SEO, social media campaigns, email, advertising, comparison engines—these are the usual suspects when we talk about marketing.
But marketing is about sifting through a world of possibilities and unearthing opportunities to get in front of your customers.
Anything can become a potential marketing channel.
That belief is at the heart of guerrilla marketing—a scrappy, unorthodox, and aggressive approach to getting your brand in front of could-be customers by establishing your presence in the physical world around you.
In this article, you’ll learn the different guerrilla marketing types, plus unconventional marketing ideas you can use to increase brand visibility and generate buzz for your brand.
What is guerrilla marketing?
Guerrilla marketing is about getting exposure for your brand or products by finding low-cost, creative ways to capture attention in specific locations offline. It is a term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book, Guerrilla Marketing.
Understanding guerrilla marketing
At its best, guerrilla marketing is the perfect bridge to bring customers online to offline. It nets you direct offline exposure via foot traffic that can be as targeted as the location you choose, as well as word of mouth buzz through people talking about and sharing your marketing on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, blogs, etc.
There’s also potential to generate press coverage if your idea is interesting enough, or even go viral if you’re in the right place at the right time for the right person.
Unlike most online marketing strategies, it can be hard to apply the granular “do, measure, improve” approach to offline guerrilla marketing. Instead, your guerrilla marketing ideas will succeed or fail on the merit of their creativity and execution. There’s also a little luck involved.
Guerrilla marketing tactics
Back in the ’80s, guerrilla marketing was broken down into four types: outdoor, indoor, ambush, experiential. Today, there are more types of guerrilla marketing to try, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
- Viral marketing. Using existing social networks to encourage people to share a brand’s information via word-of-mouth; also known as buzz marketing.
- Stealth marketing. Using advertising techniques that people are unaware of, like product placement in a movie.
- Ambient marketing. Promoting products in unusual locations or on unusual objects where you wouldn’t expect an advertising, like on a statue or park bench.
- Event ambush marketing. Where a business “ambushes” a big event to grab people’s attention, like a flash mob.
- Pop-up shops. A temporary retail set up where customers can interact with your brand.
- Street marketing. Any marketing campaign that uses modern methods to promote in outdoor public spaces. Think street art displays, posters, or fliers.
- Projection marketing. A campaign where images or videos are projected onto public surfaces.
- Experiential marketing. Directly engages consumers and encourages them to participate in a brand event.
- Grassroots marketing. Targeting a highly niche group of people and persuading them to spread your message via viral video marketing.
These types of marketing aren’t set in stone. You can combine or engineer each tactic to create the best guerrilla marketing campaign for your brand.
Guerrilla marketing examples
1. Pop-up shop
Chances are you’ve experienced a pop-up shop as a consumer. These are temporary stores that are easy to set up and take down. With a pop-up shop, you’re effectively bringing the point of sale to your customers by setting up a temporary physical store. With a POS system, you can even process different payment methods on the spot.
Done right, a pop-up shop can even become part of a tactical PR stunt. That's what happened with JM&Sons, a company that builds and sells modern furniture crafted from reclaimed wood.
JM&Sons turned a shipping container into a showroom that not only let it emulate the brick-and-mortar experience of shopping for furniture, but also got it featured in local newspapers and blogs as a result.
They also sold smaller, less expensive items, such as wallets, to give customers something to walk away with—a clever way to still sell to, and leave an impression with, the majority of consumers who just weren’t ready to buy a piece of furniture on the spot.
💡 TAKEAWAY: As with many guerrilla tactics, the location of your pop-up shop is key. You can set up your pop-up shop in an office, on a street corner, at a fair, or even inside another store.
2. Free samples
Samples are a surefire way of getting your products into the hands of consumers. I once had a part-time gig promoting products in local grocery stores. I’d give away samples of yogurt, coffee, chocolate bars—whatever I was assigned.
One product could be turned into several samples and, on good days, I could sell out the entire stock of product. It was a lot easier to sell to people once they tried it out. Plus the products I used were written off as a marketing expense.
This reinforced two things:
- People love free stuff.
- People, after being given something, might feel obligated to give you something back—like a few minutes of their time to be educated about your product.
