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The best & worst of guerrilla marketing


The term ‘guerrilla’ has its roots in warfare and it is characterised by tactics that employ the element of surprise. When applied to the world of marketing, it is an inventive form of inbound marketing that breaks convention, ultimately leading in a surge in brand awareness.

Guerrilla promotional marketing tactics usually feature an air of eccentricity, along with the aim of leaving a lasting impression on the consumer. These campaigns usually (although not always) incur low costs when compared to the high levels of engagement they can potentially achieve through their creative and imaginative ideas.

Here’s a list of guerrilla marketing campaigns that worked, and a list of those that didn’t. Hopefully, this will allow you to identify the approaches that could result in a successful promotional marketing campaign, as well as what to avoid!

Cadbury Gorilla

A very literal example of guerrilla marketing that still hasn’t left our thoughts even a decade after its initial appearance is the 2007 Cadbury Gorilla advert. This multi-media advertising campaign helped increase the sales of its core Dairy Milk chocolate brand in the UK by roughly 8% since its launch at the end of August 2007 (Financial Times, 2007).

Although there was definitely an ad budget for this campaign, it still featured elements of guerilla marketing by virtue of its highly unusual and surprising nature.

Unicef – Dirty Water

Unicef brought passers-by in New York City down to earth with a powerful campaign designed to make people think differently about clean drinking water. The campaign involved offering passers-by a bottle of dirty water,. A custom-made dirty water ‘vending machine’ was on hand to accept donations. Understandably, many gawked in shock and surprise.

Thankfully, no one accepted any bottles of dirty water, but many donated. The message of the campaign was to encourage people to spend less on bottled water and instead put the money towards incentives designed to bring clean drinking water to the areas that need it . It highlights how guerilla marketing can be incredibly effective in the non-profit sector, too. Watch their video to get a deeper insight into how they set up and ran their campaign.

Sarova Hotels Kenya – Save The Trees

This campaign is as eye-catching and thought provoking as it is symbolic of the problem of deforestation. Sarova Hotels have integrated social and environmental concerns into their business operations, and this guerrilla marketing campaign launched in Kenya illustrates this perfectly. The message is that humans are destroying the habitats of wild animals purely for our own concerns, a point is driven home by the cheetah resting on the street lamp after being forced out of its original habitat.

Sarova Hotels have a variety of CSR projects aimed at supporting and empowering the local communities for sustainable development as well as environmental conservation. They participate heavily in planting trees throughout Kenya in order to tackle the issue, and this campaign was incredibly effective in raising awareness around their environmental enterprises.

Nike – RUN

An important factor of any guerrilla marketing campaign is to maintain an air of authenticity around your brand values. This is what Nike do well, and their attitude as a company is concisely summed up in their 3-syllable tagline “Just Do It” – an encouraging company motto designed to spur people on.

The ‘Run’ campaign was based around the concept of benches that couldnt be used for sitting – the wooden seat had been removed, leaving only the back support emblazoned with the Nike logo. Iti s one of many innovative Nike promotional marketing campaigns that have seen success, mainly due to how it very simply embodies the company’s values whilst also being incredibly cost efficient. The message pushes forward their brand identity and promotes the act of staying physically active by removing your most basic needs of resting – the seat of a bench! Here’s another example that uses the same kind of narrative:

“You Suck Sarah Marshall”

While the film ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ was commercially successful, the guerrilla marketing campaign promoting the movie was less so. Graffitti-style ads were scrawled throughout the US saying “You Suck Sarah Marshall”. While this is a reference to the protagonist of the movie, the people behind this campaign clearly failed to realise there are many women that have the same name.

This resulted in a bit of backlash, with some Sarah Marshalls even retaliating with similar “You Suck” messages aimed at the director of the movie. Think twice before naming names!

Snapple – Giant Ice Lolly

It was a hot summer afternoon in Union Square in the month of June – sounds like the perfect time for some ice cream! Snapple had the same brainwave, but much larger. This marketing tactic was meant to promote a new line of Kiwi and Strawberry flavoured ice lollies. Their strategy? Erecting a 25-foot tall, 17.5 ton ice lolly in the middle of Union Square.

This rogue attempt at both guerilla marketing and breaking a Guinness World Record ended up running thin, and the ice lolly anticlimactically started to melt before they even got close to standing it up. Unfortunately, the melting lolly flooded parts of downtown New York, they didn’t break any world records, and the campaign was remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Vodafone NZ – A Streak of Madness

This is one of the most infamous promotional marketing stunts on record, and it occurred during a rugby match between Australia and New Zealand in 2002. Vodafone New Zealand came up with the inappropriately humorous idea of sponsoring some streakers to interrupt the Bledisloe Cup game, wearing nothing but the scrawlings of a Vodafone logo on their backs!

Vodafone ended up paying a host of fines due to the stunt. The streakers themselves were also fined for trespassing and indecent exposure. Some argue that the stunt was brave, others argue that it was downright stupid, plain and simple. Even though the idea may have seemed funny to the Vodafone marketing team who sponsored the stunt, clearly their sense of humour were not aligned with those who had to witness the actual occurrence! In this case, of guerrilla marketing, it is safe to say it wasn’t all that effective.

Are you planning a quirky or unusual promotional campaign?

If you want to make waves, the last thing you want is a spoilsport knocking down your ideas before they’ve got off the ground. But there’s a lot to be said for experience. Draw upon the support and expertise of your promotional marketing fulfilment partner. We’re always happy to help you refine briefs, and can even bring new ones to the table as an impartial collaborator -with our eyes firmly on helping you achieve your objectives without risking everything. Get in touch with us to talk it over.

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