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.

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

Guerrilla advertising 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 can spread a campaign without spending significant amounts of money 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 conceptualised 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 unique, memorable images or activities that may lead to brand association or purchase. 

Typically, guerrilla marketing relies on human interaction in urban areas to significantly impact a small budget in hopes of spreading by word of mouth and social media. 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 garner attention and compete with other campaigns.

These days, digital marketing has a higher return on investment (ROI) because it shows up where the consumers are—on the internet. As of 2021, Statista projected that the average person in the UK spent four hours and 33 minutes using traditional media and up to four hours and 33 minutes using digital media [1]. When executed successfully, guerrilla marketing aims 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 be shared on social media (by the brand or 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 gets placed 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 2007, Cartoon Network placed LED signs all over Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States to promote a TV show that created a bomb scare and cost them USD $2 million in fines [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

The four main types of guerrilla marketing include outdoor, indoor, event ambush, and experiential. 

1. Outdoor guerrilla marketing

Outdoor guerrilla marketing is the act of placing something unusual in an outdoor environment. It tends to work best 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 stops in Australia). 

Example: MacFries Pedestrian Crossing

During Zurifest, one of Switzerland’s popular festivals, McDonald’s designed a clever campaign to decorate zebra crossings into giant chip displays outside their restaurants. The campaign drew festivalgoers’ attention and creatively promoted the brand outside traditional food stalls.

Takeaway: This tactic worked because it was simple, silly, and memorable. Whilst taking over a public space was risky, the company did not damage the property and received media coverage for its creativity without spending a lot of money.

2. Indoor guerrilla marketing

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

Example: Frontline Fleas’ ‘Get Them Off Your Dog’ campaign

Frontline Fleas bought out floor space in a shopping centre and placed an image of an itchy golden retriever dog on it. Shoppers on upper floors who looked down saw a dog covered in ‘fleas’ that were actually humans walking on top of the photo, oblivious that they were now part of Frontline’s advertising [3].

Takeaway: This ambient campaign worked because it made customers look twice, shocking them when they spotted the moving fleas and then delighting them when they realised those ‘fleas’ were people.

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 over the internet, even generating a spoof Twitter account [4]. 

Takeaway: Strategic product placement at a famous televised event garnered brand attention. Whilst it started 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. It can range from a free beer sample, 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 [5].

Example: Coca-Cola’s ‘Happiness Machine’ campaign

Coca-Cola launched its global ‘Happiness Machine’ campaign in 2009 to encourage people to recognise 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 device [6].

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.

Types of Guerrilla Marketing

In your research into guerrilla marketing, you may come across additional types besides the ones we've explored thus far. These can be a great way to achieve your marketing goals:

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

Stealth or buzz: Advertising through product placement or undercover marketing

Ambient: Places advertisements on unusual locations or places

Projection: Projects images or videos onto a building or landscape

Astroturfing: Places paid reviews or discussion 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


Is guerrilla marketing right for your brand?

Guerrilla marketing can leave a lasting and emotional impression on your target market. But it can also backfire if it is not well executed. Here are some questions to help you decide if this tactic is suitable 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 in a respectful way?

  • 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?

  • Can you 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 prominent 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.

Next steps

You’ll discover many ways to help brands reach new levels of exposure. Building skills in digital marketing can help give you the tools to take advantage of the digitalisation of many industries within our society. 

Check out the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate on Coursera to get started. You will learn in-demand marketing skills, such as how to grow your customer base, expand your brand reach, analyse critical data, and enter your first position in this exciting industry.

Article sources


Statistia. “Average daily time spent per person with traditional and digital media in the United Kingdom in 2016 to 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1230381/time-spent-media-by-type-united-kingdom/.” Accessed August 25, 2023.

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