What Is Guerrilla Marketing & Is It Right For Your Business?

Guerrilla Marketing Tactics of the Past, Present, & Future

Were you alive in 1984? If so, you might have been watching the first Macintosh commercial on your cabinet TV. Or jamming out to Purple Rain in your bedroom. Or perhaps spending afternoons at the arcade, focused on gaining the coveted highest score spot on Tetris. Or maybe — just maybe — you were learning about the brand-new marketing sensation, “guerrilla marketing.”

What is Guerrilla Marketing?

According to Investopedia, guerrilla marketing is a style of marketing where a company uses surprise interactions and unconventional tactics in order to promote a product, service or company. Unlike print advertisements and television commercials, guerrilla marketing typically involves a smaller budget and more targeted, localized interactions.

Guerrilla marketing can be broken down into eight various forms:

1. Ambient marketing

By interacting with others through unconventionally existing in places that are a part of daily life, like on a city sidewalk or in a public restroom, ambient marketing is widely seen and gains attention by making creative use of the everyday environment.

example of guerrilla marketing on park bench

2. Ambush marketing

Just like it sounds, ambush advertising is a guerrilla marketing strategy in which an advertiser “ambushes” an event or business to compete for exposure against other advertisers. An example of ambush marketing would be how you often find CVS and Walgreens stores located across the street from one another.

3. Stealth marketing

Also referred to as product placement, stealth marketing is when a product is being advertised to a person indirectly, like how you may see a TV character eating Doritos or using a specific brand of laptop. A recent example would be how BMW brand automobiles are the only auto brand used in the new Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and are a driving part of the storyline. And yes, pun intended.

4. Viral marketing

Viral marketing is a type of guerrilla marketing that encourages its audience to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential exposure growth and influence. Present-day social media trends are a perfect example of this.

5. Buzz marketing

Much like viral marketing, buzz marketing often uses influencers and online platforms such as forums and blogs to reach their audience and — you guessed it — generate ‘buzz’ for a product.

6. Grassroots marketing

Aimed at a more personal approach, grassroots marketing is all about reaching a specific audience to promote interest and brand awareness. For example, Mary Kay cosmetics uses grassroots marketing techniques by encouraging their employees to throw parties at prospective buyer’s homes where they present and sell products while establishing a personal connection.

7. Astroturfing

While grassroots may be real, AstroTurf is indeed artificial and so is the astroturfing guerrilla marketing style. A controversial advertising technique, astroturfing relies on fake reviews and endorsements to instill trust in a product or service. Examples of astroturfing can be seen in popular shows such as Happy Endings and Parks and Rec, where characters on the show are compensated for going into a bar and posing as everyday people while promoting a specific brand of liquor (yes, we’re talking Snakejuice folks) by hyping how great the product is and how much they enjoy it.

8. Street marketing

The broadest type of guerrilla marketing, street marketing, refers to any guerrilla marketing tactic promoted in public areas. Forms of street marketing can range from graffiti art and stickers to trucks with advertisements pasted across the side to the Instagram sensation, “dude with sign.”

Dude with sign street marketing

History of Guerrilla Marketing

Although the term “guerrilla marketing” wasn’t made popular until 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson’s book Guerrilla Marketing, guerrilla marketing-style tactics have been used for centuries. The earliest form can be dated back to the year 4000 B.C. when the Egyptians used papyrus to create messages and sales posters. Fast forward to the mid-1900s when marketing was all about big-budget advertising through obvious forms of media, like television, newspaper, and radio, by way of catchy jingles and pretty pictures.

As technology progressed rapidly and media became more accessible and consumed, it became more difficult for companies to compete for audiences. Advertisement space grew in cost, removing the opportunity for local mom-and-pop businesses. With more and more companies jumping on the bandwagon, traditional advertising techniques became less effective. Individuals learned to spot pitches and became jaded by marketing messages.

door to door marketing

Is Guerrilla Marketing Still Relevant in the Digital Age? 

