Guerrilla Marketing: What It is and How to Use It for Ecommerce

guerrilla marketing

Starting a small business is tough.

Competition is fierce, consumers are already overwhelmed with adverts, and your marketing budget is basically non-existent.

Still, you’ve got to get people’s attention – but how?

One effective strategy is guerrilla marketing. This innovative, scrappy, and highly effective marketing strategy helps to level the playing field.

Every small business can harness the power of a great guerrilla marketing campaign to capture attention and generate sales.

So what exactly is guerrilla marketing?

This article will explain all with inspiring examples and key takeaways to help you get started.

What is Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing utilizes unconventional strategies to get consumers’ attention and create buzz about the product or brand being marketed. It’s disruptive, provocative, and memorable.

Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing, explains, “It simply isn’t guerrilla if it isn’t newsworthy.”

This marketing method is named after guerrilla warfare.

This is when a small independent group uses irregular tactics to fight a larger and more capable force. Think “ambushes, sabotage, raids,” says Creative Guerrilla Marketing.

Good guerrilla marketing campaigns take consumers by surprise and create an emotional reaction.

This is key.

Charged emotions lead people to take action, tell their friends, and get involved in the campaign in some way. In turn, the campaign message spreads far and wide.

Ideally, these emotions will be shock, surprise, delight, curiosity, and admiration.

The use of the word “guerrilla” to describe these styles of marketing was popularized by advertising expert Jay Conrad Levinson in the book Guerrilla Marketing.

Guerilla Marketing Book

In it, Levinson outlines some of the ways guerrilla marketing campaigns differ from traditional marketing:

  • “Instead of investing money in the marketing process, you invest time, energy and imagination.”
  • “Instead of ignoring customers once they’ve purchased, you have a fervent devotion to customer follow-up.”
  • “Instead of trying to make sales, guerrillas are dedicated to making relationships, because long-term relationships are paramount.”
  • “Instead of believing that single marketing weapons such as advertising work, guerrillas know that only marketing combinations work.”

As Levinson suggests, one of the key benefits of guerrilla marketing is that it’s cheap.

Although some guerrilla marketing campaigns can cost a lot of money, they don’t have to cost any money at all – some of the examples below prove this.

“Guerrilla programs usually start when a client says to us, ‘we don’t have any money but we’d really like to get some media attention,’” says Neisser.

In summary, guerrilla marketing is all about creativity, connection, and impact.

So what does guerrilla marketing look like in action?

7 Incredible Guerrilla Marketing Examples

A quick Google image search for “guerrilla marketing” will return countless results of guerrilla campaigns.

Guerilla Marketing Examples

Each of the seven guerrilla marketing campaigns we share below is creative, powerful, and truly guerrilla.

What’s more, most guerrilla marketing campaigns also tend to take place offline. But, we’ve taken the time to find effective online guerrilla marketing campaigns to inspire digital entrepreneurs to get creative.

First up?

Guerrilla Marketing Example #1. Ex Machina Infiltrates Tinder

This creative guerrilla marketing idea was thought up to promote the sci-fi film Ex Machina. How? By using Tinder.

This was a good start.

The guerrilla marketing campaign took place in Austin, Texas, during the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival in Austin. Each year, this music, tech, media, and arts festival draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city.

So there are a lot more people swiping on Tinder than usual.

Plus, out of the countless brands and businesses competing to capture the attention of festival-goers, it’s likely that none of them were using Tinder to promote their messages.

Unique? Check.

The marketers created a Tinder profile for Ava, the artificial intelligence character from the film.

Guerilla Marketing ExMachina

When users swiped on the attractive profile of a young woman, they received questions from a Tinder bot.

It was sneaky, ingenious… and perhaps a little heartbreaking.

Here’s a screenshot of the genuine conversation one guy unknowingly had with Ava the artificial intelligence.

Guerilla Marketing ExMachina

Then, all was revealed.

Just when Brock thought he was about to meet the love of his life, he noticed something was amiss.

When he visited Ava’s Instagram profile, it contained just one photo and one video – both promoting the movie Ex-Machina that just happened to be premiering in Austin during the festival.

It’s a brilliant guerrilla marketing campaign that tied in perfectly with the movie’s artificial theme or artificial intelligence and complex human relationships.

In retrospect, you also realize that Ava’s Tinder chat questions were those of a robot trying to understand what it’s like to be human.

It’s true that some thought the campaign was spammy or invasive.

Still, it achieved what every great guerrilla marketing campaign should: It got people talking and made news headlines around the world.

Guerilla Marketing ExMachinaThe Key Takeaways
  • Look for ways to incorporate aspects of your brand into the experience.
  • Find a communication channel to get your message across that other brands aren’t using.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #2. Médecins du Monde Creates a Tent City

French charity Médecins du Monde (or Doctors of the World) wanted the city of Paris to draw attention to the growing homeless population in the city.

What they did was both simple and powerful.

They realized that part of the problem was that homelessness was “out of sight, out of mind,” and that to create meaningful change, they had to raise awareness.

So how did they do it?

