Guerilla marketing, also known as ambush marketing, is all about ideas that are outside the boundaries and take competitors and customers by surprise — competitors, because you did something that took attention or market share away from them, and customers, because you did something fun and engaging that exceeded routine expectations or experiences with competing brands.
A short definition is
Actions, messaging, creative, experience, and events that transcend the bounds of traditional marketing that focus on product, service, price, and other common messages
In addition to commanding attention, one of the primary goals of guerilla marketing is to change behavior for the better, or at least how you want consumer behavior to be to drive more sales and loyalty.
The Fun TheoryOne of our favorite examples of changing behavior by changing up routines comes from Volkswagen who created The Fun Theory. This program was built around the notion that fun can change behavior for the better.
For The Fun Theory initiative, Volkswagen asked people to create ideas for changing routine behavior for the better. It then tested and executed winning ideas to see whether they would indeed work.
Here are a few attention‐grabbing ideas that successfully changed routine behavior by doing something new and fun. As you review these ideas, ponder on how you can build on them to create “fun” customer experiences through every touch point of your customer journey — from need identification to purchase confirmation.
- Will fun reduce the amount of speeding in a city? This project involved setting up signs throughout Stockholm that showed people just how fast they were going. It was really nothing new because speed meters are located in many places these days; however, this program made it more fun to stay at or below the limit. The speed camera would track your speed and light up according to whether you were under or over the speed limit. If you were over, you were sent a ticket. If you were at or under the speed limit, you were entered into a lottery in which you could win a cash reward from the money collected by the speeders. It worked beautifully. In three days, the cameras tracked the speed of nearly 25,000 cars and found that the average speed for traffic went down from 32 kilometers per hour to 25 kilometers per hour, which is a 22 percent reduction in speed.
- Will fun get people to use stairs over escalators? Another “fun” experiment designed to get people to make healthier choices was to turn a staircase that sits adjacent to an escalator into a keyboard. If people could play music with their feet as they moved up or down the stairs, would they choose the stairs, the healthier option? The answer was yes as 66 percent more people than normal chose to take the stairs.
- Will fun get people to increase their use of recycle centers over trash cans? The Fun Theory’s bottle bank arcade experiment turned a bottle recycling depository into an arcade. Every time a bottle was placed inside, the depository would light up and make noises like a machine at an arcade. It would even add up points for each bottle people deposited. People flocked to see how many points they could rack up with bottle deposits, even though there was no way to cash in their points for a tangible reward. In just one night, nearly 100 people used the arcade depository as compared to 2 people who used the conventional depository that was routine and void of fun.
Other guerilla marketing examplesSo, yes, fun and games motivate behavior, and if used for building brand images and product sales, they can be a highly effective form of guerilla marketing. With enough fun involved, you create a movement or a society frenzy like Pokémon, the game that uses augmented reality to present Pokémon characters on your mobile screen in a depiction of a real setting so that you and your avatar can capture the Pokémon and train them to help you battle against other players doing the same thing on their phones.
Some other activities along the lines of surprise or guerilla marketing include
- Augmented reality (AR): You can use augmented reality games or apps to make your products pop up spontaneously so you can suggest a need to go buy your product. It’s a great app for food and drink brands.
- Flash mobs: Imagine if all the pedestrians at Times Square were suddenly surprised by an impromptu performance of people dancing and singing in your company’s uniforms and handing out coupons for a free drink, cosmetic item, or such at your store around the corner?
- Captivating displays: What if a tall building in your town was lit up all night long with images of your products and logo on it and a coupon code flashing that offered a not‐to‐miss discount to those savvy enough to see it?
Other forms of guerilla marketing can be as simple as offering the best in industry:
- Return policies: Be better than Nordstrom’s if you can and take the fear out of committing to high‐end purchases or subscription‐based services.
- Free product trials: Let people try a product for free with an easy return process if not happy. Once it’s in home, a very high chance exists that they won’t return it no matter what they think.
- “Freemiums”: Offer for free what others charge for and make your money through sponsorships, advertising on your sales websites, or upgrades to your basic service.
Guerilla marketing and community buildingThe best guerilla marketing tactics are those that are fun both for you to execute and for your customers to experience.
Here’s how guerilla marketing can blend social giving and outside‐the‐boundaries thinking.
What if you asked your customers to adopt the cause of helping abused or homeless women get out of shelters and into jobs? You can tap into the emotions of their own personal journeys to success with a campaign on the theme of “Remember when . . . ,” such as “Remember when you were just starting out and people said you couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, but you proved them wrong by becoming the successful businesswoman you are today?”
Your campaign could go on to invite women to “adopt a woman” just starting her journey to success like you did at one point in your life. You could ask your customers to donate a small amount every month for clothing items that you donate to the woman they have adopted (anonymously so privacy is maintained, of course) or to women in shelters in their community.
You could even host donation days where you invite customers to come in and donate old items at your retail outlets and get 20 percent off any new items they buy. You’d be building a community among “people just like them” and helping others find joy by doing good in the world — a powerful way to bond with customers and communities.
A campaign like this shows guerilla marketing at its best because it not only involves customers and surprises them with a new idea, but it also takes them away from considering the competition as you’ve given them a strong emotional reason to stay loyal to you.
Your marketing plan is not just a guidebook for getting your product out to the world and making money; it’s about creating an experience, event, and outcome that makes people’s lives better or more enjoyable and brings people together for the better. When you deliver emotional fulfillment and build a community around the value you deliver, it’s difficult to fail.