Guerrilla advertising encapsulates unconventional, disruptive marketing tactics executed in public spaces, often with little budget. For small businesses with limited resources trying to drive brand awareness and sales, guerrilla marketing can provide innovative ways to maximize impact.

Imagine stumbling upon an elaborately staged pillow fight in a park, only to realize it’s promoting a new bedding brand. Or receiving balloons handed out by something disguised as a bush. These and other surprising stunts are guerrilla advertising in action.

Unlike traditional marketing channels like TV or radio ads, guerrilla tactics aim to directly engage consumers and get them buzzing through creativity and surprise. Efforts can range from outdoor installations and ambient placements, to flash mobs and prankvertising. When executed thoughtfully, these odd promotions capture consumer attention in crowded media landscapes.

This guide will explore guerrilla advertising approaches, successful examples, measurement strategies, and best practices small business owners should know. By thinking unconventionally, even the smallest players can execute campaigns with outsized results. Let’s explore how guerrilla tactics can help your small business make a big splash.

Companies big and small need all the exposure they can get. A business’s worth is determined by how much it sells.

Guerrilla Advertising Strategies

Sadly, to sell, you need to spend money on advertising your products or services. Not all companies can afford mass advertisement for many reasons. It’s difficult to risk spending so many overheads on an untested product, for example.

Sometimes, it’s a way to refurbish the brand, a way to remind the world of your product. Online advertising can be a good substitute for advertisement, but sometimes it just isn’t enough.  This is where guerrilla advertising comes in.

Now and then, there are creative advertising ideas that grab everyone’s attention. What is different about these campaigns is their outside-the-box nature and originality. Throughout this article, we will delve into guerrilla advertising and how it can help your business.

What Is Guerilla Marketing? Surround and Crush Competition

What Is Guerrilla Advertising?

The term guerrilla advertising pays homage to guerrilla fighters that are new, unorganised, and underfunded.

It was first used in 1984 when Jay Conrad Levinson wrote the book ‘Guerrilla Marketing’. It refers to unconventional means of advertising, using as few resources as possible.

It’s a very risky approach as there is no data to predict the outcome. But, when done correctly. It is extremely effective. Guerrilla advertising ideas require much creativity and imagination to communicate clearly in whatever space is available. Some companies started hiring artists to help boost and execute the creative process.

Despite it being a niche term, there are many forms of guerrilla advertising.

Ambient Advertising

This involves the clever use of the surrounding environment to advertise your products.

Bags, bus handles, park benches, stairs, shopping carts and many more have all been used to advertise something at some point. Ambient advertising is best executed when the surface used is related to your product in any way.

It’s important for guerrilla advertising to seem as seamless and unforced as possible. This can be difficult when you want to trick the eye but stand out. Check out this example below by Frontline:

Guerrilla Advertising example

Ambush Advertising

Basically, ambush advertising is when you associate your brand with something bigger: it could be an event, a cause, or another well-known product.

This may sound like a more expensive option, as usually these involve sponsorships. However, the term ‘ambush’ comes from riding on the coattails of a major campaign without actually paying for a partnership.

It is a good way to jump on a trending or important topic proactively and can help a business stay relevant and show a stance.

Larger companies use this technique every time there is a global event. Do you notice during World Cups or the Olympics the advertisements adapt to suit a more athletic aesthetic or promote a ‘bringing people together’ approach?

On a small scale, smaller companies can do the same with any event or cause by wordplay or via social media.

Ambush Guerrilla Advertising Example

Stealth Advertising

This is a controversial form of guerrilla advertising. You can’t walk down the street without being advertised by one product or another. Sometimes, however, you aren’t even aware of the ad – and that’s where the controversy comes in.

Stealth advertising involves tactics like product placement and subliminal messaging, where the consumer is often unaware that they are being subjected to advertising.

Almost all visible logos in every movie are strategically placed to trick you into buying them. The way actors dress in public is sometimes a planned advertising strategy. It even comes down to people passing you in the street doing everyday things.

Sony Ericsson hired 60 actors to pose as tourists and ask people to take their picture with their new camera, then proceeded to advertise the camera’s specs. This is probably one of the earliest examples of stealth advertising.

See below a great example of stealth advertising. It comes from the Netflix show Stranger Things, where they featured Eggo waffles as a product placement.

Guerilla Marketing-Stealth advertising used in Stranger Things.
Guerrilla advertising is highly related to product placement. (Image credit: Business Insider)

Street Advertising

It’s a strategy that uses streets and public places as its canvas to convey its message.

