How to do Guerilla Marketing Without Being Trolled

How to do Guerilla Marketing Without Being Trolled | Sales & Marketing | Emeritus

Bombay Shaving Company’s attempt to capitalize on the online harassment of Prachi Nigam, a young academic achiever trolled for her facial hair, backfired spectacularly. Their seemingly supportive advertisement sparked widespread criticism and accusations of exploiting a sensitive situation for profit. Similarly, Milani Cosmetics faced backlash for a Tik-Tok video that appeared to mock Amber Heard during her highly publicized libel suit against Johnny Depp. The video, while garnering initial attention, ultimately alienated many viewers due to its perceived insensitivity and exploitation of a serious legal battle. Admittedly, these instances exemplify guerilla marketing gone awry. There is no denying, however, that this is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. The endeavor should be to leverage it sensitively and mindfully. 

To begin with, one must first thoroughly understand all its intricacies and potential pitfalls. By showcasing a number of examples, this blog aims to help you master the craft of guerilla marketing without risking being inappropriate or trolled. 

What is Guerilla Marketing?

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Conflict, rebellion, unconventional fighting in difficult terrains—these are the images that come to mind when we think of the word ‘guerilla’. And post the 1970s, the highly iconic image of Che Guevara on murals, paintings, and t-shirts only cemented a somewhat romanticized understanding of this term. It may apparently seem strange that such a term would be used in the same breath as marketing. It really isn’t. Let’s first understand what guerilla warfare is. It is an irregular form of combat where a weak contender engages a mightier enemy in warfare using unconventional and imaginative techniques. And the term guerilla marketing precisely harnesses this idea. However, its weapons of choice are relegated to the highly cutthroat world of marketing. It uses vivid imagination and unconventional methods of marketing coupled with an element of ambush to promote products and/or services. 

Imagine you own a bookstore sandwiched between two giant competitors. Now, one morning, you arrive to find your neighbor on the right has put up a massive banner advertising a 50% off sale that’s bigger than your entire store! And to your left, your other neighbor has unveiled an even larger banner boasting a 60% off sale. It, too, dwarfs your storefront. So, what would you do in this situation? If you were a guerilla marketer, you’d hang your own simple banner out front that reads “Main Entrance”. As a result, customers would think that it is your bookstore that’s giving these huge offers, and it would help increase your sales. This example, taken from Jay Conrad Levinson’s “Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business”—the book that pioneered guerilla marketing—perfectly illustrates the essence of this marketing strategy: it’s about deploying unconventional, innovative, budget-friendly methods to promote your business. 

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How Guerilla Marketing Differs From Traditional Types of Marketing

Now that you have a general picture of what guerilla marketing is, here is a comparison table to help you better understand how it is radically different from more traditional types of marketing:

FeatureTraditional Types of MarketingGuerilla Marketing
InvestmentRequires a significant financial investment in advertising, public relations, and media buying.This essentially relies on creativity, time, energy, and imagination, making it a low-cost option.
ComplexityCan be complex and intimidating, involving a wide range of strategies and tactics.Simple, straightforward, and focuses on creative and unconventional approaches.
Suitable forPrimarily geared toward large businesses with substantial budgets.Ideal for small businesses and startups with limited resources.
Marketing StrategyBased on experience and judgment, which can sometimes lead to costly mistakes.Employs psychological principles and a deep understanding of consumer behavior to create impactful campaigns.
Marketing ChannelsRelies heavily on traditional channels like advertising, websites, and direct mail.Utilizes a diverse range of channels, including unconventional tactics and unexpected places.
Mode of Targeting clientsEmploys a broad approach, thus reaching a wide audience through mass media and general advertising.Employs a targeted approach, focusing on specific niche audiences through personalized and relevant messaging.
Communication StyleTends to be a one-way communication with the business delivering messages to the audience.Encourages two-way communication through dialogue, interactivity, and engagement with customers.

Examples of Successful Guerilla Marketing

The business world is immensely competitive, and marketing often plays a key role in helping businesses remain popular, relevant, and profitable. Therefore, organizations employ a diverse range or marketing strategies to achieve either business objectives. Time and again, guerilla marketing has proved to be an effective technique to captivate and draw clients. Given its efficacy and appeal to people, big corporations, too, have often resorted to guerilla marketing tactics. Here is a curated list of five examples of successful guerilla marketing campaigns: 

1. How Pepsi Became the Unofficial Sponsor of the 1996 ICC World Cup

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In South Asia, cricket is more than a sport; it’s a cultural phenomenon. And the Cricket World Cup is eagerly anticipated by millions. In the Indian subcontinent, cricket matches are watched by tens of millions of people. Consequently, it presents immense marketing opportunities. 

In 1996, the ICC World Cup was being played in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Given this huge market, Coca-Cola and Pepsi fiercely competed for World Cup sponsorship. Additionally, India’s market, newly liberalized by the 1991 reforms, was increasingly attracting many global brands. And anticipating market opportunities, Coca-Cola spent ₹10 crore to secure official sponsorship. They even launched a campaign featuring the famous song “Mast Mast’ by the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. 

However, Pepsi adopted a clever ambush marketing strategy. Their agency, J. Walter Thompson, launched the “Nothing Official About it” campaign, which featured cricketers and officials choosing Pepsi over the official drink. Moreover, it even depicted the respected umpire Dick Bradey “going loco” for Pepsi. This campaign resonated so deeply with fans that it became an unofficial anthem. Pepsi had turned their disadvantage into a massive win,  capturing the market’s attention even without the official title. Its 1996 campaign remains a classic example of effective ambush marketing, a classic tool in the arsenal of guerilla marketing. 

