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Guerrilla Marketing and the Element of Surprise

Experiential Marketing

In marketing, employing guerrilla marketing techniques means creating an element of surprise for consumers, through unconventional campaigns that reach people in an unexpected and memorable way. 

When we think of the word “guerrilla,” “guerrilla warfare” comes to mind, but “guerrilla marketing” isn’t meant to be aggressive or combative. It is, however, meant to raise brand awareness in an imaginative and eye-opening way. 

So, let’s take a look at what guerrilla marketing is and how it can take your next experiential marketing campaign in a fun, unique, and creative direction. 

Roots of Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing traces its roots back to the 1980s, as brands and agencies began the shift from traditional print, television, and radio marketing to electronic media. The term “guerrilla marketing” was coined by late American business writer Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book “Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business.”

While the marketing landscape looked vastly different over 35 years ago than it does in 2020, the core principles of Levinson’s book (i.e. generating buzz about a product or brand that translates into sales) still rings true today, even as the ever-changing digital landscape continues to transform brand, agency, and consumer perceptions and expectations of what experiential marketing is. 

A good example of the roots of guerrilla marketing can be found on cable television of the late 1980s and early 1990s, specifically MTV. Instead of advertising being a by-product of a show, tuning into a music video’s “world premiere” was, in itself, a creative and subtle call-to-action from brands. 

For a more recent example, take Lady Gaga’s 2010 “Telephone” music video remix featuring Beyoncé, which showcased a whopping 12 brand placements, from Diet Coke to Virgin Mobile and even Miracle Whip. 

And, all that product placement translated into an astonishing amount of brand awareness, with over 360 millions views of the video (as of this writing) on YouTube alone.  

Guerilla Marketing Lady Gaga

Guerrilla marketing relies heavily on unconventional strategies, a lot of energy, and even more imagination. “Surprise” is a quaint, yet accurate, way to sum up guerrilla marketing in one word. Most guerrilla marketing campaigns strike consumers on a more personal and memorable level, which leaves a far more valuable impression than traditional marketing strategies. 

Types of Guerrilla Marketing

On its own, guerrilla marketing seems niche enough in the world of experiential marketing. But, there are actually several sub-categories:

Indoor” Guerrilla Marketing: These are activations executed inside public areas like college campuses and brick-and-mortar retail stores. Indoor guerrilla marketing examples can range from “flash mob” performances to signage placement. 

Ambush” Guerrilla Marketing: Not for the faint of heart, “ambush guerrilla marketing” is defined as activations that are implemented at large-scale events (i.e. sporting events, festivals, and/or trade shows) without permission. This form of guerrilla marketing can be extremely challenging to pull off as most large-scale events have heightened security in order to protect attendees, as well as the integrity of official sponsors.

Experiential” Guerrilla Marketing: Experiential guerrilla marketing is the most common form of guerrilla marketing, can be held in almost any public environment, and has the ability to bring with it more reward than risk. From pop-up shops to city-wide scavenger hunts, the most successful form of experiential guerrilla marketing is one that successfully engages with and invites consumers to interact with a brand. 

Street” Guerrilla Marketing: These are activations that take advantage of existing public areas or environments to create a unique brand presence. They’re often temporary, and include marketing signage and/or installations. 

A prime example of street (or “outdoor”) guerrilla marketing is GoldToe’s 2010 street guerrilla marketing campaign, centered around that year’s New York Fashion Week. The well-known sock retailer wanted to make a statement as they unveiled their first underwear collection. 

Brand ambassadors, clad only in GoldToe underwear, were dispatched throughout New York City to trigger excitement about the new line and direct consumers to the brand’s “main event” in Herald Square Park, where some of Manhattan’s most iconic statues, including the Wall Street Bull, were decked out in GoldToe’s briefs, boxers, and boxer-briefs. 

Gold Toe Street Guerrilla Marketing

Along with the eye-catching stunt, 100 gift baskets loaded with GoldToe goodies were delivered to notable Wall Street firms and anyone who stopped by the event and donated a piece of gently used men’s clothing received a free pair of GoldToe underwear. 

And, the guerrilla marketing campaign had a philanthropic element to it, with GoldToe donating $10,000 to non-profit Career Gear, which provides underprivileged men with clothes for job interviews. 

Guerrilla Marketing and Experiential Vehicles

Experiential vehicles and guerrilla marketing go hand-in-hand, taking your “surprise” activation “mobile,” therefore allowing your brand to hit the road and go directly where your consumers are. 

In winter 2018, as part of their month-long “Le Rouge Chanel” pop-up, iconic French fashion house Chanel partnered with Food Truck Promotions to enhance their activation with a guerrilla marketing campaign that took their luxury in-store experience onto the streets of Manhattan. 

Creating their very own “winter wonderland,” three vintage vehicles (clad in red, with holiday lights, red and white candy canes, and fluffy marshmallows), were stationed outside three of the brand’s most popular storefronts across New York City and greeted shoppers with a complimentary cup of the Chanel’s own “Hot Coco” (crafted alongside Food Truck Promotions in-house culinary team) for consumers to indulge on a chilly December day.

Serving over 10,000 cups of “Hot Coco” throughout the campaign, Chanel’s avant-garde guerrilla marketing experience drove over five million impression and the brand’s “Hot Coco Trucks” successfully engaged with Chanel’s target audience of Millennials, nurturing new relationships and cementing existing ones. 

Surprise and Excite Consumers with Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing is an out-of-the-box alternative to traditional marketing. It thrives on creativity and original thinking, centered on imagination and ingenuity. When your brand can personalize an experience with excitement and the element of surprise, you can generate buzz and engagement that translates into  lasting impressions and memorable engagement with consumers.

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