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Guerrilla marketing was originally a marketing strategy in which low-cost, unconventional means (including the use of graffiti, sticker bombing, flyer posting, etc.) were used in a (generally) localized fashion to draw attention to an idea, product, or service. Today, guerrilla marketing may also include promotion through a network of individuals, groups, or organizations working to popularize a product or idea by use of such strategies as flash mobs, viral marketing campaigns, or internet marketing.
The term "guerrilla marketing" is traced to guerrilla warfare, which employs atypical tactics to achieve an objective.
Guerrilla marketing was initially used by small and medium sized businesses, but it is increasingly being adopted by big business. The concept of guerrilla marketing rises from an unconventional system of promotion that relies on patience, energy, and imagination rather than a big advertising budget. Typically, guerrilla marketing campaigns are unexpected and unconventional, potentially interactive, with consumers targeted in unexpected places. The objective of guerrilla marketing is to create a unique, engaging, and thought-provoking concept to generate buzz.
Guerrilla marketing involves unusual approaches to advertising, such as targeted promotional-driven encounters in public places, street giveaways of products, PR stunts, flash-mob presentations, or any unconventional marketing intended to get results and create a memorable brand experience. Modern approaches to guerrilla marketing often utilize mobile-digital technologies. This enables advertisers to engage consumers emotionally, and frequently enough, to hopefully cause a campaign to turn viral, thereby realizing maximum returns on a relatively low initial investment.
The guerrilla marketing promotion strategy was first identified by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book Guerrilla Marketing (1984). The book describes hundreds of "guerrilla marketing weapons" in use at the time. Guerrilla marketers need to be creative in devising unconventional methods of promotion to maintain the public's interest in a product or service. Levinson writes that when implementing guerrilla marketing tactics, smaller organizations and entrepreneurs are actually at an advantage. Ultimately, however, guerrilla marketers must "deliver the goods." In The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook, the authors write: "...in order to sell a product or a service, a company must establish a relationship with the customer. It must build trust and support the customer's needs, and it must provide a product that delivers the promised benefits..."
Associated marketing trends
The term, guerrilla marketing, is now often used more loosely as a descriptor for the use of non-traditional media, such as or street art, graffiti (or "reverse graffiti"), flyer-posting, ambush marketing, and forehead advertising. It may also be a strong component of promotions involving associated strategies, such as:
- Grassroots marketing and astroturfing—disguising company messaging as an authentic grassroots movement;
- Street or "tissue pack" marketing—hand-to-hand marketing;
- Wait marketing—presented when and where consumers are waiting (such as medical offices, urinals, or gas pumps).
- Internet marketing—having presence on sites, subliminally encouraging its users (thereby creating "buzz" through a combination of viral and undercover marketing);
- Viral marketing—through social networks;
Undercover marketing (also known as "stealth marketing", or, by its detractors, "roach baiting") is where consumers do not realize they are being marketed to. Buzz campaigns can reach consumers isolated from all other media, and unlike conventional media, consumers tend to trust it more often, as it is usually coming from a friend or acquaintance. Overall, the person doing the marketing must look and sound like a peer of their target audience, without any signs of an ulterior motive for endorsing the item.
Sony Ericsson used an undercover campaign in 2002 when they hired 60 actors in ten major cities and had them accost strangers and ask them: "Would you mind taking my picture?" The actor then handed the target a brand new picture phone while talking about how cool the new device was. "And thus an act of civility was converted into a branding event.
Because of the nature of guerrilla marketing, the message and objective must be clearly defined in order to avoid being misunderstood. Misinterpretation by the targeted audience of the message intended to be promoted is a risk. Word-of-mouth advertising does not always stay focused enough to present the intended message. The rumor-like spread of word-of-mouth marketing is uncontrollable once released, and can result in a misrepresentation of the message or confusion about a brand.
Another risk involves wrongly timed (or wrongly placed) events, which may actually be perceived to be against the interests of the consumer. For instance, in an ill-conceived promotion which took place on January 31, 2007, several magnetic circuit boards—each with an flashing LED cartoon figure—were attached to metal surfaces in and around Boston, Massachusetts to promote the animated series, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The circuit boards were mistakenly taken for explosive devices. Several subway stations; bridges; and a portion of Interstate 93 were closed as police examined, removed, and (in some cases) destroyed the devices.
Some guerrilla marketing may incite the ire of local authorities. Then risks are assessed and may still be considered worthwhile. Such was the case in Houston, Texas, when BMW Auto's ad agency, Street Factory Media, attached a replica of a Mini-Cooper (made of Styrofoam), to the side of a downtown building in January 2013. For the small cost of a city-issued fine, the company received front page advertising in the Houston Chronicle.
Another problem presents itself if marketers fail to properly execute an undercover campaign. They run considerable risk of backlash. An example of this can be found in Sony Entertainment's on-line debacle with Zipatoni. The company attempted to promote Zipatoni through a stealth marketing campaign, which was quickly detected by the internet community, resulting in Sony immediately experiencing a backlash from video game enthusiasts.
- Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business; Jay Conrad Levinson, Jeannie Levinson, Amy Levinson; 1984; Fourth Edition; 384 pages; Mariner Books; accessed March 2014.
- The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook; Levinson, Jay Conrad; Godin, Seth; Mariner Books; November 1994; ISBN 0395700132; accessed March 2014.
- The Hidden (In Plain Sight) Persuaders; Walker, Rob; "The New York Times Magazine;" December 5, 2004; pg. 68
- Boston Bomb Scare; article; CNN News online; retrieved March 2014.
- Street Factory Media; Home page; retrieved March 2014.
- Houston Tickets Mini-cooper; BmW blog; accessed .
- Krotoski, Aleks (2006-12-11). "New Sony viral marketing ploy angers consumers". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- Gotcha! Ads Push the Envelope; CNN/Money article