What Is Guerrilla Marketing? 4 Types and Examples to Delight Consumers

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Guerrilla marketing uses public spaces in creative, unexpected ways to delight passersby. Learn how you can use it to connect with your audience.

[Featured image] A man in an orange parka stands in Times Square looking up at the advertisements.

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising approach that uses “guerrilla” warfare tactics, or the element of surprise, to attract target audiences. This form of marketing is especially effective for driving publicity, in which an unconventional and inventive display elicits wonder or shock. 

With guerrilla marketing, a company could spread a campaign without spending a ton on advertising.

How did guerrilla marketing start?

Invented in 1984 by advertising executive Jay Conrad Levinson, guerrilla marketing signified a shift from traditional media (print, television, and radio) to digital and viral marketing.

Levinson spent the first decades of his career in advertising at Leo Burnett and JWT, working on revolutionary campaigns such as the Energizer Bunny, United’s Friendly Skies, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Jolly Green Giant. He then conceptualized guerrilla marketing—nontraditional campaigns executed on a low budget to generate buzz in public spaces. 


What is guerrilla marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that uses unconventional tactics to delight and attract customers. It is an alternative to traditional marketing, such as print media, television commercials, billboards, and direct mail. Instead, it focuses on disrupting public spaces and events with unusual, memorable images or activities that may lead to brand association or purchase. Typically, guerrilla marketing relies on human interaction in urban areas to create a big impact on a small budget. When successful, word of mouth and social media further spread the campaign's message.

Guerrilla marketing grew in popularity in the early 2000s, and since then, many ideas have been recycled. Today’s strategies must be extra fresh to compete for attention. These days, digital marketing has a higher return on investment (ROI) because it shows up where the consumers are—on the internet. Currently, 92 per cent of Canadians use the internet, and over the past decade, time spent online has doubled to 6.5 hours a day [1]. Guerrilla marketing's ultimate goal is to scale up brand awareness on digital platforms.

Pros and cons of guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing is unique in how it interacts with customers in surprising and participatory ways, but the tactic can come with some potential risks. If you choose to employ guerrilla marketing for your brand, keep these pros and cons in mind:


  • Low budget: Guerrilla marketing can be cheap to pull off.

  • Memorable: There is potential for high impact and reach.

  • Fun: You get to be creative and generate unusual ideas to build a brand.

  • Gain insights: Based on people’s reactions, you can better understand how they feel about the brand.

  • Go viral: Your campaign could get shared on social media (either by the brand or by participants) for maximum exposure. Media outlets may also generate attention.

  • Build partnerships: You may be able to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with a location, park, festival, or another brand.


  • Risk of failure: The brand is put on public display, which can backfire if a poorly executed campaign flops. You could lose money or profits if unforeseen circumstances arise, such as bad weather or political tensions. 

  • Can be embarrassing or scary: Some forms of guerrilla marketing employ ambushing, filming, or scare tactics that might embarrass, annoy, or frighten people. 

  • Controversial: You might run into legal issues or negative publicity depending on the campaign's outcome. For example, in 2014, Coors Light placed briefcases all over Toronto as part of a marketing campaign, only to have the bomb squad call in about suspicious packaging [2].

  • Lack of approval: If a campaign is too risky or unconventional, it may not get approved by executives who would rather spend marketing dollars on more reliable strategies.

Types of guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing can be broken into four main types: outdoor, indoor, event ambush, and experiential. Some other exciting forms of guerrilla marketing fall within these four categories:

  • Viral: Encourages customers to share a brand message over the internet

  • Stealth or buzz: Advertises through product placement or undercover marketing

  • Ambient: Places advertisements in unusual locations or places

  • Projection: Project images or videos onto a building or landscape

  • Astroturfing: Places paid reviews or discussions on forums like Reddit or Amazon

  • Grassroots: Targets a small group to spread awareness

  • Wild posting: Places posters onto the sides of buildings

  • Pop-up retail: Takes advantage of a trend with a temporary shop

1. Outdoor guerrilla marketing

Outdoor guerrilla marketing involves placing something unusual in an outdoor environment. This tends to be done in urban areas with plenty of foot traffic. Examples of outdoor guerrilla marketing include adding something to a statue, placing an oversized replica of a typically small object (like a cupcake) in a park, or putting objects in the streets (like IKEA’s sofas at bus stations in Australia). 