You can apply a similar approach on a larger or smaller scale, giving away samples at events or fairs where the right people will be in attendance—or finding a handful of influencers to endorse your product if they like it. You can even establish co-marketing partnerships to distribute your samples alongside another brand’s products.
Snack brand Made with Local uses free samples and partnerships to get people talking about it. Sheena Russell, its founder and CEO, says, “Because we are a product/food brand, we’ve had fun using Instacart to ship gifts—samples of our product—to people that we’ve recently chatted with about Made with Local. This could be business contacts, potential buyers, etc.”
💡 TAKEAWAY: Make sure your samples incorporate enough information for consumers to potentially find you online later. And use any opportunities while you’re on the ground selling to educate as many people as you can.
3. Sticker marketing
Stickers are an inexpensive way to get your brand out there. Some people even use their laptop, video game consoles, and other possessions as a canvas for showing off the brands they love.
You can give stickers away along with other swag or at events, and arm your audience with the ability to put your brand in all kinds of places.
It’s always interesting to see stickers that you’ve circulated stuck onto the most random of places, like the side of a table at a bar.
💡 TAKEAWAY: You can also use stickers to strategically advertise a message in a specific location, like sticking your logo somewhere visible to attract more followers. But again, be careful not to annoy people in the process, as this will damage your brand. Services like StickerYou and StickerMule offer decent options and prices for a wide range of sticker types and sizes.
4. Location filters
Geo-fencing is a relatively young technology that uses your smartphone's GPS to offer exclusive content or experiences if you’re in the target location.
Snapchat’s Custom Geofilters is a common example, and has opened up a new form of location-based marketing on the platform. The cost to upload your own is also relatively low—under $10 in some cases.
These custom filters give you a chance to make impressions on users in a specific area or at an event as they swipe through filters when creating a snap. They might even apply those filters and share them with their followers if they’re fun or relevant enough.
A great example comes from Taco Bell, which promoted the launch of its Quesalupa with an On-Demand Custom Geofilter that could be used by visitors and influencers at specific locations attending the launch party, effectively letting them share the offline experience with their followers.
Instagram has taken a similar approach recently with the ability to submit Stories under Hashtags and Locations that anyone can check in on. These location tags can get super specific, and are definitely worth exploring if you're promoting a local business or event.
💡 TAKEAWAY: Geo-fencing with social media is one of the best examples of the blurring line between online and offline marketing, encouraging people to share local offline moments for online consumption.
Retail brands have taken the lead on metaverse marketing. Nike, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci, Zara are some of the brands launching campaigns in the digital world. Metaverses like Roblox have become a go-to place for beauty brands to market their products.
One such brand, Nars Cosmetics, recently launched the Nars Color Quest game in Roblox. In the game, people can explore three islands, inspired by the brand’s blush product lines, Laguna and Light Reflecting, and interact with non-playable characters (NPCs) to complete tasks. Participants can earn badges and use virtual currency to buy products and virtual looks.
Dina Fierro, VP of Global Digital Innovation and Strategy at Nars Cosmetics, reported to Glossy, “Ultimately, our goal is to pique curiosity and spark interest. It is a brand storytelling opportunity for an entirely new audience and also why we focused on core franchises that are recruitment vehicles for us.”
💡 TAKEAWAY: It’s creative guerrilla marketing techniques like these that’ll shape consumers perception of a brand. While the metaverse is geared toward younger, more tech-savvy target audiences, guerrilla marketing techniques can still be used by small businesses to build brand awareness and add an element of surprise to their marketing efforts.
6. Student marketers
Traditional marketing wasn’t a priority for Red Bull at launch. Instead, it took the guerrilla marketing approach, giving away free samples at college parties and bars to men in the 18-to-35 age range. Promoters were often other student marketers, which helped the brand connect with its target market.
This tactic, paired with putting empty Red Bull cans in trendy shops, clubs, and bars, helped the brand become viral way before social media platforms made it happen.
Instead of spending its marketing budgets on billboards, banner ads, and Super Bowl commercials, Red Bull attended events and gave out free Red Bull to everyone in their sight.
💡 TAKEAWAY: Set budget aside for event marketing rather than spend it all on digital promotions. Make sure your promoters are people that represent your target audience and can build a connection with potential customers.
