You have a lunch date at the bistro, and you’re running a couple minutes late so you walk briskly. A bus rumbles by on the road, displaying an ad for paper napkins—part of a $50,000 ad buy—but you don’t notice because you’ve tuned out ads on buses.
You round the corner for the bistro and, melting on the sidewalk is a giant popsicle the size of an offensive lineman.
You slow down. You look. Other passersby are snapping pictures with their phones. A mother pulls at her young son’s sleeve to keep him from walking through the popsicle juice.
As you dig out your phone to snap a picture of your own, you notice that the popsicle is accompanied by a sign featuring a roll of Bounty paper towels and a caption that reads, “Makes small work of BIG spills.” Aha! So this stunt is some kind of advertisement for paper towels. Cute.
You begin walking briskly again. You realize that you can tell your friend you were late because you saw something bizarre on the way over, and you stopped to take a picture for them. You’ve just been guerrilla marketed.
Advertiser: Procter & Gamble – Source: adforum.com
What is Guerrilla Marketing?
Bounty’s giant popsicle installment is a real-life example of guerrilla marketing. But what is guerrilla marketing? The late Jay Conrad Levinson, father of guerrilla marketing, coined the term to describe a broad class of unconventional, high-impact, and low-cost marketing tactics. Levinson’s interest in these tactics was piqued when he realized that many of his business students at UC Berkeley were young entrepreneurs with big ideas, but paper-thin marketing budgets. (I know everyone is giving their event budget some side eye these days.) With these students in mind, Levinson went on to write a bestselling series of books on guerrilla marketing.
You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company like Bounty’s parent company, Proctor and Gamble, to benefit from guerrilla marketing. Quite the opposite. Like the guerrilla warfare after which it’s named, guerrilla marketing is accessible to the little guys, like student entrepreneurs and small business owners. And event planners.
Guerrilla marketing demands more creativity than cash. Consumers see four to ten thousand ads per day, and we’ve come to expect them—and to tune them out—in all the usual places: billboards, webpages, TV commercials, newsfeeds, etc. Guerrilla marketing stands in relief against the everyday adscape by reaching potential customers at times and in places where they aren’t expecting it, and by engaging them in new and creative ways.
What does this have to do with events?
In the event planning space, there are two ways to think about guerrilla marketing. You can plan an event that does guerrilla marketing for your brand, or you can use guerrilla marketing to promote an event that you’re planning. But both are more about potential impact than direct sales or marketing.
Consider what emotions you’d like associated with your brand. Maybe, for example, you have a gifting platform. Everyone loves a gift, right? Something fun might be to wrap fairly large boxes in branded wrapping paper and give them out in your booth at a tradeshow. (Inside the gift box can be something light and inexpensive, like bags of cotton candy.)
But what happens at this trade show? Other professionals see a bunch of people carrying around bright, branded gifts. They can’t help but be curious, right? Everyone wants to know what’s in a wrapped gift. It’s not about the actual gift, it’s reminding people how gifts make them feel. You’ve now invoked curiosity and excitement all over the show floor, even for people who never visited your booth. And linked your brand to it.
Ready to give it a shot? Here are 8 examples to prime your creative pump.
Events that do Guerrilla Marketing
Every year, Red Bull hosts multiple Flutag events across the globe. Competitors launch human-powered flying machines off a platform and soar over a body of water; each would-be Icarus ostensibly striving to achieve the longest flight before splashdown. I say “ostensibly” because Flutags draw many contestants who simply build the wackiest parade floats they can imagine and wheel them and their hapless “pilots” into the water below.
Flutags are often well attended, with one 2012 Flutag in Cape Town drawing 220,000 spectators. That’s 220,000 people learning to associate Red Bull with laughter and fun on a sunny day.
On a Thursday morning in January of 2009, dance music unexpectedly began thumping at Liverpool Street Station in London. Hundreds of bystanders “spontaneously” erupted into choreographed dance. Of course, these bystanders weren’t really bystanders. They were dancers hired and trained by T-Mobile for what turned out to be a wildly successful viral marketing stunt. The dancers rubbed shoulders with real bystanders, many of whom grinned with joy as they watched the mob unfold.
But this small crowd of real-time witnesses wasn’t the true audience for this dance-mob. T-Mobile had more ambitious plans, installing hidden cameras around the platform and capturing the whole event on video. They posted the clip on social media, and it went viral, eventually drawing tens of millions of views online.
While it’s certainly difficult, if not impossible to be certain what odd thing will push into the viral arena, brainstorm what kinds of performances, activities, or games you could have a mob bring to the unsuspecting public?
Many of us bemoan the state of America’s crumbling infrastructure, but Domino’s (one of our very own customers!) saw it as an opportunity. The delivery pizza giant partnered with local governments to hire road crews fitted with Domino’s branded trucks and gear, and they began filling potholes. They have fixed potholes in all 50 states, giving them grist for their own commercials and winning valuable local media coverage along the way.
