a memorable experience for a large audience.

Also known as buzz marketing, one great example of this is the moonwalking bear campaign. It was a public safety video meant to warn drivers to keep an eye out for cyclists on the road. The video featured an awareness test with two teams of four players passing a basketball around to each other. the viewer was tasked with counting how many passes the white team made. After the test, the narrator gives the answer and then says "but, did you see the moonwalking bear?" at which point the video starts over and it becomes impossible NOT to notice the person in a bear costume moonwalking through the moving players. The message of failing to notice what you aren't looking for was very effective for this buzz marketing video.

Projection Advertising

Another guerrilla marketing strategy is projection advertising. This involves casting a massive image or video onto a big surface, such as the side of a building or a large, blank structure. This outdoor guerrilla marketing strategy can be memorable due to its sheer size, and a creative message can be shared while saving on your marketing budget.

Wild Posting

This form of street marketing uses massive posters or billboards with large images and messages. Similar to the projection advertising strategy, the goal is to be noticeable to passersby. It can be done for a low cost when compared with the number of impressions that it can create for the brand. If this guerrilla marketing method can be used to create awareness on city streets, then it can get people talking about the company.

Sporting Events

Sports provide a massive opportunity for companies to increase awareness of their products or services. The massive reach of a sporting event, both for local fans and if they are broadcast to other areas, can set up an opportunity for far more potential customers to witness a viral sensation or buzz marketing tactic. This is a very cost-effective way to reach more of your target audience with guerrilla marketing tactics.

What Makes a Guerrilla Marketing Campaign Successful?

How to Succeed with Guerilla Marketing

Obviously, some of the brands you have read about in this article were massively successful with their campaigns. It is probably unrealistic for you to try to replicate the results of those guerrilla marketing examples. However, you can join the ranks of effective guerrilla marketers by following a few guidelines when running guerrilla marketing campaigns.

Connecting with Your Target Audience

Although guerrilla marketing is intended to achieve a larger reach with fewer resources, the focus for every strategy should still be on the ideal customer. What message or medium would connect with that person the most? Advertising that goes viral does not always result in better sales, especially if the people seeing it have no interest in the product or service itself. Build your guerrilla marketing campaign to specifically connect with your most invested customers, whether that is through fake endorsements, product placement, street marketing, or other guerrilla marketing ideas.

Leveraging Emotions

Emotions drive people to make most of the decisions in their lives, from purchasing a product (opens in a new window) to deciding what outfit to wear to pursuing a new career. Guerrilla marketing works when the message and medium combine to touch on the emotions of the consumer. An offer of free ice cream is great, but you can add a touch of emotion by advertising the refreshment or reward after a hard day's work that comes with that ice cream.

A great way to enter the minds of your audience members is to rely on buyer personas. When you understand a person's lifestyle, habits, job situation, hobbies, and how they spend their time, you can gain a better sense of what motivates them. Is it making the world a better place? Is it looking after their family? Is it planning for their financial future? Understand the motivations and emotions of the audience and you can create content that capable of swaying public opinion in favor of your company.

Consider Younger Audiences

If you are hoping to go viral and become a sensation with your guerrilla marketing ideas, then you need to know how young people behave. If your main audience is on the older side, your tactics will have to shift. Younger generations are very interested in shared experiences on social media, so if you want to harness this advertising power, your messaging should reflect the needs and emotions of a younger audience. They provide the best chance of massive success for your marketing team.

Perfect Timing

Timing matters for all types of marketing, whether it is guerrilla marketing or traditional marketing. A campaign that falls flat because of a recent cultural event or the wrong season can mean a huge waste of resources. Knowing when and where to run your guerrilla marketing campaign is crucial to yielding positive results. This is why it is so important to keep up with trending topics. You can use these moments as inspiration for your guerrilla marketing campaigns. There are as many failed guerrilla marketing campaigns as there are successful ones, and there may even be more, all because of poor timing.

What Can Make Guerrilla Marketing Fail?

What Can Cause Guerilla Marketing to Fail?

Just as there are plenty of strategies for running a successful guerrilla marketing initiative, there are circumstances that can lead to failure. It is not easy to nail what will connect with consumers every single time, so it is important that you learn lessons from the misses as much as the successes. Here are a few things that could make a guerrilla marketing strategy fail.

