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What is guerrilla marketing? 5 examples to grow your business 

What is guerrilla marketing: designers working together

Key takeaways

  • Guerrilla marketing uses unconventional tactics to generate hype for your business at a relatively low cost
  • Great guerrilla marketing ideas leverage highly unusual and creative content in unexpected places
  • Be careful when using ambush marketing or stealth marketing tactics, which can be perceived as unethical

If you’re running a small business, trying to out-market large corporations is a losing game. In 2021, the average business spent 6.4% of its total revenue on marketing (with 2022 seeing budgets rise to 9.5%). For million-dollar brands, this could be the equivalent of many solopreneurs’ entire annual income.

While you likely won’t be able to outspend your competitors, getting creative with guerrilla marketing could be key to becoming the talk of the town. 

So what is guerrilla marketing? We’ll define the term and then provide five guerrilla marketing examples to help you put the strategy into action.

What is guerrilla marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that uses unconventional methods or the element of surprise to promote a product, service, or brand. It’s a low-cost, creative form of marketing that aims for large-scale results, usually thanks to widespread publicity—like going viral.

The term was coined by author Jay Conrad Levinson in 1984. It refers to guerrilla warfare, a military tactic in which small groups use irregular, fast-paced tactics to fight larger rival groups. Though guerrilla marketing is by no means combative, it shares the same characteristic of unpredictability—which can allow small businesses to accelerate their business growth. 

5 guerrilla marketing tactics 

Guerrilla advertising can take a number of forms, each of which can offer highly cost-effective results. Here are five types of guerrilla marketing and real-life examples of each to inspire your next campaign.

1. Ambient marketing

Ambient marketing is a guerrilla marketing strategy in which businesses place eye-catching ads, such as street art or objects, in high-traffic public spaces like subway stations, street corners, or local markets.

A successful guerrilla marketing campaign that used ambient marketing techniques was UNICEF’s dirty water vending machine. The nonprofit placed a vending machine selling bottled dirty water in New York City‘s Times Square to raise funds for its clean water initiative while raising awareness for the global water crisis. Instead of Coca-Cola or Pepsi, people selected bottles of water labeled with diseases like “typhoid” or “cholera.” Though the campaign was fairly simple, it went viral on the web.

Make sure to get permission from your city or property owners before setting up your ad to ensure that your campaign isn’t shut down.

2. Ambush marketing

What is guerrilla marketing: group of people dancing at a park

Ambush marketing can be a rewarding guerrilla marketing tactic when done right. However, it can also be risky and tough to pull off. This type of marketing is all about interrupting an event—where a large audience is already gathered—with a message of your own. Think flash mobs in the middle of a farmer’s market or entire stadium sections holding up promotional posters.

Most companies shy away from ambush marketing because it can come with significant legal risks. For instance, two Bavaria beer promoters were arrested at the 2010 World Cup for breaking FIFA rules. 

If you want to use this tactic to spread your brand message, it’s best to check event rules and city laws beforehand—or better yet, get permission from event organizers and simply make your ad appear spontaneous.

A less risky form of ambush marketing that still has viral potential is the use of ads to interrupt or counter competitors’ ads. Two examples of guerrilla marketing that used this strategy are Fiat parking on the steps of Volkswagen HQ and Audi starting a billboard war with BMW.

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3. Buzz marketing

Generating buzz is the goal of every guerrilla campaign, but buzz marketing does so specifically by starting viral conversations about your brand online. Though these ads can also get press from media outlets, buzz marketing campaigns focus on amplifying word-of-mouth marketing.

Many brands that use buzz marketing do so by hosting contests on social media platforms with enticing prizes or by working with well-known influencers. However, buzz marketing can be as simple as coming up with a content marketing campaign that’s so creative or unusual that your audience will want to share. For instance, Poo-Pourri gained over 44 million views for a viral video that featured a classy woman on a toilet reciting a funny script about bathroom odors.

4. Experiential marketing

People ordering from a food truck

Experiential marketing is an interactive form of marketing that immerses people in your brand with a memorable experience. Also known as live marketing, experiential guerrilla campaigns are highly engaging, often fun, and worthy of being shared on social media.

Pantone offers a successful guerrilla marketing example with its pop-up cafe that ran for two summers in a row. Known worldwide for its color identification system geared toward design and fashion professionals, each menu item was named with one of Pantone’s signature colors, such as “Pantone 16-0924 Croissant.”

Experiential marketing can also be as simple as setting up a booth at a convention where people can try your product or service before they buy. Whatever you do, be sure your experience is presented in a highly memorable way.

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5. Stealth marketing

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with content throughout the day—while scrolling on social media or walking through the city—the high volume of in-your-face advertising can lessen the impact of those campaigns. With stealth marketing, you can present your business in a less boisterous way. When you create more subtle campaigns, you can make an impression on your target audience without your brand feeling intrusive.

Stealth marketing is a form of buzz marketing that aims to send a message without the audience knowing it. A common form of stealth marketing is product placement, which occurs when brands pay for their products to be used or mentioned in movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and other forms of media. 

Stealth marketing can also mean incentivizing influencers to use your products in front of large audiences—like when athletes wear Nike or Adidas at games—or when you hire everyday people to start a conversation about your brand at an event.

Keep in mind that some people view stealth marketing as unethical. If people start to question if a promotion was incidental or paid for, it’s better to come clean than to risk bad press.

Launch a successful guerrilla marketing campaign

Guerrilla marketing uses unconventional marketing tactics to gain publicity for your brand. This viral marketing technique helps you reach a mass audience at a low cost compared to traditional marketing.

Get inspired with our creative guerrilla marketing examples and quickly grow brand awareness with your own standout campaign. Then, discover more low-cost ideas to promote your business to build out your strategy even more.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.