In fact, I bet you’ve heard of this campaign at some point over the last few years. I did! Guerrilla marketing at its best.
Your company may not have the means to fix potholes across the country, but community service and sponsorship can be extremely effective. So gather up some workers, slap some branded t-shirts on their backs, and get your hands dirty.
Earlier this year, Jack in the Box gave away two free tacos with any purchase for their “taco twosday” promotion. This isn’t the first time Jack in the Box has given away tacos, having previously offered free tacos to customers who present a gasoline receipt, or to all customers with no strings attached.
Their tagline? Gas is expensive, these tacos are free.
Levinson, the guerrilla marketing guru mentioned above, is a huge fan of giveaways. Giveaways build goodwill, introduce the brand to new potential customers, generate buzz, and provide opportunities to collect market data.
Guerrilla Marketing for your event
Public art installations
Do you know where your event ICPs congregate? Try erecting a public art installment there to grab their attention. If the installment is beautiful, provocative, or clever, you’re likely to create buzz as people share pics of it on social media.
Your public art doesn’t have to be particularly expensive or technical. GoldToe undergarments got noticed in 2010 when they dressed the famously nude Wall Street Bull in a pair of oversized GoldToe briefs.
Advertiser: GoldToe – Source: PR New Wire
Finding a theme that matches your upcoming event will help match your brand with that theme (or object, or color, etc.) in your prospects’ minds. And hopefully keep your event top of mind. Possibilities range from a mural, eye-catching posters, ice or sand sculptures, or (with permission!) dressing up an existing piece of public art.
Digital scavenger hunts
In 2018, Oreo built a digital scavenger hunt mobile app for their Great Oreo Cookie Quest promotion. Users earned points by submitting pictures of everyday objects. However, instead of directly telling users what pictures to submit, the app fed them riddles; i.e., “What puts hands on your wrist?”
Scavenger hunts require substantial buy-in from customers, who must commit time, energy, and thought into playing the game. But if the hunt is enjoyable enough (and the payoff valuable enough,) scavenger hunts can be a great way to drive engagement.
There’s no need to build a special mobile app, either, if that’s beyond your skill set or budget. Easily accessible tech tools like email or social media are sufficient to organize a digital scavenger hunt. This is exactly the sort of thing hashtags are for.
Scavenger hunts related to events can actually work in both categories—either to advertise and bring awareness to your event, or to engage your audience (and up brand excitement) during your event. Not surprising that it’s one of the more popular forms of event gamification.
I know, I know. Rapping is hard. And the truth is, this one can backfire. But it’s those big swings that sometimes yield a homerun. Be bold, y’all.
In 2015, Jim Cregan of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee released a promotional rap, “Keep Your Chin Up,” instead of filming a TV commercial. The video was picked up by local news—providing free press—and Jimmy’s Iced Coffee saw a 40% increase in sales. 40%! That is not a number to sniff about! A followup track, “We Got The Beans,” was widely shared on social media, increasing the company’s following by 50% on Facebook and 400% on YouTube.
You got the chops to chomp the mic? Maybe you’ll find you have a new calling in life.
Use more stamps
This last idea is the simplest of them all, and it comes directly from Levinson, and is especially fun for small businesses. If you’re sending out invitations via snail mail, or promoting your event with a direct mailer, instead of using one $0.60 stamp per envelope, use 10 or more stamps of smaller denominations. Buy whatever colorful, oddball stamps you can find at the post office, and get imaginative with their arrangement on the envelope. Levinson reflects, “I think it’s impossible to ignore a letter with 11 stamps. It’s pure guerrilla marketing; it doesn’t take as much money as it does time, energy, and imagination.”
This particular suggestion is stamps, but it’s really meant to stimulate your creativity. I mean … stamps. How simple is that? What simple tools are crucial to your marketing efforts that you could tweak into something really attention grabbing. Because half of guerrilla marketing is to get a target to just STOP. Stop for two seconds, and think about what they’re seeing.
Have fun with it
With guerrilla marketing, the possibilities are endless. If you can dream it, you can make it into a marketing campaign, often for a lower price tag than traditional advertising.
But remember, we do live in a society of laws, so before you get ahead of yourself, check that your ideas comply with local regulations. Some municipalities frown on flash mobs, and some forms of public art may run afoul of the law. Moreover, getting back to giant popsicles, if you decide to stand up a 25-foot popsicle in Union Square like Snapple did in 2005, make sure you understand how fast it will melt and be prepared to clean up the mess.
Those caveats aside, let your imagination run wild. Instead of wearing your customer down with more of the same old marketing tactics, earn their attention by catching them somewhere new and showing them something fresh.