2. Dove Trumps Pantene

In 2010, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) ambushed Procter & Gamble (P&G) with a smart guerilla marketing move. P&G launched Pantene with the tagline, “A Mystery Shampoo”. However, HUL quickly responded with Dove hoardings stating, “There is no mystery. Dove is the No. 1 shampoo”. Consequently, HUL outsmarted P&G and grabbed public attention. HUL’s campaign took only one day to execute, showcasing their agility. This quick response was unprecedented in HUL’s advertising history. They seized the opportunity when they learned of P&G’s plans. As a result, they capitalized on the moment and executed an impactful campaign.

HUL’s guerilla marketing move demonstrated the power of quick, strategic action, transforming P&G’s teaser campaign into an advantage for Dove. HUL’s swift response overshadowed P&G’s efforts. Additionally, this move underscored the importance of agility in marketing. Ultimately, HUL turned a competitor’s campaign to its own benefit, solidifying Dove’s market position.

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3. Anando Milk Empowers the “Strong Child”

In an eye-catching guerilla marketing campaign, Anando Milk creatively installed a larger-than-life advertisement on a Mumbai building. The visual showcased a child seemingly lifting a portion of the building with their “milk-powered” strength, emphasizing the nutritional value of milk for growing children. This playful and impactful display not only captured the attention of passersby but also resonated with parents and children alike. Thus, by harnessing milk with strength and vitality—and in India, milk is associated with strength and growth—Anando Milk effectively reinforced its brand message and promoted healthy habits.

4. Yahan Se Kharido: Snapdeal’s Witty Riposte

A few years back, the e-commerce giant Flipkart launched its “#AchaKiya” campaign. It featured the slogan, “Nahin Kharida? #Acchakiya (“Didn’t Buy? Great!”). And the call to action of these ads was that it’s good that you didn’t buy from elsewhere because Flipkart is the better alternative. Now, Snapdeal cleverly countered with a playful and opportunistic guerilla marketing tactic. They strategically placed banners directly beneath Flipkart’s ads, featuring the simple yet impactful phrase, “Yahan se Kharido” (“Buy From Here”). This witty retort quickly went viral, sparking a wave of social media engagement and even prompting other brands to humorously insert their own banners into the conversation. Thus, Snapdeal’s bold move not only captured attention but also turned a competitor’s campaign into a win for their own brand, demonstrating the power of quick thinking and creative execution.

5. Captivating the Competitive Aviation Industry

In a classic example of guerilla marketing, the Indian aviation industry witnessed a playful billboard battle among competing airlines in 2007. When Jet Airways revamped its image, it proudly displayed billboards proclaiming, “We have changed”. However, Kingfisher Airlines swiftly seized the opportunity to one-up its rival, placing a billboard above Jet Airways that cheekily declared, “We made them change”.

Not to be left out of the conversation, Go Air, the Wadia group-owned low-fare carrier, entered the fray with its own billboard placed above the first two. Their message, “We’ve not changed. We are still the smartest way to fly”, reinforced their value proposition while cleverly capitalizing on the attention generated by the ongoing exchange between their competitors.

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What We Learn From These Examples of Guerilla Marketing Campaigns

Guerilla marketing campaigns offer powerful lessons in creativity, strategy, and impact. And they demonstrate how unconventional approaches can captivate audiences and generate significant buzz. Here are key takeaways from these successful campaigns:

Think Outside the Box

First and foremost, always prioritize creativity over traditional methods. After all, creative ideas capture attention and make a lasting impression.

Capitalize on Competitors’ Moves

Leverage competitors’ campaigns to your advantage. Quick, strategic responses can turn their efforts into your gain.

Be Quick and Agile

Another key factor is speed. Rapid execution ensures your campaign stays relevant and impactful.

Engage With Cultural Phenomena

Align campaigns with cultural trends. This connection increases resonance and engagement with your target audience.

Use Humor and Wit

Humor adds a memorable touch. Witty campaigns often go viral, boosting brand visibility. However, be careful that your message remains appropriate and within the bounds of responsibility and good taste.

Leverage Visual Impact

Eye-catching visuals create a strong impression because visual elements can convey your message more effectively than words.

Emphasize Brand Values

Also be sure to clearly communicate your brand values. Associating your brand with positive attributes strengthens your market position.

Adapt to Changing Situations

Flexibility is key. So, adjust your strategy based on market dynamics and opportunities.

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The history of guerilla marketing is full of many such agile, witty, and innovative marketing techniques that capture public attention and generate buzz. However, it is crucial to remember that these techniques must be used responsibly and thoughtfully. As the recent Bombay Shaving Company incident demonstrates, attempts at humor can easily backfire if they are insensitive or exploit sensitive situations. But, as the five curated examples show, being witty and innovative doesn’t have to be inappropriate. Guerrilla marketing, when executed thoughtfully and ethically, can be a powerful tool for building brand awareness, fostering engagement, and driving business growth. It’s about finding creative ways to connect with your audience, spark conversations, and leave a lasting impression.

So, if you want to learn more about how to craft effective and responsible marketing campaigns? Join Emeritus’ online marketing courses and boost your career in marketing. 

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About the Author

Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Sanmit is unraveling the mysteries of Literature and Gender Studies by day and creating digital content for startups by night. With accolades and publications that span continents, he's the reliable literary guide you want on your team. When he's not weaving words, you'll find him lost in the realms of music, cinema, and the boundless world of books.
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