guerrilla marketing gorillaGuerrilla marketing is so much more than flashmobs and free samples.

Despite being 30 years old, guerrilla marketing still feels fresh. Jay Conrad Levinson described the concept in his 1984 book, called (surprise!) Guerrilla Marketing. The term comes from guerrilla warfare, which involves using atypical, non-traditional tactics in battle. For marketers, the goal is to promote an idea, product, or service to win over consumers. Small brands were the first to apply the concept, choosing careful in-house planning and creativity over expensive advertising campaigns. Larger companies took notice. Today all types of brands are taking advantage of the PR and customer conversion a well executed guerrilla marketing stunt can generate (or suffering from a poorly executed one).

Not surprisingly, guerrilla marketing has evolved over the years. Digital tools and social media have been integrated, social causes promoted, trips to the Earth’s outer atmosphere made, and exclusive event sponsors ambushed. While it seems all fun and games, a successful guerrilla campaign requires market research, careful planning, and a lot of imagination. Each brand needs to carefully customize the concept to their goals. To get your wheels turning, here are seven great examples.

More With Less

guerrilla marketingAt SXSW this year, one start-up creatively mixed their company culture of philanthropic giving with guerrilla marketing to cut through the clutter of the event. Instead of contributing to the volumes of swag that often end up in landfills, Medallia employees collected it for Austin’s homeless. Using the hashtag #SwagDonationSXSW, they donated USB drives, hats, flashlights, water bottles, sunglasses, umbrellas, ponchos, towels, scarves, and lots of t-shirts to the Austin Foundation for the Homeless. It’s safe to say that Medallia made positive impression at SXSW.

scoutmob guerrilla marketing

In early 2010, Scoutmob, a location-aware coupon app, launched in Atlanta. To get the word out, the company placed distinctive posters around Atlanta. They encouraged users to take photos with the poster and share via social media. This campaign-on-the-cheap helped the start-up connect with new users and build its local brand identity.

Ambush on the Playing Field

The International Olympic Committee [IOC] is infamous for defending exclusive sponsorship rights. Brands pay $100 million to be a worldwide Olympic sponsor, so the defense is somewhat understandable. Non-sponsors have come up with ingenious ways to market on the Olympic platform without paying the IOC a dime, also known as ambush marketing.

Nike excels at ambushing. Remember this campaign that ran during the London Olympic Games in 2012? Nike was not an official Olympic sponsor, yet they did a pretty good job of associating themselves with the event.

A niche sportswear brand took a quieter approach during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Only official sponsors can use words like “Olympics” during the Games. Canadian company Lululemon got around this issue by using a few more words to describe their special edition clothing line. Pretty clever, eh?

lululemon guerrilla marketing

Coffee Revolutionaries, Sound Barriers, and Groceries in the Subway

Tonx is a young company of coffee experts who deliver fresh-roasted beans from all over the world to your door. They are on a mission bring better coffee into your kitchen. But how does a small group of coffee revolutionaries get your attention? A guerrilla marketing stunt seemed like a good idea. A parody of a guerrilla stunt was an even better idea.

Red Bull is a pro at guerrilla marketing. From a street team driving around in branded Minis to the Flugtag competition, Red Bull’s marketing strategy is far from traditional. But Red Bull Stratos pushed guerrilla marketing to a new level: the edge of space. In October 2012, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without engine power by jumping from a capsule 24 miles above the Earth. Sponsored by Red Bull, the stunt cleverly occurred exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeagar broke the same barrier in a piloted aircraft. Promoted on social media channels, Felix’s feat garnered 8 million live views on YouTube, a new record, as well as tweets from GQ and the Gates Foundation. While this campaign wasn’t cheap, the payoffs are still coming: there is now a Red Bull Stratos exhibit in the Air and Space Museum.

In South Korea, the #2 supermarket, Homeplus (owned by Tesco) needed a way to close in on the #1 supermarket chain, E-Mart. The result was a brilliant merger of guerrilla tactics with mobile technology. Homeplus covered the walls of subway stations with faux store aisles. Lifelike images of grocery items, each with a unique QR code, surrounded commuters. To fill their virtual shopping carts, commuters simply scan the unique codes and pick a delivery time while they wait for the next train. Putting the convenience of mobile grocery shopping and home delivery in front of busy, employed Korean consumers helped Homeplus increase online sales by 130%. (And its agency, Cheil Worldwide, won a Grand Prix award at the 2011 Cannes Lions Festival.)

Start Your Guerrilla Brainstorm Engines!

Feeling inspired by these examples? Whether you’re a three-person start-up or a global brand, guerrilla tactics can grab the attention of distracted, glazed-over consumers better than any TV spot or Facebook post. All you need is imagination, a smart execution plan, and perhaps the help of an experienced agency. Flashmobs need not apply.

Read more: 10 Awesome Examples of Guerrilla Marketing Campaigns