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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Guerrilla marketing can expand your brand exposure and build your company. Get inspired by examples of this successful technique and how you can build these skills.

[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 much on advertising. Several Guerrilla marketing campaigns have successfully attracted the attention of Indian customers, including ones launched by brands such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, and Anando Milk.

How did guerilla marketing start?

Invented in 1984 by American 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 guerilla 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 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 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. As of 2021, The Times of India reported people in India spend nearly five hours per day on mobile devices  [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:

Guerilla marketing pros:

  • Low budget: Guerrilla marketing can be inexpensive.

  • 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 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, festival, or another brand.

Guerilla marketing cons:

  • Risk of failure: The brand is put on public display, which can backfire if a poorly executed campaign fails. 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.

  • 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.

Guerrilla marketing controversy

At the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, a Canadian man attempted to promote an online gaming site by jumping into one of the swimming pools. He had written the website's name on his bare torso and donned a tutu to garner attention from the cameras and crowd. This stunt was unsuccessful on many levels. No one remembers the website's name, and he spent months in a local prison [2].

Types of guerrilla marketing

There are four main types of guerrilla marketing: outdoor, indoor, ambush, and experiential. 

1. Outdoor guerrilla marketing

Outdoor guerrilla marketing is the placing of something unusual in an outdoor environment. This is typically 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 generally small object (like a cupcake) in a park, or putting things in the streets (like IKEA’s sofas at bus stations in Australia). 

Example: MacFries Pedestrian Crossing

During Zurifest, one of Switzerland’s most popular festivals, McDonald’s designed a clever campaign to decorate zebra crossings into giant finger chip displays outside their restaurants. This drew festivalgoers' attention and was a creative way to promote the brand outside traditional food stalls [3].

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

2. Indoor guerrilla marketing

Indoor guerrilla marketing takes advantage of enclosed public spaces to generate hype. This could include university campuses, train stations, or museums. In 2009, T-Mobile sponsored a flash mob at Liverpool Street Station with 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 mall and placed an image of an itchy golden retriever dog on it. Shoppers on the upper floors who looked down saw a dog covered in what appeared to be fleas, but that were humans walking on top of the photo, oblivious that they were now part of Frontline’s advertising [4].

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. Ambush guerrilla marketing

Ambush guerrilla marketing promotes a product or service in a surprising place—such as a concert or festival—or within a competitor's advertisement. This type of marketing catches the audience by surprise when something unusual occurs.

Example: Snapdeal trolls Flipkart

In 2015, Flipkart launched a billboard campaign to promote sales for the upcoming festive season, directly encouraging customers to buy their clothes, footwear, and other supplies from Flipkart. The ad's catchphrase, "Have you not bought?" caught the attention of rival retailer Snapdeal who purchased billboard space next to the Flipkar ads. Snapdeal's ad responded directly to the Flipkart ad with the phrase, "It is good that you told me," with a reminder to buy the products from Snapdeal [5].

Takeaway: Catch the audience's attention with humour in unexpected places and a Twitter troll war with well-positioned hashtags to promote a brand.

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 a drink, 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.

Example: Coca-Cola’s “Small World” Machine campaign

Coca-Cola launched interactive vending machines in Lahore, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India. These machines used 3D technology, touch screens, and live video to create an interactive experience for those using the vending machines in India and Pakistan and create a feeling of being together [6].

Takeaway: Coca-Cola is famous for its high emotional impact campaigns. By bringing people in India and Pakistan together, Coca-Cola fostered positive emotions associated with its brand.

5. Other types of guerrilla marketing

In your research into guerilla 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 in unusual locations or places

Projection: Projects images or videos onto a building or landscape

Astroturfing: Places paid reviews or discussions on forums like Reddit India 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

Learn how to make ideas stick, increase your influence, generate more word of mouth, and use social networks' power to spread information and influence.

Is guerrilla marketing right for your brand?

Guerrilla marketing can leave a lasting and emotional impression. But it can also go wrong if 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 more 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

There are many ways to help brands reach new levels of exposure, and 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 essential data, and enter your first position in this exciting industry.

Article sources


The Times of India. "Indians Spend Nearly 5 Hours Daily on Mobiles in 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/indians-spend-nearly-5-hrs-daily-on-mobiles-in-2021/articleshow/88963566.cms." Accessed February 15, 2023.

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