From street performers to flyers to walking billboards. This type of advertising is a favourite with emerging or falling behind companies. Its low cost and direct human engagement are its main attributes.

Have you ever been stopped by a product ambassador to review or try a product? That is the basic form of street advertising. Check out the example below, where twenty models dressed as Jennifer Lawrence’s Russian spy character to hand out business cards with the Red Sparrow movie showtimes in Toronto.

An example of street guerrilla advertising for the movie Red Sparrow.
The film industry is full of great examples of guerrilla advertising. (Image credit: Bizzabo)

Viral Advertising

Companies take advantage of the fact that campaigns – especially controversial ones – spread like wildfire between people.

Nowadays, that statement is truer than ever thanks to the internet and social media. Remember Starbucks’s personalised cup campaign? Mainly, people remember how badly employees were spelling even the simplest of names.

Whether intentional or not – this controversy sparked a viral reaction, with people sharing their misspelt names on social media. The trick here is causing enough buzz that the campaign keeps itself rolling, by rumours and gossip and sometimes media coverage.

Viral Guerrilla Advertising Example Starbucks cups
Starbucks use of customers’ names on their cups is one of the most widely copied guerrilla advertising strategies. (Image Credit: MyDigitalInsight)
Viral Guerrilla Advertising
Starbucks’s (in)famous personalised cup campaign that went viral. (Image: Thrillist)

Guerrilla Advertising Tactics

1. Ambient Advertising:

  • Definition: Placing ads on unusual everyday objects like benches, sidewalks, water towers, fencing etc.
  • Example: Turner Duckworth’s interactive Bus Stop Benches for Zipcar promoting their convenient car sharing service.

2. Astroturfing:

  • Definition: Faking grassroots campaigns and viral content to appear consumer-driven.
  • Example: Walmart employees posing as enthusiastic customers on social media to praise the company.

3. Augmented Reality Ads:

  • Definition: Blending digital elements into real environments via smartphone cameras.
  • Example: Bus shelters could have AR ads where waiting commuters access digital content.

4. Flash Mobs:

  • Definition: Groups suddenly gathering in public spaces to perform a brief act.
  • Example: T-Mobile created flash mob dances in public places as viral marketing.

5. Interactive Environments:

  • Definition: Transforming public spaces into interactive experiences.
  • Example: Charmin installed public restrooms with interactive games at venues.

6. Prankvertising:

  • Definition: Using staged pranks or stunts to raise awareness and drive sharing.
  • Example: GoldToe set up a fake police speed trap to ticket people wearing non-GoldToe socks.

7. Public Installation Stunts:

  • Definition: Interactive, experiential exhibits in public spaces.
  • Example: Charmin installed live glass booths in Times Square for people to sit on potties.

8. Street Art:

  • Definition: Artworks like murals, stickers or stencils in outdoor urban areas.
  • Example: Red Bull often commissions graffiti artists to paint stylized murals featuring their brand.

9. Chalk Stencils:

  • Definition: Spray painting intricate stencil designs onto sidewalks.
  • Example: E*Trade placed chalk stencil logos outside stock exchanges.

10. Sticker Campaigns:

  • Definition: Plastering brand stickers and removable decals in high-traffic areas.
  • Example: Red Bull attaches free stickers of its logo on college mailboxes and street signs.

11. Viral Content Creation:

  • Definition: Producing entertaining or emotional digital content designed to be widely shared.
  • Example: Will It Blend campaign featured crazy videos of blending gadgets for Blendtec blenders.

Guerrilla Advertising Measurement:

Metrics to Track Based on Campaign Goals:

  • Brand awareness – increase in brand search volume, social media mentions, surveys
  • Web traffic – monitor traffic spikes from the location/timing of guerrilla tactics
  • Social buzz – conversations, clicks, hashtags, and shares related to the campaign
  • Lead generation – calls/form fills attributable to guerrilla element.
  • Sentiment – monitor social media for positive/negative reactions

Tools to Measure Impact:

  • Google Analytics – track website clicks, geo-location sources, demographic info of visitors
  • Social media analytics – built-in analytics from platforms to assess engagement
  • Buzz monitoring tools – Keyhole, Talkwalker, Meltwater to analyze reach and sentiment
  • Online surveys – assess consumer opinions and recall after the guerrilla campaign.
Understanding Google Analytics | Google Analytics | Google Analytics for Beginners | Analytics

Tips for Tracking Outdoor Tactics:

  • Use promo codes or trackable phone numbers to quantify the response.
  • Distribute branded merchandise to drive trackable actions
  • Film reactions and interactions for metrics like video views, comments, shares
  • Monitor local business listing actions and calls from mobile ads
  • Observe customer foot traffic changes in the world if applicable.