The charity gave tents to 300 homeless people for them to use on the streets of Paris. The historic streets and canals of the city were transformed overnight into a tent city.

Guerilla Marketing Médecins du Monde

Suddenly, the homelessness problem was very much in sight and in mind.

Guerilla Marketing Médecins du MondeThe stunt prompted such a public outcry that government officials were forced to act.

The charity claimed a remarkable victory when the Junior Minister for Employment and Social Cohesion, Catherine Vautrin, announced that the French Government promised to spend more than $10 million on emergency housing.

The Key Takeaway
  • Actions speak louder than words. Identify actions that will catch people’s attention and communicate your message.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #3. King Kong Invades Los Angeles

In another film promotion, the marketers behind King Kong Skull Island decided to bring King Kong to life in high-profile physical locations around Los Angeles.

For this “gorilla” campaign, they created scenes of carnage with giant ape footprints in five locations in and around the city.

On the beach, the huge footprints left in the sand were accompanied by a wrecked lifeguard’s 4X4 vehicle that appears to have been stepped on by the beast.

Guerilla Marketing King King

A similar scene was created in Microsoft Square at LA Live, with broken benches and giant 3D stickers that gave the impression of footprints smashed into the concrete.

Guerilla Marketing King Kong

But the icing on the cake was the footprints near the famous Hollywood sign.

Guerilla Marketing King Kong

They even buried fog machines inside the footprints to add to the overall effect.

This guerrilla marketing campaign led to news coverage and countless passersby sharing their experiences on social media.

The Key Takeaways
  • Novelty can be very powerful. Think up novel concepts that tie into your objectives.
  • Don’t be afraid to go big and tackle difficult logistical scenarios.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #4. Burger King Breaks Up Couple

In this example of online guerrilla marketing, Burger King decided to stage a little drama in the comments of their Instagram profile – we think.

So what happened?

Well, it started with Burger King posting a pretty normal post promoting their breakfast meal.

Guerilla Marketing Burger King

One user left a comment explaining that his “girl” took longer than expected to order food at the drive-in the previous night.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Guerilla Marketing Burger King

The exchange ended with Shanlee dumping Jordan by saying, “Hope the whopper jrs were worth it. Your s***’* outside.”

Spectators couldn’t believe what was happening, with one user commenting, “Did I seriously just witness a breakup on BK’s Instagram?”

The story made news headlines all over America.

However, many speculated that the entire exchange was staged by Burger King themselves.

I did some digging and noticed that all three “people” involved in the breakup have private Instagram accounts with the same amount of posts and just 3-9 followers each – y’know, about the number of people on a small marketing team…

Guerilla Marketing Burger King

Staged or not, the “breakup” generated a lot of attention.

Social media platforms were flooded with comments and speculation. Then, news sites picked up the story and spread it far and wide.

Our verdict?

Burger King pulled a fast one and it paid off – big time.

The Key Takeaways
  • Stealth and mystery can add to the drama. Find a way to keep people guessing.
  • Effective guerrilla marketing doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming. Look for opportunities to create a large impact with minimal resources.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #5. UNICEF Sells Dirty Water

In a wealthy country, it’s easy to take for granted our abundant access to clean drinking water.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the world doesn’t have this luxury. In fact, 6 out of 10 people in the world – that’s 4.5 billion people – lack safely managed sanitation.

In this guerrilla marketing example, UNICEF’s aim was to draw attention to this atrocity.

So how did they do it?

By giving the residents of New York city a taste of what this dirty, disease-ridden water is really like in the form of vending machines.

Guerilla Marketing UNICEF

Each vending machine sold eight different flavors of diseased water: hepatitis, dysentery, malaria, cholera, typhoid, dengue, yellow fever, and salmonella.

Looks refreshing, right?

Guerilla Marketing UNICEF

The guerrilla marketing campaign caught people’s attention. It was a stark reminder of the difficult and dangerous conditions many people must face on a daily basis around the world.

Nobody drank any water, but many people donated.

What’s more, the stunt was picked up by news channels around the world, helping to spread awareness, and increase donations.

The Key Takeaway
  • Go for the shock factor. To capture attention, think of ways to disturb the day-to-day status quo of people’s lives.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #6. Frontline’s Giant Dog

This guerrilla advertising campaign from flea treatment brand Frontline involved the general public in a clever and innovative way.

Guerilla Marketing Frontline

Did you fall for it at first?

The photo isn’t full of flies or fleas, but humans!

Frontline managed to fill the entire floor of this large mall with an image of a dog from above, scratching his ear. The brand knew that when people walked across the floor, they would inadvertently become part of the stunt.

They also knew that the illusion would catch the attention of many people on the upper levels and word would spread.

Instead of just using a billboard poster, Frontline took people by surprise, got them involved, and promoted their product’s benefit in an extremely memorable way.

The Key Takeaways
  • Get the public involved – knowingly or without realizing. Everyone involved is likely to help spread the word.
  • Identify the core benefit of your product or business and present it on a grand scale.

Guerrilla Marketing Example #7. The Troy Library Book Burning Party

This guerrilla marketing example combined offline and online guerrilla marketing campaigns.

