Guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing means making unconventional interventions in public or commercial space in order to spread your message to an extended audience. This section will present you with basic principles and provide you with some ideas and examples to consider when using this medium.

Guerrilla marketing could take the form of a personal letter intentionally left on the back seat of a bus, a billboard altered to subvert its message, a banner hung from a bridge, or a costumed hero handing out bundled letters of protest, tied with a bow. Guerrilla marketing captures attention and imagination because it is out of the ordinary.

It can use different approaches:

  •  Quiet and personal
  •  Large and bombastic
  •  Humorous and satirical
  •  Simple and sober 

Because creativity, imagination and resourcefulness are more important for successful guerrilla marketing than big budgets and access to mass media, it is particularly suited to NGOs and rights advocates. Guerrilla marketing can be low-tech and require very little initial investment. It can work in conjunction with other types of campaigning, but is particularly attractive when other media or forms of demonstration are not feasible, accessible, or affordable, or when other kinds of campaigning have been met with apathy. It’s also a way of circumventing controls; for instance, when protest is not permitted, guerrilla marketing can make a message heard in other ways. It can embolden people who are sympathetic to your message but may not have the courage or means to declare their sympathy publicly.

While guerrilla marketing may initially reach people who witness an action first-hand, it can reach many more as stories of unexpected encounters spread through word of mouth, on the internet or even through reporting in mainstream media.

Activists travelled to China and hung this banner from the Great Wall. It parodies the official slogan of the 2008 Olympic games held in China, "One World, One Dream." Photo from Indymedia.
We the Women is a campaign focussed on the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia. People are encouraged to download stickers and fill them in with their own messages. The campaign's moodest goal is to support discussion in Saudi Arabia, both in public spaces and online, about women driving.


















What forms can it take?

Guerrilla marketing can take a variety of forms: brush and paint, spray can and stencil, photocopy or colour printout, wheat paste, performance art, flash mob, etc. Guerrilla marketing can also be interactive, asking participants to complete an action, for example:

  •  Tearing off a piece of paper to reveal the image underneath
  •  Sending an SMS text message
  •  Wearing a certain colour and converging at a pre-determined location
  •  Cutting out a stencil template that you have made available and painting it around town 

There's no one way to do it. Let your imagination run wild, then relate your ideas to your strategy. Humour is a particularly powerful way of touching people who may initially disagree with you as well as those who might usually ignore such messages. Parody, caricature and satire can puncture the aura of reverence and gravitas around the powerful and open the door to criticism.

If you have access to computers and the internet, online distribution is a great way of sharing printable resources. Images and printable templates for stickers, stencils, or posters can be posted on your website to be downloaded by sympathetic viewers and further disseminated. You could also print up a large amount of such material and send out a call via e-mail or SMS for help with disseminating it. Organisations can sponsor 'open calls' for poster, stencil or action ideas. 

Where should you use guerrilla marketing?

Guerrilla marketing works best in densely populated public places where people will encounter your message: city streets, campuses, shopping malls, toilet doors, public parks or plazas. 

Planning guerrilla action? Please consider…

Before undertaking your action, it makes sense to review a few questions.

  •  Who is your target audience? Where is the best place to reach them? What is the best time of day or season?
  •  What is your desired outcome? What do you want your audience to experience or do?
  •  Do you have the resources and capacity to undertake your action? Do you need help from outside professionals or volunteers?
  •  How visible is your target location? Different types of people frequent different neighbourhoods, and different locations have different safety, security and accessibility concerns. 

Go viral

Viral marketing relies on members of the public to spread your message by sharing it with their friends and on social network sites. The term derives from the way the message is spread: when a person sends a message to a group of friends, and those friends pass it on to their friends, the message spreads exponentially, like an infection, and quickly reaches a large audience.

Humorous, outrageous or simply strange messages are more likely to be passed on. While viral marketing usually refers to forwarding messages or links via e-mail, it can also cover the sharing of messages via fax, photocopy, video, text message or other media. Making media easy to share and encouraging sharing can help make campaigns viral.

Breaking the law

In many cases, guerrilla marketing may be illegal and put at risk:

  •  Members of your organisation (caught in the act)
  •  Members of the public (found in possession of illegal materials)
  •  Property owners (say, a shopkeeper or home owner on whose wall a mural is painted)

Before undertaking your action, consider: what is the law and what is the penalty for breaking it?

In some cases, it may make sense to apply for permission or permits to implement an action, though sometimes official permission may be too expensive, or take too long; it may not even be possible to obtain permission.

Plan your actions scrupulously, and take precautions. Before your action, fully inform all participants about the law and the possible consequences for breaking it. Brief participants on what to do in the event of arrest, or of conflict with the authorities. Think about arranging legal representation in advance. Set up a system of communication to verify that your participants are all safe. 

Including or not including contact information

Once people have seen your campaign, how can they get in touch? In some cases, it may make sense to display contact information, perhaps a phone number, website address or anonymous e-mail address. In other cases, it may make sense to leave any identifying information off of the materials, particularly if there is a risk of prosecution. Many organisations focus on making a splash, without planning a way to follow it up. Providing a website address where people can get more information, or a time and place for a follow-up meeting or protest may help channel a witness's reaction into meaningful action.

Document it

Public interventions, particularly oppositional ones, may be quickly dismantled or covered up by the authorities. But actions that last only a short time can live on if documented in photos or on video. Be sure to document your action, both for your own records and to publicise it. Of course, depending on your situation, be careful to consider the legal issues involved in retaining 'evidence' of an illegal action.

Publicise it

In some cases, guerrilla marketing actions are best kept underground. However, in many cases, it may make sense to publicise your action by notifying the media or an extended community of supporters. The internet is a cheap and accessible way of publishing photos, stories and video.