The key is identifying the specific marketing objectives, then tracking metrics and leveraging tools to gain tangible data on the impact of guerrilla efforts.

How to Plan Your Guerrilla Campaign?

Every form of guerrilla advertising has its perks and risks. That’s why the most effective campaigns aren’t confined to one form; they cross over where it’s the best fit.

Large companies go as far as merging guerrilla advertising with conventional advertising channels. They do that by creating a guerrilla campaign in several locations simultaneously. They then cover the campaigns and broadcast them as normal ads to show their creativity on a massive scale.

This doesn’t necessarily defeat the purpose. That is being cost-effective because every penny spent will be worth it. Most companies can’t afford this tactic and must plan their funds and approach more surgically.

The first step is always to have a plan. This may seem like anti-improvisation, but even guerrilla fighters need intricately thought-out. You can start by listing the available platforms that can be converted to canvases for your masterpiece. Is there a university nearby? Schools, bus stops, or shopping centres, for example?

The next question is, where does your product fit the consumer demographics? The answer to this question will help you determine where, when and how to place your guerrilla advertising campaign. A fast-food restaurant would benefit more by targeting universities during the semester, for example.

Guerrilla Advertising Strategy Planning (Ambient, Ambush, Viral, Stealth, Street Marketing)

Choosing the right strategy for your business requires breaking your brand into its elements. This requires a more objective eye, which is sometimes difficult for someone on the inside. Some companies hire specialists to add an outside view to the creative process.

However, specialists can be expensive, and that is not an option for startups – that’s why you can hire an artist instead in exchange for crediting them for their work. This way, if your campaign goes viral – it is a huge benefit for everyone involved in the creative process.

Guerrilla Advertising Risks and Best Practices

Ensure Legality:

  • Research local regulations on marketing, especially for public space usage. Secure permits if required.
  • Avoid tactics that could be perceived as trespassing, vandalism or damaging property.
  • Only use handouts, stickers, chalking, etc., where expressly permitted.

Vet Partners Thoroughly:

  • If hiring street teams or agency partners, vet them to prevent unsafe or unethical behaviour.
  • Ensure proper training so guerrilla activations are executed responsibly.
  • Require confidentiality agreements with staff and suppliers.

Time it Thoughtfully:

  • Avoid periods with oversaturation, like holidays or large events.
  • Consider timing based on target audience habits and locations.
  • Leverage current cultural trends and events when possible.

Prepare Response Strategy:

  • Have a PR plan ready to frame the guerrilla campaign properly.
  • Monitor closely for any negative reactions or backlash. Respond promptly.
  • Be ready to halt tactics if the public or authorities raise serious concerns.

Integrate with Broader Efforts:

  • Ensure guerrilla marketing aligns with overall brand messaging and goals.
  • Amplify the campaign through website integration, social promotion, and press outreach.

Online Advertising is Your Friend

Online Marketing Strategy and Examples : How to Set One

No matter what advertising strategy you adopt, it’s important to use the internet to further the hype. A flash mob at a mall can get you a lot of exposure because of all the leg traffic. But it won’t be enough to boost your sales how you need it to.

Relying on word-of-mouth is a thing of the past and won’t give much momentum to your campaign. You can, however, film your campaign and post it on social media, for example, due to its high viewership and potential for traction.

With a few SEO tricks, your video can access virtually unlimited viewers. An effective online marketing plan with a good guerrilla advertising campaign can be a recipe for success.

If you need help getting your digital advertising strategy off the ground, contact ProfileTree, and we will be happy to bring your ideas to life.

Guerrilla Advertising Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Do I need permission to do guerrilla marketing in public spaces?

A: You may need permits or approval depending on local regulations. Always check legality first.

Q: How can I make sure my guerrilla stunt is safe?

A: Thoroughly vet agencies or partners. Test thoroughly and inspect sites. Have insurance and contingencies.

Q: What if my guerrilla tactic backfires or causes a PR crisis?

A: Have a crisis response plan ready. Respond promptly and authentically to concerns. Halt efforts if necessary.

Q: How much does a guerrilla marketing campaign cost?

A: Costs vary widely based on tactics but are typically under $10,000. Focus your budget on execution elements.

Guerrilla Advertising Conclusion:

While guerrilla advertising involves more risk than conventional methods, creativity and cost-efficiency can generate tremendous brand exposure for small business owners. Set clear goals, vet partners diligently, and track results.

With some imagination and preparation, your next street mural, chalk stunt or viral video could become a game-changing marketing breakthrough.

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