Example: 3M CAD $3 million bus stop

When the brand 3M launched a protective glass coating in 2005, they filled a glass case with $3 million next to a bus stop and challenged the public to a contest. Anyone who could break the glass with their feet would walk away with the case's contents [3].

Takeaway: This tactic worked because it was simple, silly, and memorable. While it was risky to leave that much money out in public, the company was actually under guard the entire time, and it received media coverage for its attention-grabbing challenge without spending a lot of money.

2. Indoor guerrilla marketing

Indoor guerrilla marketing takes advantage of enclosed public spaces to generate hype. These could include university campuses, train stations, or museums. In 2009, T-Mobile sponsored a flash mob at Liverpool Street Station that has over 40 million views on YouTube, won TV commercial of the year at the British Television Advertising Awards, and translated to a 52 percent increase in sales.

Example: Canadian Red Cross “Learn First Aid” campaign

The Canadian Red Cross wanted to spread the word about the importance of knowing first aid in an emergency. To accomplish this, they placed realistic floor decals at the base of escalators in shopping malls. These decals looked like a person fell down and needed first aid. When the shoppers reached the bottom, they met a sign that reminded them of the importance of knowing what to do in that situation [4].

Takeaway: This ambient campaign worked because it made customers look twice, shocking them and then making them feel the urgency of first aid skills without actual real-life consequences.

3. Event ambush guerrilla marketing

Event ambush guerrilla marketing promotes a product or service at a pre-existing event, such as a concert, sporting event, or festival, sometimes without permission. This type of marketing catches event attendees by surprise when something unusual occurs.

Example: Fiji Water’s Golden Globes photobomb

At the 2019 Golden Globes awards show, paparazzi snapped photos of celebrities posing on the red carpet, as is custom. Behind the unsuspecting movie stars, a model dressed in a dark blue dress holding a tray of Fiji Water photobombed nearly every shot. She stared directly into the camera for an unsettling effect. The photos went viral online, even generating a spoof Twitter account [5]. 

Takeaway: Strategic product placement at a famous televised event garnered brand attention. Starting as a quirky publicity stunt, #FijiGirl became a trending hashtag online.

4. Experiential guerrilla marketing

Experiential guerrilla marketing can take place anywhere (outdoors, indoors, at an event) and enlists the public to interact with the brand. This can range from a free sample of beer, a slide into a pit of branded pillows, or subway stairs that look and sound like piano keys—Volkswagen’s campaign and social experiment found that 66 per cent more people than usual opted to take the stairs when it was a fun experience [6].

Example: Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Machine” campaign

Coca-Cola launched its global “Happiness Machine” campaign in 2009 to encourage people to recognize life’s simple pleasures. Students at St. John’s University in New York were shocked when one Coke purchase from the vending machine dispensed an endless supply of soda bottles. Then, a hand reached out from the dispenser with flowers, sunglasses, pizza, and a giant sub sandwich. 

At the National University of Singapore, the vending machine read “Hug Me” where it usually says “Coca-Cola.” Instead of money, the machine only responded to hugs as currency, dispensing a free Coke for students who put their arms around the machine [7].

Takeaway: Coca-Cola is famous for its high emotional impact campaigns. The brand continued its legacy of positive association by delighting unsuspecting students in these experiential activations.

Is guerrilla marketing right for your brand?

Guerrilla marketing can leave a lasting and emotional impression. But it can also backfire if it is not well executed. Here are some questions to help you decide if this tactic is right for your brand:

  • Do you have a fun, original idea for engaging or surprising potential customers?

  • Does your idea leverage the local space or culture respectfully?

  • Can passersby participate in your campaign? How?

  • Is the idea aligned with your brand positioning? What is the purpose of the message you want to send?

  • Is it legal? Is it controversial?

  • Will you be able to document and measure your campaign’s results?

  • Does it have the potential to go viral?

Once you consider the potential risks and ROI, you may be ready to launch a guerrilla marketing campaign. Typically, guerrilla marketing works best for bigger brands that target a specific location and rely on word of mouth to spread the campaign nationally or globally. However, small local brands can also pop up at events to boost credibility. No matter the industry, guerrilla marketing can be a low-cost way to delight potential customers.

Build marketing skills with Coursera.

Learn the strategies behind making your brand go viral with Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content from the University of Pennsylvania, available on Coursera. Interested in a career in marketing? Try a Course from the University of London’s bachelor program to see what it might be like to earn your marketing degree online.  

Article sources


Statista. “Internet Usage in Canada, https://www.statista.com/topics/4865/internet-usage-in-canada/.” Accessed June 13, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.