Guerrilla marketing: 21 creative ads and 5 ways to make them work for you

Guerrilla marketing, otherwise known as ambient advertising, is a term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson, describing marketing efforts that use nontraditional methods to achieve traditional goals. Sound vague? It should. The beauty of going guerrilla is that there are no real limits, aside from your imagination. And to give you a better idea of just how far imaginative marketing can take you, here are 5 ways that ads have flown off their respective pages or screens and into our everyday world.

Street art as guerrilla marketing

Historically, street art has served as a brazen way to draw attention. What began as gang graffiti on the sides of train cars has transformed into an unique urban language of artistic expression.

If a significant portion of your customers are city dwellers and your brand can sustain the edginess associated with (perceived) vandalism, you might want to consider street art guerrilla marketing. The only materials you need are basic art supplies, which means this can be done on a budget, though you will want to contract an artist who specializes in this form.

Speaking of artists, remember that street art is just that: art. If you adopt a campaign of this nature, be prepared for possible backlash—namely, the ire of those who hold art as sacred and separate from commercialism. To paint a picture, imagine visiting the Louvre and seeing that the Mona Lisa is now brought to you by McDonald’s.

What you need to know

  • Relatively low cost, depending on the scale of the project and the number of artists involved
  • Exclusive to urban markets
  • Well suited for non-profit or social issues campaigns who will not be perceived as appropriating art for commercial purposes

Our favorite street art marketing examples

guerrilla marketing alligator baton rouge odeith
Street artist Odeith extols and promotes the city of Baton Rouge in this mesmerizing 3D graffiti mural, sure to be tourist destination for years to come. Via odeith
Banksy idea ad
Taking its inspiration from street artist Banksy, IKEA uses stencil tags to celebrate the human element of design. Via Creative Guerrilla Marketing.
oral b cavity street ad
Oral B manages to sell its products while simultaneously raising dental health awareness. Via Pinterest.
drunk driver hit tree ad
A simple design powers a simple, stark message—the consequences of drunk driving. Via Just Creative.
coca cola street art
Coca-Cola’s logo gets art deco treatment in this colorful Manhattan mural celebrating both the product and the city. Via untapped cities.

Public installations

When you were a fledgling entrepreneur and your business model was but a twinkle in your eye, you might have dreamed of the day your brand would be represented on a sky high city billboard. But why stop there? Many companies have gone bigger, constructing and installing massive objects in public spaces.

Like securing prime billboard real estate, your company will need to have achieved a certain level of success before undertaking a campaign of this scale. Materials, permits and construction teams are going to get costly.

Installation marketing works best by focusing on one object as a symbol, generally out of place with its surroundings. Doing this creates mystery, which makes the public want to know more. Make sure the purpose of your installation is very clear. It will fail if viewers can’t figure out who the ad is for.

What you need to know

  • One of the most costly examples of guerrilla marketing
  • Also one of the most attention-grabbing
  • Suited for well-established enterprises with familiar brand imagery

Our favorite examples of installation marketing

King Kong guerilla marketing giant banana on building
Guerrilla marketing goes gorilla in this colossal promotion for Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake. Via From Up North
McDonald's coffee pot lamp post
Because I can only rag on McDonald’s so much, I’ll admit this combination of a coffee pot and a street lamp is pretty slick. Via Criatives
Hot Wheels puts its audience in the context of the toy with this construction sure to stop traffic, or maybe speed it up. Via Autoguide.com
Kinko’s uses one of its products to interact with what is already in the urban environment. Via Just Creative

Guerrilla marketing signage

Just started a business? Trying to get your name out there? Chances are you don’t have a King Kong-sized budget to be throwing giant banana peels around town. But not to worry—when it comes to guerrilla marketing, the number at the bottom of your expenses spreadsheet doesn’t always matter. Sometimes all you need is a piece paper and a little ingenuity to make a loud statement.

