Guerilla marketing: Holiday marketing goes rogue

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Break through the clutter

During the holidays, people step away from their daily routines, and you can no longer rely on traditional marketing tactics to get their attention. This is where guerilla marketing is a great play.

Holiday marketing often requires a different approach.


Guerilla marketing is an advertising strategy that relies on ingenuity rather than lots of cash to get attention. It can enables you to hyper focus your activities and cut through the demands on customers’ attention during the holiday season.

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What is guerilla marketing?

Creative Guerilla Marketing defines the tactic as “an advertising strategy that focuses on low-cost, unconventional marketing tactics that yield maximum results.”

G2 Crowd goes even further. “Guerilla marketing disrupts consumers in their daily routines by presenting them with unconventional methods of brand interaction.”

There are varying tactics used in guerilla marketing, from hijacking events to public displays such as flash mobs. The success of these types of activities depends on a number of factors, but ultimately they need to be (as Seth Godin puts it) ‘remarkable.’

This is particularly important in the lead-up to (and during) the holiday season, when there can be many competing demands for consumers’ attention.

5 types of guerilla marketing and examples

You don’t need a ton of money to get the attention of potential customers. Here are five strategies.

  1. Public installations and street art.

  2. Pop-up shops.

  3. User-generated content.

  4. Create an online app.

  5. Newsjacking.

Whatever you choose, and at whatever scale you do it, remember that the goal is to surprise and delight.

1. Public installations and street art

Guerilla Marketing Christmas Mural
The No. 1 goal of guerilla marketing is to make people stop and look.
Photo: Ambernectar 13 Flickr via Compfight cc

Street art is widely used in guerilla marketing because it has an immediate impact. The aim of a public installation (i.e. a temporary object installed in a public space) can be varied, but ultimately you want it to be either entertaining or to have some utility value. It’s important to note that installations don’t scale all that well, so you want to compel people to share their experience of it on social media.
Guerilla Marketing IT Remake
A number of street activations in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were carried out to promote the launch of the movie remake of Stephen King’s IT. Images of IT-themed street art, including red balloons tied to gutters, went viral online. They no doubt also left a huge impression on those who saw them in real life.

You could, however, install a special window display at the front of your store or create a design that lives on the windows but can be washed off post-Christmas.

Be creative and follow the trends. Photo booths were once effective, but they’re not so much now. Also aim to ensure your installation aligns with your brand.

2. Pop-up shops

You don’t always need to be in retail to see the benefits of opening up a pop-up shop. If you can find the right location that will see enough foot traffic, then you have an opportunity to engage your audience for a period of time.

Remember, guerilla marketing is about achieving cut-through. So your pop-up shop needs to stand out and provide an experience that will get people talking.

Examples: In 2016, eBay hosted a two-day pop-up shop in London billed as the “world’s first emotionally powered shop.” Using a screen and a camera, eBay suggests the presents shoppers should buy based on their facial reaction to 12 images presented to them.

Whilst not a traditional pop-up shop, software company Citymapper launched a pop-up bus in Central London fitted out with USB charging points and screens showing people when and where to get off.

3. User-generated content

Getting people to engage is the key with guerilla marketing. And if you can get potential customers to create content for you, then you have something truly irresistible.

But beware. You need to know your audience and what interests they have. If you fail to get your audience to engage, your campaign will ultimately flop. So this can be a high-risk/high-reward tactic.

Example: Online college Strayer University erected a chalkboard on the gates of a busy park in New York City with the directive: ‘Write your biggest regret.’

The answers that followed had a common theme — the dreams people had failed to follow — which ultimately aligned with the University’s message. Strayer created a video and posted it to YouTube. It has currently had more than 5.5 million views.

This idea could easily be adapted for Christmas by simply changing the question. Ask passing pedestrians what toy they wanted but never got for Christmas … or their favourite holiday memory. Then film them sharing their answers. To make this work, choose a question that will lead at least some to name a desire that your business can fulfill.

4. Create an online app

Not all guerilla marketing tactics need to be offline. After all, if there’s one thing we can be certain about in terms of people’s behaviour during the holiday season, it’s that they will still have their phones in their pockets and will be spending time online.

Guerilla Marketing High Street Northcote
People just love memes.

Example: Melbourne Main Street precinct High Street Northcote last year launched a website where users could select a Christmas wishes meme and share it on Facebook or Twitter. Each meme contained subtle branding, and the social message tagged the precinct. This campaign reached a wide audience because of its viral nature and extended High Street’s brand exposure.

5. Newsjacking

David Meerman-Scott popularised the term ‘newsjacking’ and he defines it as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”

When you know an event is happening ahead of time, you might be able to identify an opportunity to capitalise on it. Here’s how it works:

The first step is to watch the news for anything that might be relevant to your business. Set up Google News alerts that ping you when certain keywords are mentioned.

For example, perhaps you sell toys and could comment on the Christmas traffic to your store compared with previous years. Or maybe you see a forecast of unusually cold temps — suggest to reporters that it’s a harbinger of a secret pre-Christmas visit from Santa (then stage an in-store visit).

Once you see something you can use, send out a press release to local news outlets offering yourself as a source of information relevant to the story. You could use a service such as Get the Word Out to handle this or do it yourself.

You can also cold-pitch reporters already writing about something relevant to your business by emailing them directly to offer an interview, a video or other information that would strengthen their reporting of the story.

If done well, this tactic gains you media coverage on a shoestring budget. Dig into more details here.

Guerilla Marketing Newsjacking
Rather than paying for coverage, insert your business into a news story.
Photo: rawpixel on Unsplash

Example: When brewer Carlton Draught learned that all AFL coaches would be meeting at the CEO’s house for their annual dinner and it would receive TV coverage, they sent brand ambassador and former AFL great Jonathan Brown over to deliver a gift. The gift was a pallet of Carlton Draught. The brand received plenty of news coverage; the value of the media coverage far outweighed the cost of the gift.

Guerilla marketing and your holiday plans

As you can see, guerilla marketing is a very different approach than your traditional marketing or even most online advertising methods. It takes creativity and ingenuity (and in Oreo’s Super Bowl “you can still dunk it in the dark” tweet, it requires a level of thinking on your feet).

When you’re planning your holiday marketing campaigns, consider putting the planning processes you’ve learned aside. Instead, start really looking at the day-to-day lives of your audience during the holidays. Then look for ways to disrupt and enrich them.

Image by: Jack Levick on Unsplash