7. Pop-up truck
Despite pop-up stores becoming more popular in recent years, smaller retailers may still find it hard to launch one on a budget. The cost of opening a pop-up shop for 30 days can exceed $30,000, making it out of reach for smaller businesses.
Fortunately, there are other types of pop-up experiences that can create buzz in a unique way. For example, Brooklyn-based lifestyle brand Alexis Bittar launched a pop-up truck at the Art Basel festival in Miami, which attracts tens of thousands of people each year.
The brand worked with pop-up experience agency Pop Up Mob to build a golden Volkswagen van featuring items from Bittar’s collection and encouraging people from the event to visit. People could also buy products directly from the van.
💡 TAKEAWAY: Think outside the box when it comes to a pop-up experience. You don’t need to spend $30,000 to drive word-of-mouth marketing. Instead, you can do virtual pop-ups, a pop-in store, a pop-up truck, or a stand at a popular event.
Another fun guerrilla marketing strategy for retailers is hosting in-person events at brick-and-mortar locations. For example, Houston-based lifestyle brand Forth & Nomad teaches customers how to make candles in a workshop with complimentary drinks.
Educational events have become a popular way for retailers to build awareness for their brand and products. During the workshop, customers learn step by step how to make a candle, plus how to mix different scents and create a truly unique candle for the home. After the workshop, you can browse Forth & Nomad’s chic lifestyle shop, or grab a coffee, and relax on its patio.
Workshops are a great example of guerrilla marketing applied in a simple way. Most people have owned a candle in their day, but Forth & Nomad’s class creates an interactive, educational experience with like-minded candle enthusiasts.
💡 TAKEAWAY: Run online or in-person workshops that teach customers how to use (or create) your products. This builds your reputation as a brand who cares about their products and is knowledgeable about them.
Kanye West caused quite a buzz when releasing the first item in a collaboration between YEEZY and apparel label Gap. The sky-blue puffer jacket, which retailed for $200, dropped in June 2021 and was supported by a guerrilla marketing campaign known as “Floating Projections.”
The massively hyped YEEZY Gap Round Jacket illuminated on prodigious locations around New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Staples Center. Fans could reportedly order the jacket by scanning a QR code, which was seen underneath the floating jacket.
💡 TAKEAWAY: When running a projection advertising strategy, showcase a colorful product or video that stands out in the night. Add a QR code that directs customers to a checkout page or Messenger conversation to engage them and encourage a sale.
Guerrilla marketing campaign tips
Here are some of the things you should generally keep in mind when building a guerrilla marketing approach:
- Location, location, location: Consider foot traffic, type of traffic, and where you can get not just maximum exposure—but exposure to the right people.
- Hit or miss: Guerrilla marketing can be easy for consumers to ignore unless your creativity gives people a reason to pause. The better your idea, the more thought out your strategy for getting a reaction, and the more likely your marketing is to work.
- Your creative should align with your goals: Even if you capture attention, the real challenge is coming up with creative assets that get your brand or your message across.
- Consider unforeseen variables: City laws, weather, noise, theft, etc., can get in the way of executing an effective campaign.
- Don’t annoy people or break laws: Since it’s aggressive, if done wrong, these tactics can annoy consumers and actually harm your brand. As a rule, do things that delight people.
- Use it to complement your online marketing and vice versa: People should be able to connect the dots between your offline marketing and your brand online. It's best if they at least have the name of your brand, so they know what to google.
Guerrilla marketing might be limited, but it makes up for it by being LOUD.
There’s a world of possibilities when it comes to marketing. Here are just a few guerrilla marketing tactics and examples you can learn from.
Create buzz with guerrilla marketing techniques
While guerrilla marketing has a limited, local reach, it has the potential to pick up speed with the right idea and strategy in place, and expand its reach as the experience is brought online.
If you've got plenty of ideas to make up for a lack of money to invest in marketing, guerrilla tactics are a cost-effective way to get exposure. It might be hard to track the ROI, and these tactics don't scale, but that's kind of the point.
It conjures an image of the classic lemonade stand: getting out there and hustling to grow your business by putting your brand and your product in front of whoever you can.
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Guerrilla marketing campaigns FAQ
What are examples of guerrilla marketing?
- Pop-up shops
- Free samples
- Sticker marketing
- Location filters
- Metaverse marketing
- Pop-up experiences
- Street art