Lessons from Guerilla Marketing to Apply to Your Small Business Marketing Strategies

by Corey Philip
November 27, 2019

Normally when you’re outside, you’re minding your own business. It’s probably safe to say that people who easily give attention to every single distraction while on the way to work or minding their business as usual are in the minority.

That’s where guerilla marketing comes in. It’s usually a marketing gimmick that makes people look back or stop them in their day-to-day business. Even today with the transition of marketing strategies to digital, guerilla marketing still persists. We’ll get into what makes guerilla marketing so effective and how you can apply it for your small business.

What is Guerilla Marketing?

Guerilla marketing is the use of unexpected and unconventional tactics to bring forth people’s attention to a brand or product. It is often disruptive because it aims to make people look or even interact with an installation without seeming like they’re simultaneously being advertised to.

You might be familiar with guerilla marketing gimmicks by big companies like Coca-Cola and Nike, but guerilla marketing is beneficial to small businesses as well. In fact, this type of marketing allows them to compete with big corporations on a level playing field.

Not only is guerilla marketing budget-friendly (it’s significantly cheaper than traditional marketing), it also yields maximum impact and results. Since small businesses have the advantage of being closer to customers, they directly benefit from the goal of guerilla marketing which is to increase brand awareness and recall from a 5-second interaction.

Where Did Guerilla Marketing Come From?

The term came from guerilla warfare, which is also where the concept was adapted from. Guerilla warfare was created during the Vietnam war to particularly refer to the sneaky technique of Vietnamese soldiers against their more organized, extremely capable military enemies.

In the 1980’s guerilla marketing was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his books. In them, he proposed that there should be a type of marketing method that isn’t in-your-face. It should be subtle but also impactful, unexpected, witty, and the key word to every definition you’ll find of it today, unconventional.

At the time, people were already tired of ads in print, tv, and radio. Compared to the present where ads have probably quadrupled, ads then were already saturated. We’re exposed to thousands a day at present, but at the same time, we’ve adapted better ways to tune them out, which isn’t favorable to marketers.

With the rise of marketing channels comes the more competitive battle for people’s time and attention. As a result, guerilla marketing has become much more important as time progresses.

5 Elements of a Good Guerilla Marketing Tactic

The ultimate goal of guerilla marketing is to create a connection with people or possible customers through memorable sensory and emotional interactions. In that sense, guerilla marketing is extremely personal. If you must double down on any elements in executing your guerilla marketing idea, it should be on these five:


Creativity is the driving force of guerilla marketing. If you happen upon a large installation of a popsicle the size of your car in a plaza (to promote a tissue brand), wouldn’t you stop and look? I’m willing to bet there’d be a lot of people taking photos with it or on it for Instagram. And a lot of people did as you’ll see in the examples later because this actually happened.

That’s not the craziest of ideas marketers have come up with. But the point remains: guerilla marketing ideas should be out of the box, outrageous, ambitious, and the execution should be just the same. It should make people stop in their tracks, disrupt their numbing day-to-day, and make them remember your brand.

Personal interaction

If it’s possible, getting people involved in your pop-up installation is the best way to leave a much more lasting impression. Active physical participation in something will make you remember it more beyond the quick initial contact of merely seeing an ad, no matter how unconventional and different it seems.

This Dove campaign went viral a few years ago around the same time as the women empowerment movements. It was timely as well as thought-provoking, and it targeted something deeply personal to its target market.

Good location

One advantage of guerilla marketing is that you can choose a strategic location for your pop-up installation. One that people frequent or an area that people pass by on their way to work or school are ideal locations to set up a disruptive installation.

While other marketing strategies are concerned with attracting people, you only have to worry about making people actually remember your brand after they see your installation. This is why guerilla marketing is especially good for small local business because they can go to where their customers are instead of the other way around.

Clear and concise message

The best guerilla marketing gimmick needs no words. If you can achieve sending a message and making your brand known from a 5-second look at your installation, you’ve utilized the capabilities of guerilla marketing.

