Guerrilla Marketing: From Marginal to Mainstream

Guerrilla Marketing: From Marginal to Mainstream

The current fragmented media landscape and the decline of traditional advertising methods, as well as the power of storytelling and the consumers’ desire to get relevant brand advantage, have opened up tremendous opportunities for guerrilla marketing. In today’s media landscape it’s clear as day: guerrilla marketing will grow from marginal to mainstream. This is good news for number crunchers, because the impact and ROI of guerrilla marketing is easily measured.

‘Life used to be better’, lament those who dab their faces with Kleenex tissues while they flip through childhood picture books or listen to songs from the sixties and seventies. Marketers and sales managers couldn’t agree less.
They consider themselves lucky living in the 21st century, because the internet and – more specifically – social media have made their career so much easier. Obviously. Imagine the era when TVs had two, maybe three channels. Back then ad men easily reached large audiences. Commercials hit the bullseye every night. But these ‘Mad men’ had no clue what their viewers said to their friends and family about the products depicted on TV. They didn’t have eyes and ears in offices for watercooler gossip, or for boasting in locker rooms after soccer practice. Now, because of social media, marketers see and hear everything. Consumer product reviews are easily tracked through tweets, blogs and buzzes.[pullquote]More than one-third of all bloggers often write about brands, products and services.[/pullquote]

Nokia realized with the Nokia Silence Booth their pay off: Connecting People. The brand is connecting people by providing silent environments to make phone calls. At music festivals for instance.

The statistics speak volumes: more than one-third of all bloggers often write about brands, products and services. Two-thirds of the world’s population visit online networks and read bloggers comments. Instant food for thought for all those billions of consumers who educate themselves online before buying a product. 93% of Americans already do exactly that. Brand experiences from friends and family are most crucial. 78% of all consumers rely on tips from friends, 14% rely on advertisement. Traditional advertising is diminishing. TV ads have almost lost all their persuasiveness.

Surprising? Not really. All the products out there are practically look-a-likes. No matter what those shiny ads tell you, if you line up five different draft beers, you’ll hardly taste a difference. Even the founder of Heineken, Freddy Heineken, once declined such a blind taste test.

The key is to offer consumers that bit of extra value that will make them choose your product and not your competitor’s. So excite them with stories. Or add meaning to your product, because that’s what consumers are craving. If they know what’s in it for them, their response will be positive. Seth Godin hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘We shouldn’t sell products, we should tell stories.’

Guerrilla marketing is the perfect tool for story telling. Here’s how I defined the term ‘guerrilla marketing’ in my book ‘Guerrillamarketing’ (‘Nieuwe sluiproutes naar het hart van de klant’ – although only available in Dutch this roughly translates to: Guerrilla Marketing. New detours to the heart of the client):

‘A strategic, original and relevant advertising attack at an unpredictable moment with an unforgettable wow-effect that creates sympathy around a brand, point of view, service or product to the right audience.’

Such an ambush creates buzz and chatter automatically.

Gotta go? There are few public restrooms ... in the Big Apple. So Charmin built 20 restrooms on Times Square over the 2007 holiday seasons fully equiped with Charmin-products. 392,862 visitors used them.

Note that we’re not talking about an ambush for the sake of shock and fun. If that becomes your purpose, you’ll step into the same trap of misconceptions that traditional ad agencies have been stepping in for years. Brands need to be authentic, transparent, honest and human. ‘Don’t sell bullshit’ is the mantra for guerrilla marketing, because it’s authentic, carte blanche, fun, relevant and meaningful. And that’s the direction guerilla marketing is going. It doesn’t just entertain, it’s meaningful. It can do good things. Think of brand utility.

At the biggest music festival in the Netherlands jeans brand Wrangler offered festival goers a much needed service: laundry. And at 18 meters wide and 9 meters high, the Wrangler Laundromat was hard to miss. People dropped off their mud-encrusted laundry and were sent a text message the moment it was ready. No spare change of clothes? Wrangler came up with a generous solution to that problem, too: they handed out brand overalls to anyone who used the laundromat.

