The Power of Being Disruptive: The Art of Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla Marketing Cor Hospes

Guerrilla Marketing Cor Hospes

Utrecht, mid-eighties. I was head over heels with Yolande, and she was into me. She studied Italian, my speciality was Dutch language. We both saved up money for a trip. Rome was where Yolande wanted to go. So did I, because I had never been there before.

She had one condition: a dinner at a restaurant in the Trastevere district. In this particular restaurant, you were treated – not as a valued guest – but as something more closely resembling dirt. We simply had to go, because – according to Yolande – this was ‘fun’.

I didn’t really get it, the fun in the abuse. Besides, I wouldn’t understand a word these scolding Italian waiters would say. But Yolande promised to translate, and because it is so much fun, she would get the staff to treat us extra badly.

We booked our flight and whirled and twirled our way through palazzo’s and piazza’s, from the Collosseum to the Campo de’Fiori and back.

You must know that back in the mid-eighties, Trastevere was still an authentic working-class neighborhood. There were hardly any foreigners, let alone a couple of Dutch tourists asking locals for the address of a restaurant with rude waiters.

After circling the district for an hour and a half, we learned that the restaurant was called ‘Cencio’ La Parolaccia, dirty word in English.

It was practically empty at 7 pm.

‘Can we make a reservation for tonight?’ we asked. ‘Of course not, stronzo!’ snapped the waiter. ‘But come back at nine and we’ll see if we have a table for two.’ I looked at Yolande and she smiled back reassuringly. I guess we had secured ourselves a table.

We sat down on a patio on the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere and ordered a bottle of rosso. Two hours later we were back at the restaurant, now a busy, bustling place full of the sounds of clinking cutlery, chatter and some of Italy’s finest folk songs, performed by a singer in the corner.

The host didn’t even bother to look at me. Instead, he openly started flirting with Yolande. He took her to our table amidst the dining crowd and moments later he tossed plates, fork, spoon and knife on the table along with a bottle of mineral water and red wine, ‘no stronzo, cazzone, we don’t have a wine list and, yes, your food will be out in a minute.

We had a delicious meal, ate bruschetta, Fettuccine alla Romana, roasted braem and Panna Cotta.

Between courses, I smiled to the rude waiters, played along with their schtick and I am pretty sure that I let the singer in the corner make fun of not only me, but all of Holland. More and more staff members hung around Yolande and they showered her with flowers, slices of cured ham, liqueurs and other sweets. I then decided – because I had to do something to defend me and my country – to trip the waiter when he passed our table.

So, no menu

no wine list

no friendly staff

no table reservations

no flyers, posters or other traditional marketing.

The owners of ‘Cencio’ La Parolaccia turned the world of conventional restaurant business upside down.

Everything in the restaurant was uninviting. Shut up and eat, was their mantra. You are no customer, you are a piece of sh#$*t. It worked like a tasty appetizer. Most customers were experiencing a fun, exciting night out at the restaurant.

‘Cencio’ La Parolaccia’s disruptive marketing model was successful and its name traveled all the way to student flat in Utrecht merely through word of mouth. Yolande and myself also became their unwitting ambassadors, speaking fondly of that oh-so-funny-and-endearing-little-restaurant-where-customers-were-treated-like-dirt. In fact, I still cannot think of Rome without hearing the faint sound of a swearing Italian waiter somewhere in the back of my head.

Rude waiters who make fun of their clients: shut up and eat!

It is the exact opposite of the service and hospitality that you expect in a restaurant. And it is in complete contrast with the commercial ads that we saw on TV in the mid eighties. Viewers were submerged in a Hollywood-type world, carefully manufactured with sunny marketing images and over the top airbrushed emotions.

There was that gorgeous nymph that frolicked along the Bounty-beaches, where she experienced the freshness of limes in an azure blue ocean. There was that über-happy couple that declared endless love to each other and ‘Fresh-Up’ in their bathroom. Next, the too good looking yuppies in their ultra stylish interior came on, discovering the most delicious butter in the yellow tub at their breakfast table.

Truthfully, brands still do exactly that. Beleaguering and bombarding us with their over the top commercials.

Advertising is still a world that overflows with deceitful babble and blah-blah, and in such a world, nothing sticks.

Too slick makes sleazy

Too airy makes empty

And all of this makes you long for bumps and pits to stumble in and fall over. Wish for unconventional, rattling ads that are relevant and engaging: guerrilla marketing.

Guerrilla marketing is the antidote for companies wanting to escape the slick and sleazy. The predictable. The inconspicuous. Guerilla marketing is for brands that aspire to be like La Parolaccia.

It takes guts to become a La Parolaccia. Products are very compatible and are starting to look alike more and more. Go and stand in the microwave, mineral water or detergent aisle. If it wasn’t for the logo, the differences are hardly noticeable.

The added value is not found on the product level. Unless you come up with a purple cow, an irresistible apple or another distinguished brand story that sets your product apart.

But in reality, as soon as they tread the unbeaten path of non-traditional marketing, marketers panic and run back to the short term safety of quarterlies so they can renew the lease on their car.

Quit with those commercials!

Most people – and especially the younger generation – is ad-fatigued. They don’t buy it anymore. 86% mistrust commercials.

The time of broadcasting is gone. Rendered difficult with the arrival of the internet and then impossible with the rise of social media.

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, it is not about dumping and streaming of commercials, but about conversation and interaction. It is about creating a story. Sharing these stories will become huge for the next generation.

How poetic: Last year in July, two radio towers in Holland collapsed. It couldn’t be more iconic… or ironic. It is the end of an era.

So be a La Parolaccia. Create instead of fabricate. Make sure the stories are worth sharing. Stories that travel through word of mouth, offline and online.

The thing is that creating a buzz is not that difficult. Let a tiny proverbial bomb explode and the next day you’re front page news, or a trending topic on Twitter. Guerilla marketing, however, is a bit different. It is not meant for getting that little bit of media attention, nor is it about gimmicks, tricks or other nonsense.

A campaign has to be a translation of your DNA. Your raison-d’être, what differentiates you. Your ‘EST’. The Dutch Rabobank is the cooperativEST bank, the Dutch ASN bank is the greenEST. But what’s the EST of ABN|AMRO. Or ING?

Volvo is the safest EST, Apple is the Think differentEST computer, La Parolaccia is the rudEST restaurant in all of Italy, better yet, in the world.

In all their communication, the restaurant was consistent in their rudeness. From no menus to über obnoxious waiters.

Only when you know your EST can you communicate clearly. And only then a guerrilla campaign will work. Only then can it be authentic

So go and find your EST.

Choose unconventional and surprising marketing. Make sympathetic and brand-relevant campaigns the core of your communication strategy.

Dare to be a La Parolaccia in the deepest of your company’s genes.

Viva la Revolucion. Viva guerrillamarketing. Stronze

Written by Cor Hospes

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:


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