Messages should be shocking but non-provoking. Your goal should be to make people laugh, amused, curious, or anything that’s not provoked, angry, or confused. Following the concept of branding, your message should be consistent with all marketing messages that you implement through other channels.

Integration with other types of marketing

Most guerilla marketing gimmicks only last at least a day to a few weeks. It doesn’t suffice as a main marketing strategy. Most often, companies incorporate it into a much bigger marketing plan that involves other strategies — either traditional marketing or digital strategies.


  • Cost-effective – Guerilla marketing doesn’t require a big budget.
  • No limits to creativity and absurdity – The more outside the box your ideas are, the better.
  • Less investment – The main thing you need for guerilla marketing is creativity and wit. It’s purely intellectual.
  • Increased chances of brand recall and awareness – Disruptive ad installations leave a longer reaction in people compared to when they see an ad, which they forget within minutes after.
  • Opportunity for direct participation and engagement with your customers – The ball is in your court here. You’ll be in full control of how people take in your message because you’ll direct their experience with your brand.


  • Co-dependent with other strategies – You can’t rely on guerilla marketing on its own, so it’s likely that you need to already have a more cohesive marketing plan along with guerilla marketing ideas.
  • Legal risks – You might need to apply for permits from establishments, institutions or the government for setting up installations in public and private spaces. Guerilla marketing itself may cost less but may require more paperwork.
  • Taxing on time and energy – This type of marketing may not need insanely expensive investment, but it takes up so much time and energy from conceptualizing a clever idea alone to the actual execution.
  • Unexpected backlash – Some guerilla marketing tactics may get you in trouble or earn you backlash, so you need to be careful with delivering your message.
  • Less reach than traditional marketing – Guerilla marketing can only be extremely local while traditional marketing can be worldwide.

Types of Guerilla Marketing (with Examples and Tactics for Your Small Business)

Guerilla marketing has come to develop different ways of execution. We’ll get into each one of them. In each type, we’ll also dig into examples and the ways that you can apply that tactic for your small business.

Outdoor Guerilla Marketing

Another term for outdoor guerilla marketing is street marketing. This type of guerilla marketing is literally something people can find on the streets. With this method, the possibilities are endless. You can choose a location that can accommodate your idea, so it can be as big and ambitious as you want.

Take one location and look at the pre-existing environment and see how you can add your brand to it in a clever way. It can be as simple as adding a cloth to a statue to signify a cause or putting up a large installation that’s bigger than people. The bigger, the better.


This is the one mentioned above. Two giant spills were put up in a crowded place to demonstrate the superior absorbent quality of Bounty Paper Towels.

Bounty Ad Campaign in Los Angeles

Photo from http://www.toxel.com/inspiration/2009/07/21/bounty-paper-towels-ad-campaign/

For small businesses:
These are doable for small businesses because they will only require a one-time spend on installations, paint, or printed paraphernalia that you can leave on the street for people to react to and talk about.

Indoor Guerilla Marketing

Indoor guerilla marketing is almost the same as street marketing, though with more limitations on space and tactics. As for indoor guerilla marketing, it’s best if you can find an interior element where you can add something to promote your product.


The Simpsons escalator ad

Guerrilla Marketing The Simpsons Ad

Photo from https://whiteglovemedia.co/guerrilla-marketing-the-simpsons-escalator-ad/

Frontline ticks and fleas spray with people in shopping mall as the fleas

Frontline guerilla marketing advert

Photo from https://whiteglovemedia.co/guerrilla-marketing-flea-control-ad/

For small businesses:
This dental ad is a strategically placed die-cut lips over the lights on the ceiling to showcase the whitening services of K & S Dental Care.

Guerilla Marketing Ideas by Frank Anselmo Poster Light

Photo from http://coolartblog.com/guerilla-marketing-ideas

Ambient Guerilla Marketing

Ambient guerilla marketing is the clever use of what’s already in the location to promote your product. Ambient differs from outdoor guerilla marketing by way of engagement. Usually, the objects altered to carry the brand’s marketing tactics are used by people on the daily as well. In a way, they’re more naturally part of the ad than mere installations in outdoor guerilla marketing.