It was ingenious.

When the city of Troy, Michigan, made some major cuts to its public spending, the Troy Public Library was doomed to close.

However, when the people of Troy were asked if they’d be willing to pay for their library, the response was an overwhelming “yes.” In fact, 72 percent of Troy residents wanted to keep the library’s funding level – or even increase it!

On the other hand, only 20 percent wanted its funding cut to some degree.

So why was the Troy Library being closed? Well, it came down to an organization that contested any public proposal which included a tax-increase – regardless of its purpose.

Then, things got interesting.

Just weeks before the library’s closure, the city council decided to let residents cast one last ballot. The new proposal called for a 0.7 percent tax increase – enough to fund the library for five years.

This is when the guerrilla marketing campaign launched its attack.

A new group called Safeguarding American Families joined the opposition during the debates. This new group wanted the vote to lose so they could throw a book-burning party once the library closed.

Safeguarding American Families even put up signs around the city that said, “Vote to close Troy library Aug. 2nd / Book burning party Aug 5th.”

Guerilla Marketing Troy Library

They started a Facebook page and a Twitter profile and campaigned furiously: “There are 200,000 reasons to close the Troy Library. They’re called books. #BookBurningParty”

As you can imagine, many were angered by the campaign.

People left comments on social media saying, “You people are sick,” and, “This is disgusting.” And voters, news outlets, and local leaders took notice.

Then came the big reveal.

Just before the election, Safeguarding American Families unveiled its true message: “A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books.”

The campaign was a ruse all along.

Safeguarding American Families was a group created by the Leo Burnett guerrilla advertising agency. They had been hired to create a guerrilla marketing campaign that would persuade voters to save the library.

This guerrilla marketing campaign changed the conversation from increased taxes to save the library.

The result?

The proposal passed with 58 percent of the ballot and the library was saved.

The Key Takeaway
  • Use reverse psychology and play devil’s advocate to create a powerful emotional reaction.

Bonus Guerrilla Marketing Example: Vodafone’s Streaking Disaster

Guerrilla marketing campaigns are risky and controversial by nature. However, there’s a fine line between a lovable prankster and an insensitive a******.

“Never aim to upset, scare or provoke people in a negative way,” says Adam Salacuse, Founder and President of guerrilla advertising agency ALT TERRAIN. “The goal should be to implement something that people will embrace, enjoy and share with friends.”

If you get it wrong, a guerrilla campaign can backfire – badly.

Take Vodafone.

They faced backlash after hiring two men to streak across the field during a major Australian rugby match – with the Vodafone logo painted on their backs.

Guerilla Marketing Vodafone

From the start, this stunt seemed guaranteed to annoy rugby players and fans alike.

So what on earth made Vodafone think this was a good guerrilla marketing idea? Well, it turns out that the match took place in a stadium sponsored by Vodafone’s main competitor, Telstra.

While everyone was passionately engaged in the sport they love, Vodafone attempted to hijack the conversation and turn it into a petty squabble between two corporations.

I mean, it’s no wonder it backfired.

Like any good guerrilla marketing campaign, this stunt received worldwide attention from the press. However, that attention was deeply negative – not exactly ideal.

The public was so outraged that Vodafone’s CEO had to issue a public apology and donated $30,000 to a local charity aimed at reducing sports injuries.

The takeaway?

People are quick to call out businesses who launch insensitive and selfish campaigns.

“Try not to annoy your target,” says Neisser. It’s “generally not a good idea to do something that will cause someone on the team to go to jail.”

The Key Takeaway

Summary: How to Get Started

Effective guerrilla marketing is newsworthy, creative, and emotive.

So how can you get started?

Brett Zaccardi, from the guerrilla advertising agency Street Attack, suggests that brands ask themselves, “What’s their essence – what’s the core message that can be distilled into a 5-second exchange or in a clever installation?”

Neisser adds that “it often helps at this point to imagine the story headline you’d like to see, the tweets you’d like to read, the photos you’d like to be taken and YouTube videos that you’d want to view.”

While dreaming up your next guerrilla marketing idea, keep in mind these key takeaways:

  • Look for ways to incorporate aspects of your brand into the experience.
  • Find a communication channel to get your message across that other brands aren’t using.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Identify actions that will catch people’s attention and communicate your message.
  • Novelty can be very powerful. Think up novel concepts that tie into your objectives.
  • Don’t be afraid to go big and tackle difficult logistical scenarios.
  • Stealth and mystery can add to the drama. Find a way to keep people guessing.
  • Effective guerrilla marketing doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming. Look for opportunities to create a large impact with minimal resources.
  • Go for the shock factor. To capture attention, think of ways to disturb the day-to-day status quo of people’s lives.
  • Get the public involved – knowingly or without realizing. Everyone involved is likely to help spread the word.
  • Identify the core benefit of your product or business and present it on a grand scale.
  • Use reverse psychology and play devil’s advocate to create a powerful emotional reaction.

Do you know of any other great guerrilla marketing campaigns? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments!

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