What you need to know

  • Lowest cost example of guerrilla marketing—we’re talking office supplies here
  • Suited for newer businesses with whom the public is generally unfamiliar
  • Smallest example of guerrilla marketing, meaning your creativity will have to do most of the grunt work

Our favorite examples of guerrilla marketing signage

ballet classes advertisement
Simple folding transforms this typical sign to an inspired guerrilla ad. Source unknown.
flow yoga sign
Yoga Flow’s sign uses a unique shape to encourage onlookers to bend their own. Via eGenoa.
curious tear advertisement
Curiosity powers this sign’s appeal, inviting passersby to take tabs by slowly revealing another image underneath. Via DesignSwan.
Asian Art Museum lost warrior sign
This ad for the Asian Art Museum’s Lost Warrior puts a playful twist on a familiar form of informational sign. Via Kelly Morr.

Pop-up shops

Pop-up shops have emerged as one of the most avant-garde manifestations of retail. The genius here lies in getting to advertise and make a sale at the same time—because why spend money on an ad to get people to come to the store when the ad can be the store? And as elaborate as some of these constructions are, they also manage to be portable. You can pack them up and park them right outside a festival, a sporting event or a busy intersection.

What you need to know

  • Requires a big budget and elaborate construction
  • Suited for retail companies with a physical product to sell
  • Eye-catching like installation marketing, but creates a more memorable experience as people are not only viewers but shoppers

Our favorite examples of pop-up shops

adidas pop up shop
Adidas’s shoebox packaging gives them a natural product element to transform into an amusing pop-up. Via Mannequin Madness.
valentino pop up shop
Valentino’s transition from building to butterfly creates a beautiful and dynamic illusion of movement. Via MyDesy.
tiffany's pop up shop
Ever dreamt of receiving a Tiffany’s gift box from somebody special? Ever imagine you’d walk around inside of one? Via Kindalikethis
h&m pop up shop
Forgoing convenient packaging, H&M let’s the location inspire the design. Via Mannequin Madness.

Traditional gone guerrilla

As innovative as all of these campaigns are, the goal of this article isn’t to say that traditional advertising is bad—only that it’s not the end of the line. The next set of examples demonstrate that the line between guerrilla and traditional isn’t as fine as you might imagine.

We have seen that many guerrilla marketing campaigns bring the ad into the outside world, but the other way around works just as well. If you’ve already got regular advertising around town, all that’s left is to do is think outside of the poster.

What you need to know

  • Expense is moderate, consisting of traditional advertising space and materials
  • Suited for businesses with regular advertisements
  • Immediate location plays a huge role here, so marketers will need to consider how the location will enhance the message—for instance, localized campaigns can benefit from this form by featuring their neighborhood

Our favorite examples of traditional ads gone guerrilla

travel wisconsin inner tube ad
TravelWisconsin recognizes the most important part of the ad, the viewer, by making him a part of it. Via From Up North.
amnesty international bus station ad
Amnesty International uses clear glass and a cut-out image to transplant a foreign issue into our own neighborhood. Via Demotivateur.
brick wall abs ad
GoFitness makes their promise to build you like a brick house tangible. Via picsoff.
lego overpass ad
By reimagining its immediate environment, this poster gives viewers a brief window into a lego world waiting to be explored. Via Tumblr

Conclusion

A creative ad does more than drive its viewers to the sales floor, it engages them, makes them laugh and triggers their nostalgia. Most importantly, it gets them talking.

A successful guerrilla marketing campaign has the advantage of being not only more memorable than any traditional ad but even more shareable. So maybe the people passing by your giant white-out bottle won’t ever end up with the real thing in their hand. Chances are they’ll snap a picture, take a selfie, pose with a friend. And next thing you know your ad isn’t just on the street—it’s on social media, maybe going viral, maybe one day ending up on a blog article inspiring the next wave of guerrilla advertisers.

The author

Jamahl Johnson
Jamahl Johnson

aka Johnny, studied Creative Writing and Communications at the University of Houston. By day, he can be found working at 99designs, out exploring San Francisco, seeing live music or playing super nintendo. By night, he is asleep.

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