Guerrilla marketing tactics have evolved over the past few decades, and it’s easy to see why. Technology and access to information continue to aggressively advance, causing the ways in which we communicate to become increasingly more digital.

These trends are forcing advertisers to be more creative in their marketing techniques in order to stand out. The door-to-door salespeople of the past have become outdated, phone solicitations are nothing more than a daily annoyance, and sidewalk flyers are largely ignored.

What present-day forms of guerrilla marketing work?

Whether or not you’ve realized it, you’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of modern-day guerrilla marketing campaigns. From digital efforts like TikTok endorsements to in-person initiatives such as booths handing out free products at a community event, guerrilla marketing is just as relevant now as it ever was — arguably even more so.

Social media has made guerrilla marketing not only incredibly easy and inexpensive to execute, but it’s also made it something for individuals to aspire to.

Reasons social media guerrilla marketing tactics work so well:

  • Wanna-be influencers are jumping at the chance to promote your brand and often don’t require monetary compensation.
  • Businesses can use platforms to identify influencers whose following mirrors their target audience.
  • Many influencers have an already-established connection to individuals based on admiration — resulting in a higher probability of conversion.

Social media has proven to be a great modern guerrilla marketing tactic for all types of products from fashion to cars. Don’t believe us? In 2016, automotive company Subaru created a social media guerrilla marketing campaign that resulted in a 10% increase in sales in just one year.

Other modern-day examples of guerrilla marketing that have shown to be effective are promotional product giveaways, creative public advertising, publicity stunts, and thoughtful incorporation of advertising into everyday items — like how a DUI attorney might advertise his name and number on the wristband that gets you into a nightclub.

creative guerrilla marketing


The Future of Guerrilla Marketing 

Digital media and communication will inevitably continue to progress, which means we will need to adapt the ways which we market to consumers. What now seem like cutting-edge guerrilla marketing strategies will soon become irrelevant, just as the strategies that were effective in 1990 have become to us now. While it’s impossible to be certain what the future holds, we can make some predictions as to what the guerrilla marketing methods of the future will look like.

We can anticipate publicity stunts and unconventional street advertising to remain effective, especially as social sharing and digital communication continue to increase in popularity. We’ve already begun to see realistic 3-D digital billboards light up the streets of China, and we can expect to see more augmented reality and virtual reality guerrilla marketing campaigns in the coming years.

One area guerrilla marketing may see a steady decrease in effectiveness is through social media platforms. Although both users and ad dollars are expected to increase in the next few years, the amount of advertising on these platforms has surged recently. Not only could the increase in competition and adoption of new legal policies impact advertisers, but the audience being more aware of these guerrilla marketing tactics could cause social media guerrilla marketing to become a less effective advertising model.

guerilla marketing 3-D billboard

Should you and your business utilize guerrilla marketing tactics? 

No matter who you are or what you’re selling, guerrilla marketing tactics can be beneficial for your business — but only if they are done right. The guerrilla marketing strategies that worked wonders for a local gym may not have the same success when used to promote a dental practice. When done correctly, guerrilla marketing can help businesses achieve brand awareness, drive consumer engagement, create memorable experiences, gain publicity, and increase sales.

Where many businesses go wrong is in their approach. Lacking an experienced marketing team and dividing efforts across disjointed tactics— as opposed to fully committing to a specific strategy — are oftentimes reasons guerrilla marketing methods fail. The father of guerrilla marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson, teaches us, “You don’t need many. You need only one good one.” That’s why it’s important to work with experts in the industry, like Infinity Marketing. Our team is carefully composed of strategic thinkers, data-driven analysts, and creative minds who are always looking for fresh ideas that drive results.

Advertising is a fast-changing industry, pushing marketers to be more and more creative each day. Regardless of where the future of advertising may take us, we know it will continue to remain vitally important for businesses. If your company is not seeing the results you’d like to through direct mailers and TV commercials, it may be time to employ guerrilla marketing tactics in your strategy. Maybe it will involve free coasters that promote your beer brand, maybe it will entail a cleverly located billboard, or maybe — just maybe — it will involve a gorilla.

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