Kitkat benches

Kitkat benches guerilla marketing

Pedestrian crossing made of McDonald’s fries


Photos from https://www.antevenio.com/usa/5-great-examples-of-guerrilla-marketing/

For small businesses:
These are a no-brainer for small businesses. These don’t take much to implement. You can literally paint over things, with permission, to integrate your brand into everyday objects people always pass by or use.

Guerilla Projection

Guerilla projection is the process of setting up projectors to display a show or any type of advertisement onto a building in busy locations. Some people do this without a permit from the relevant authorities, which may incur legal issues.

However, if done right, this can also be a disruptive way of telling people about your brand. A more modern take on this is 3D projection mapping, which takes any large structure and turns it into a screen that shows images and animations.

For small businesses:
This method is similar to content creation because all you need is media content. You can edit a video or image to display. With a projector, you can achieve this guerilla marketing tactic.

Event Ambush Guerilla Marketing

Event ambush guerilla marketing is the act of ambushing an event where the brand is not a sponsor of and utilizing the buzz and the crowd in that event to promote their product. Most of the time, this is not included in the scheduled program and done without the knowledge of the organizers.

This method is completely a risk because it might get you in trouble for causing a disturbance. At best though, ambushing can really leave an impression on people. Just be cautious of unexpected backlash that you might receive after.


This flash mob in a train station was for a T-Mobile advert. This isn’t technically an ambush, but a flash mob is a tactic under this category of guerilla marketing. And this is how well it can end if you do it correctly.

For small businesses:
This isn’t the best route for small businesses because it might result in a bunch of penalties after. But as with the example, it can be really impactful. A flash mob is the easiest because all you’ll need are people.

Experiential or Interactive Guerilla Marketing

Experiential or interactive guerilla marketing, also called participation or live marketing, is an immersive type of marketing that directly involves people. It can be in an outdoor or indoor setting, but the key factor is that people will have to participate or be part of the advert.


This Milka vending machine encourages tenderness among strangers by dispensing a chocolate when they hold hands.


Photo from https://www.retail-loyalty.org/en/news/milka-vending-machine-dispenses-free-chocolate-when-strangers-hold-hands/

For small businesses:
This type of guerilla marketing will immediately build a personal connection with people and potential customers. In a way this can also be a form of sensory marketing because you’re engaging their senses in the process of making them interact with your advert.

Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing is the subtle advertisements by way of exposing people to your brand name without them realizing it. This includes discrete product placements in movies and television.


This Nike tape blocking the escalator is a subtle yet clever use of guerilla marketing. The message is consistent with the brand because people will get their workout in by using the stairs. At the same time, it could be easily mistaken for a caution tape, so the advert is not so obvious.

Photo from https://moosend.com/blog/guerilla-marketing-ideas/

For small businesses:
The Nike example perfectly demonstrates the possibilities with this type of guerilla marketing. You have to have an eye for a placement for your brand where people won’t notice.

Viral or Buzz Marketing

Viral of buzz marketing is a more digital method of guerilla marketing. Though it’s still not very clear whether this is actually a guerilla tactic because marketers don’t have any control over virality. It fully depends on people.

Even so, some marketers are able to find a way to use word-of-mouth to create a hype around their product or service, thus heightening people’s awareness.


The best example to this is the Blair Witch project, which was a movie created by film graduates. They created a website that published fake news reports and interviews that seem real, which made people second-guess the reality of the events in the movie. The film gained fans before the film even came out and it grossed hundreds of millions worldwide.

For small businesses:
Actually virality can sometimes be predicted nowadays. With all the viral content already spreading on the Internet, you can pinpoint certain common elements and replicate that with your content so that people will notice and share. This is how you can implement this type of guerilla marketing with almost no budget.


Guerilla marketing has been around for years, but it’s something that allows small businesses nowadays to compete with big corporations in terms of disruptive advertisements. Take all these examples and practice your eye for things or places that you can integrate your brand into, and utilize the tactics that were already done before to put your own brand out there.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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