SCORR Marketing Advice: Guerrilla Marketing

The element of surprise: guerrilla marketing in the Internet age
By Cinda Orr

Back in the mid-1980s when Jay Conrad Levinson first introduced the world to the concept of guerrilla marketing, it was largely in response to the frustration small businesses faced in trying to reach an audience when the available mass-market media outlets were way beyond their budget.

With the development of the Internet, small businesses’ access to their audience has improved dramatically since then, of course, but the underlying tenants of guerrilla marketing are as valuable today as they ever were.

Guerrilla marketing is loosely defined as non-traditional marketing intended to get maximum results from minimal resources. Levinson knew that nothing at all can happen until you have someone’s attention, so a core concept of this term is the element of surprise – the shocking, the unexpected, the memorable big idea.

It’s like the travel company that hired live models to sunbathe on a busy street in front of a billboard picturing one of its beach vacations. Or the toothpaste company that decorated two rows of lockers in popular health clubs to look like a mouth with teeth, placing the marketing materials inside each locker. Or the clothing company that sneaked in at night and dressed nude public statues in the store’s clothes. Or the New York coffee shop that developed a graphic to place over steam vents in the street to create the illusion of a steaming cup of coffee.

Typically, the goal of a guerrilla marketing campaign is to get viewers to stop, do a double take, maybe have a laugh, remember what they saw and tell someone else about it. So while that might encompass billboards, posters and performance art, clever guerrilla campaigns also include social media elements like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We’re looking for surprising, attention-getting elements and they can be deployed in an eye-catching video, Facebook post or well-phrased Tweet just as easily as anywhere else.

When a client of ours needed to support a new campaign theme that “Everything else is obsolete” at a trade show, we dusted off a guerrilla marketing technique to build traffic at its booth. We dressed models in wildly anachronistic costumes representing a rock-and-roller with a suitcase-sized boom box, an 80s business person with an outsized analog phone and a newspaper photographer with a 60s-era flash camera. We sent them into the crowd with handouts in the form of Rolodex cards, cassette tapes and Polaroid pictures to invite prospects to the client’s booth.

For another client whose campaign theme features a boxer with the slogan, “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” we hired dog walkers wearing the client’s T-shirts to walk live dogs through crowds of attendees and pass out booth invitations. At the booth, we continued the theme with dog dishes and candy “bones” as booth giveaways.

In both these cases, we got the attention and results we were looking for. However, advertisers should beware of unintended consequences of guerrilla marketing. A 2007 campaign by another agency for an animated television series placed clever magnetic light displays representing the show’s characters around Boston. Several of these were mistaken for explosive devices, which led to the closing of highways, bridges and subways. Definitely bad PR.

Once considered at the very fringes of advertising, today guerrilla marketing techniques are applied all over the world, from creative, innovative small businesses to multinational corporations. These share a lot in common with marketing techniques that came later, including street marketing, viral marketing, buzz marketing and stealth marketing.

The bottom line: Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Guerrilla and other under-the-radar marketing techniques prove you can get a long way on nothing more than a really great idea and a dramatic creative execution.

About SCORR Marketing
SCORR collaborates with energetic companies to develop “next-phase growth strategies” and a disciplined approach to marketing plans that ensure solid incremental growth year after year, creating tangible results. SCORR’s team includes dedicated talent with worldwide experience in market development, public relations and communications, customer retention and development, corporate identity/branding, broadcast and print advertising, and interactive/Web design and development, as well as tradeshow/event planning and promotion. Connect with SCORR Marketing on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, or call us at 308.237.5567.