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4 Bad Examples of Guerilla Marketing

October 2003: Smirnoff

Smirnoff – the Vodka producer – used steam jets and stencils to decorate a busy underpass in Leeds without prior permission form the Government. Stylish slogans and catchphrases were added to the underpass in attempt to promote Smirnoff Ice (alco-pop) to the young public.

However, the Government were soon on the case, branding Smirnoff’s guerrilla campaign as “vandalism” and have slapped a cleaning fine on the company which is expected to cost several thousand pounds.

Smirnoff apologised for their failure to ask for permission and have accepted to clean the underpass once their campaign has finished.

Our Assessment: It is always important to get prior permission from the Government if you are to perform such a task. However, Smirnoff have been lucky to negotiate leaving the “art work” until their campaign has finished accepting to pick up the cleaning bill at the end.

The success will depend on the sales it has made in relation to their cleaning bill. However, I’m sure that being in a busy underpass in a large city will certainly have tipped the balance in their favor.


October 2002: Acclaim Entertainment

Acclaim Entertainment – a computer game company – introduced a marketing scheme to promote the release of their latest motor car racing game: Burnout 2.

The game, released on 11th October 2002, was promoted with Acclaim vowing to pay for any speeding fines issued on that particular date. Unsurprisingly, the Department of Transport immediately hit back insisting that the promotion would only encourage unnecessary speeding and dangerous driving.

Acclaim said that they thought the idea was a good way to “ease the financial pain” for motorists who were fined.

Our Assessment: Although the scheme itself was not illegal, the proposal of paying for fines may encourage people to break the law. This raised much opposition from the Department of Transport and from many of the public: although some people actually favoured the scheme…boy racers?! However, the extent to which the scheme was covered in the media certainly marketed the game alone. Based on this media coverage, was the scheme a success? I think so!


September 2002: Midland Mainline

A guerrilla marketing scheme performed by Midland Mainline, has caused a potential upset amongst the public. An intended targeted mail shot saw thousands of people receiving a promotion who may well feel that they have caused an illegal driving offence on first viewing.

The mail was in the form of a parking offence ticket, inside a transparent polythene envelope, in its realistic orange colour with the bolded words ‘PARKING OFFENCE NOTICE’ written clearly on the front. Below these words is what appears to be a stamp branding the words ‘City of London’.

For those people that had visited London in their car recently would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that they have been fined for an illegal parking offence: the over-riding thought being that you parked within a restricted area on Midland Mainline premises. For those that had not visited London, they can only be too curious about what the details suggest on the inside. Either way, the mail shot has potential to cause an instant gut feeling from both sides.

On opening it is clear that the details on the inside, again written in realistic printed handwriting, are not yours (due to a fictitious scenario). Immediately, to all people, it may cause a reaction to believe that the ‘real’ offender’s details have been sent to the wrong address. To some people, the worrying thought is that the ‘real’ offender has registered the car to their address: therefore suggesting that the car (a BMW in this case) has been stolen or purchased illegally.

After a few minutes of worrying, it is now that the reader may start to read the rest of the information printed on the lower half of the ticket and on the reverse. This is where it becomes clear that the mail shot is not a parking offence notice. Yet again, the company information of Midland Mainline has been consistent it its presentation: looking just like how you would expect the finer details of a parking offence to appear.

Our Assessment: The lesson to be learnt from this is that successful guerrilla marketing should get the attention of the public in a way that they will be impressed by, enjoy, amused by…you get the picture. It should not be performed to an extent where it can cause upset or give people unnecessary pressure to get their attention. We hope that Midland Mainline will revise their tactics in future marketing schemes…for their sake and for ours.


August 2002: Vodafone

A good example of guerrilla marketing happened in August 2002 where the leading mobile phone company – Vodafone – endorsed two men to ‘streak’ at an International Rugby game with the corporate logo painted on their backs. As you can imagine, not only did the couple find themselves in big trouble, but Vodafone also landed themselves in the frame for legal action.

Our Assessment: Illegal stunts do work because they will (or more than often do) get the attention of the public through the media, but for a small business, it is fair to say this is not the most effective (and legal!) approach for marketing your business!

Written by Ryan Lum

Ryan Lum is the founder and editor of Creative Guerrilla Marketing. He is passionate about creative marketing, social media and design. Connect with him on LinkedIn,Twitter or Google+

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