20 Mar 2018

What Is Guerrilla Advertising?

Guerrilla advertising or guerrilla marketing as it is commonly called, was coined in 1984 by American business writer Jay Conrad Levinson. No we’re not talking about the Cadbury Dairy milk advert.  It is a strategy of business marketing that incurs low costs but achieves optimal results, usually using some rather unconventional methods. More often than not, it is marketing campaigns that have used guerrilla marketing that go viral online and via social media. The main aim of guerrilla marketing or experiential marketing, as it is also sometimes referred to, is to offer an immersive and exceptional experience to potential consumers. The term, first used in Levinson’s book ‘Guerrilla Advertising’, finds its roots in the term guerrilla warfare, a form of warfare that utilises the element of surprise and sabotage to overcome small groups of enemies. In much the same way, guerrilla advertising is targeted towards members of the public in a way that will encourage engagement with the product or service being advertised, often via shock value or creative and imaginative ideas. Having created this memorable and immersive experience, the consumer is then more likely to share their experience with the advertisement through word of mouth, thus spreading the word about the campaign and reaching more people than it ordinarily may have by itself. In this way, a campaign can be targeted towards city centres or public areas with high traffic and see the effects of their campaign spread further due to the role of social media and the ways in which it is used in the modern day. When people see something cool, new and unoriginal, they naturally want to picture it, film it and spread it across their social media platforms.

Most guerrilla marketing campaigns intend to assault the consumer on a much more personal and memorable level. Whilst conventional marketing tactics involve the use of newspaper or magazine adverts, television advertisements, radio and even targeted junk mail, more creative companies are trying to find new and improved ways of involving the digital world and technological advances to aid their campaigns. A major draw of using guerrilla marketing tactics, especially for smaller companies, is the low cost involved if executed correctly. The only requirements for a successful guerrilla marketing campaign is time, an abundance of energy and some serious creativity. It requires thinking outside the box in an attempt to capture the attention and interest of passers-by, enough so that they won’t be able to stop themselves from snapping, sharing and raving about their experience with the campaign. Another major draw of using guerrilla marketing for companies is the use of emotional pull to create a bond between the consumer and the brand. These kind of campaign not only sticks in people’s minds and stands out, but it also develops a trust between the two parties. If a company has such faith and confidence in their product, then the consumer can too. The campaign comes to represent the companies’ values and, in this way, almost humanises them to the consumer.

Under the umbrella of guerrilla advertising are nine distinct types or styles of advertising. These are as follows:

Ambient Marking

Effective use of the environment and certain locations to elicit appropriate engagement.

Example: Copenhagen Zoo bus campaign, 2010.

Ambush Marketing

Involves marketing campaigns featured at an event that the product or service is not directly affiliated with but is used in a way to make it appear so.

Example: Nike’s 2012 London Olympics campaign, “Find your Greatness”, in direct competition with Adidas who was the official London 2012 sponsor.


In-authentic hype or buzz created around a product or service via paid reviews or endorsements.

Example: Teatox products such as BooTea who pay social media influencers to endorse their products to their followers.

Buzz marketing/viral marketing

Use of amplified/organic word of mouth that creates a buzz around a product or service.

Example: 3M Security Glass campaign at a bus stop in Canada.

Guerrilla projection advertising

The (sometimes unlawful) use of a digital billboard or building to project an advertisement.

Example: H&M advertising campaign for their new flagship store in Amsterdam in 2010.

Grassroots marketing

Focuses on building a personal and unique connection with the individual consumer and the brand. Often charity based.

Example: The 2013 One Fund Boston Strong campaign in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Stealth marketing

The discrete act of involving or exposing consumers in/to a campaign without their knowledge of it.

Example: The focus on use of FedEx parcels in the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away.

Street marketing

Use of unconventional advertising of brands and products in public areas such as parks, streets, etc.

Example: 2017 Ikea campaign that saw Ikea sofas used at bus stops.

Wild posting

Sometimes also referred to as flyposting. The use of posters, magnets, stickers, etc., in high traffic areas, sometimes without permission.

Example: 2009 Weight watchers campaign featuring tear off contact details that make the model on the flyer lose weight with every tear.

Thanks to guerrilla advertising, more companies are focusing on building a relationship with their customers and improving their customer follow-up. Utilizing tools such as email subscriptions, newsletters and offers, companies are able to retain repeat customers and gain new ones through the medium of referrals and word of mouth. Whilst there is a risk associated with the use of guerrilla advertising (misinterpretation, dishonesty, potential legal consequences), the benefits of a successful campaign are immeasurable and uncontrollable.

At Don’t Panic, we don’t just talk the talk – we’re busy walking the walk too. To see our work, click here, or if you’re after an attention-grabbing campaign of your own, click here.