Legal Issues

does it surprise you to know that so many of these guerrilla marketing types run into legal issues that shut them down? Maybe there are laws in place about public graffiti or art on the street that you didn't know about. There could be rules for how long a particular advertisement could be viewable to the public. If the spectacle you have created is too distracting, it is even possible that lawsuits could occur if injuries or accidents happen because of the viral piece your team has created. Before you initiate any outdoor guerrilla marketing, make sure that local laws and law enforcement won't see any legal issues with your advertising plan. Otherwise, it could be shut down before it has a chance to reach your audience.

Making a Mess

There are lots of creative ways to advertise your product or service to consumers, and many of them avoid leaving a huge mess for someone else to clean up. The bigger the project, the more likely it is to cause problems in the aftermath, especially if it is some sort of artistic method of guerrilla marketing.

A great example of this type of failure was when Snapple wanted to promote its new frozen treats. They created a real, 25-foot popsicle in New York City park. However, because it melted so quickly, the area quickly became very sticky and gooey, forcing the fire department to wash everything down with their hoses. Though the incident may have garnered attention for the product, public perception may have been more negative because of the unintended consequences.

Bad Weather

Outdoor guerrilla marketing is particularly vulnerable to nature. If you plan a super creative initiative that relies on foot traffic, such as street art, then your entire campaign could be derailed by some ill-timed rain. A bad storm may prevent people from seeing the advertisement at all, making it a waste of resources and time. Though it can be impossible to predict the weather at the time of planning the initiative, it is better to be safe than sorry and come up with ideas that can work regardless of the weather. Or, just wait a little longer for a nicer day to display the idea that will guarantee more foot traffic.

Affecting Other Businesses

If for some reason your spectacle takes away from the business that other companies might receive, other than your competitors, then the stunt may be seen in a negative light. Maybe nearby stores are negatively affected by the viral event, due to people not being able to access the building because of a crowd gathering or the noise associated with the event driving people away. You never know how your intrusive guerrilla marketing idea could hurt nearby businesses. If possible, try to craft a tactic that only intrudes on the audience members and not other companies in the area.

Adopting Guerrilla Marketing on a Small Scale

Starting Small with Guerilla Marketing

Maybe you don't have the time, resources, or creativity to attempt a big splash with your advertising. Perhaps you are looking for something that is a little more realistic for small businesses. Here are a couple of suggestions that you could try out.

Unique Posters on Telephone Poles

Many telephone poles in towns or cities contain multiple advertisements, which are often ignored. Instead, try coming up with a creative poster that takes advantage of the cylindrical nature of the pole in its design. If you are a cafe, for example, create a wraparound design that mimics the coffee sleeves that you give out to customers and then include an address underneath the logo. Find clever ways to use the telephone pole rather than just a wall to staple a boring piece of paper to.

Sidewalk Chalk

Sidewalk chalk is an easy and extremely cheap way to catch the attention of potential customers with creative marketing. If you are really artsy, you can create an entire illustration that connects with the emotions of the person walking by. Or, you can keep it simple with a direct message like "Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Hopefully she had health insurance," with an arrow pointing to your insurance company entrance. These marketing ideas are simple, easy to implement, and leave no mess behind.


Allowing people to compete in some way is a great method for driving more attention to your brand. Hold a little carnival-type game outside your storefront to stop people who are walking by and create a positive interaction. Host a caption contest via social media that can be shared on multiple platforms and with larger audiences. Come up with a scavenger hunt activity for people who enter your store and offer a discount or other reward to those who complete the challenge. Little games can be a great way to create more excitement in a customer and generate renewed interest in the brand. Plus, it can keep them in contact with you for a little bit longer, which can help develop a positive relationship and more brand loyalty. Audience participation creates buy-in.

Your Goal is to Create Something Memorable, Noticeable, and Cost-Effective

Guerilla Marketing Goals

A guerrilla marketing campaign requires many factors to be successful. It has to capture the attention of the audience to the point that brand awareness increases. It needs to be memorable enough for people to spread the word about the message that was conveyed or the unique medium that was used. It also has to allocate your marketing budget efficiently so that you are not wasting money on needless tactics.

If you can create an advertising piece that is memorable, noticeable, and cost-effective, then you are effectively using a guerrilla marketing tactic. Learn from your failures as much as your successes, and stay focused on connecting with the emotions of your ideal customer. Never forget your mission statement, understand the effects that your guerrilla marketing could have on nearby businesses, and consider the timing of your initiative.

The digital world has created a terrific environment for sharing genius marketing examples, but this also means that people may be pickier about what they share. If you want to take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing and social media sharing, then follow these guidelines and create something that will get your customers talking.

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