Let’s draw a parallel to guerrillas. In order for them to be able to survive in their back woods hiding place, they have to connect to the small communities surrounding their hiding place. They need to befriend them and help them in exchange for food and sworn secrecy.

Even though the media landscape is fragmented, it’s very easy to connect with your target audience. Logically, people who like video games, chocolate or Hello Kitty go to online shops, sites and blogs where they can buy the products they like and read all about latest and greatest in their field of interest. These are perfect ‘locations’ for ad ambushes. Simple as that, and right under the noses of your target audience.

The disintegrated media landscape; the end of TV commercial believabilty; the power of storytelling; the growing demand of consumers for high product and brand value. All arrows point in one direction: guerrilla marketing is at its peak, because guerrilla marketing acts from the perspective of the consumer. It’s authentic, relevant, strategic and meaningful. How else can we explain that a TV viewer starts flipping channels as soon as the commercials come on, while that same consumer sends around photos or videos of a guerrilla marketing ambush to friends and family and continues to blog, tweet and buz about it?

Guerrilla marketing has become a mainstream tool. Brands can’t do without it anymore. And thanks to social media, it’s easy to measure the power of guerrilla marketing. Viva la revolution, viva guerrilla marketing.

Cor Hospes is the expert in the Netherlands in the field of guerrilla marketing. He is the founder of Tsjee, an agency specialized in guerrilla marketing, content marketing and impact branding. Cor Hospes wrote also two books about guerrilla marketing. In his first (2007) he came with a modern definition about guerrilla marketing and six clear criteria that a lot of agencies and business copied. In March 2012 his second book about guerrilla marketing appeared. In that book he discusses the impact of social media on guerrilla marketing. He also presents ten guerrilla marketing strategies. In his eyes the ten marketing strategies fur the future. Traditional advertising is dead, he says. Only with unorthodox, meaningful and sympathetic actions you can reach your target audience. With guerrilla you create buzz. What's more effective: an ad that you want to smash in people's faces. Or a story about a guerrilla action that people (online) talk about by themselves. Cor Hospes speaks worldwide about guerrilla marketing. He lives and works in Amsterdam. Cor Hospes speaks regularly on congresses about guerrilla marketing. Read more of his articles at:


  1. Good article. Definitely now more than ever are these tactics necessary/valuable to brand managers. Just the other day I was zipping past commercials on my PVR wondering how the folks who spent $$$$ to book that ad space would feel if they could see me – skip… skip…. skip… back to the hockey game!

  2. Where is the “strategic approach” to the guerrilla?

    Hi Cor, you’re absolutely right in saying that the guerrilla is an “attack at an unpredictable moment with an unforgettable wow-effect That Creates sympathy around a brand …” and I am increasingly convinced that the smartest marketing managers will invest more in this “leverage”, but in my experience I have noticed that many companies are using this powerful lever in a so bad way.

    Ok! yes, they astonish, they create short-street-buzz, but in many still have not understood the importance of consistency and correlation with the corporate message (or brand, product). – “frequently falling into an unconscious conflict”

    Too often the guerrilla operation does not start the viral activity that is the part that generates more benefits.

    I think that few are gaining the ability to think in terms of “guerrilla strategy” designed as a series of activities linked together in order to increase the memorability of the message you want to settle in the mind of the target.

    As you know, very often these operations are “one-shoot” and are stored in self-celebrating videos of creative communication agencies.

    Now I don’t want to dwell, but there are strong evidences that with a strategic approach, the organization and implementation costs go down.

    Unfortunately I do not know the Dutch language but I hope that your book will be successful.

    see you soon


  3. @gianluca. Thanks for your reaction. I totally agree on the points you mention. Especially that it results in ‘self-celebrating videos’. Too often ‘short street buzz’ and a message that doesn’t match the overall communication approach. The point is. Too many marketeers use guerrilla marketing as a tool for something extra. At the end. And then it goes wrong. The message of a ceo shouldn’t be different from the one you want to communicate by the guerrilla. Do you examples of ‘a more strategic approach’ correlated to ‘the organization and implementation costs’ go down. I also welcome other good international examples for my new book.

  4. Can u tell me more about the guerrilla strategy impact to entrepreneur branding.

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