Guerrilla marketing was first identified in the early 1980s, but is still one of those ethereal concepts that’s often unheard of or slightly undefined. An advertising strategy that uses low-cost or atypical marketing methods, it’s been employed by companies as large as McDonald’s and as small as local not-for-profits.
They’re big risk and can be even bigger failures—it all depends on whether you achieve the perfect cocktail of surprise, shock, and awe.
The Blair Witch Project is arguably one of the first and more successful guerrilla marketing campaigns launched since the inception of the term. The movie—a low-budget, found footage horror—rocketed itself into notoriety with a campaign designed to increase believability through the creation of an urban legend.
I count myself among those who believed the legend—in turn believing what I was watching was real. I’m gullible, that’s true, but not any more so than the thousands of viewers who believed the same thing. The key to success here was staying one step ahead of the viewers’ perception. They created the backstory before anyone could discredit it.
Other production companies have followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project: The Dark Knight launched Harvey Dent’s campaign website in advance of the film. Cloverfield and even Toy Story 3 both employed the same types of viral campaigns to promote their films.
Guerrilla marketing campaigns can be used for much more that film promotion. Médecins du Monde, a humanitarian organization located in France, distributed rapid-deploying tents to its homeless population. The tents were an immediate and dramatic visualization of the issue of homelessness, drawing attention and outrage from the public, in turn pushing the government to allocate nearly $10 million in emergency housing.
Medallia, a software company out of Palo Alto, wanted to stay true to its philanthropic values during a SXSW conference while maintaining a voice in all of the excitement. After consulting with Austin’s Foundation for the Homeless, they set up camp in front of the convention center to take swag bag donations and started the Twitter campaign #SwagDonationSXSW.
The reactions were instantaneous and inspiring.
Some will say guerrilla marketing is on its way out—that flash mobs and viral marketing are no longer exciting and new. The thing with this marketing technique, though, is that it doesn’t have to be viral or a flash mob or any other defined tactic. It only has to be new and exciting. That’s its only criteria for success. What you do is entirely up to you and how creatively you can get the word out.