What do you do when traditional marketing just isn’t making the grade anymore? You go Guerrilla. Here are 7 creative Guerrilla ideas for offline business growth that can be achieved using little more than the change in your pocket.
People don’t like to be told what to do, so the kind of traditional ‘Buy our stuff’ or ‘Read this’ advertising? It doesn’t really turn heads anymore.
It’s like people are now so blind to the old school ad formula, that they don’t even see them at all.
We find ourselves closing those pop-ups the moment they fill our screens, completely skimming past ads in magazines and willing a timer down from 5 so we can skip them on videos - basically avoiding them at all costs, I know I do.
So when we needed to promote our bar, we couldn’t afford to be be skipped, skimmed or ignored. We literally couldn’t afford it. So what did we do?
We went Guerrilla (no, no, not THAT type of gorilla)
‘Guerilla marketing’ essentially means any kind of marketing strategy in a public space that is unconventional and cost-effective. What I happen to love about it most though, is that it demands to be heard.
It’s purposely disruptive so might mean making a bit of a ruckus in the centre of town, popping a flyer in an inventive place or staging a bit of a publicity stunt. It’s 3-dimensional advertising that does exactly what 2 dimensional advertising doesn’t - it turns heads.
I wanted to share with you 7 awesome campaigns that we ran with, that not only were great fun to plan and prepare, but made us an absolute killing.
Guerrilla marketing doesn’t come without it’s issues though so be smart about it, folks.
Make sure that the strategy you’ve chosen is 1) legal and 2) sanctioned/permitted by your local authority. Or if you don’t (as is often the nature of Guerrilla tactics) it had nothing to do with me.
Banksy might get away with it but that’s because of a little something called anonymity. If you’re drawing big arrows to your venue on the sidewalk, I think they’re probably going to figure out it was you...
I saw a campaign for male pattern hair loss on the bus. It was a blank poster made of a reflective surface, like a mirror, stuck on the ceiling above everyone's head. The only visible text was ‘The Hair Loss Specialists’ and their website URL.
Genius. I mean, maybe a little cruel but they knew their market, they knew their product, and they nailed it.
The amount of respect I awarded the company for that was unreal, so I thought ‘we could use a bit of that kind of thinking.’
The only way I could think to apply that logic without forking out tonnes on commercial poster printing was with stickers.
I managed to get around 300 stickers printed for 40 bucks, then we went around ‘wildposting’ as it’s known in the industry. That just means putting them in places people could see them for the sake of advertising. Like we did here:
In addition to the logo branded stickers, I also made a batch that said ‘Looks like you need a drink #Bills’ with a QR code that directed them to the bar using their cell’s current location.
I wanted to convey that we were a bar primarily, but it was equally important to me that we demonstrate we were one with a sense of humour, so we then ran about town sticking them on appropriate posters and on various pages of the free newspapers at the subway station.
Essentially, we’d put them on anything with a photo that we could use as an opportunity to direct a customer to the bar.
(The stickers were small enough that we could leave them in funny and ironic places without getting caught.)
We also needed to think about where our demographic might be hiding, and target those that might need to unwind a little.
We hit up places like public libraries, and college campuses nearby to find those that looked a bit stressed out.
I also hooked the QR code up to Google Analytics so we were able to monitor how many times the sticker had been found and scanned:
The results showed us that the sticker had actually been scanned over 70 times - so out of 300 that worked out to a 24% engagement, as well as a huge spike in traffic coming to the website.
We’d say that’s a pretty successful campaign right there.
Chalk is great. It’s creative, it’s colourful and you can get it from the dollar store. It doesn’t get much more ‘low cost’ than that.
It also adds a mischievous quality, and the staff loved rolling up their sleeves to help, too.
We started stealthily by just writing nice, inspiring quotes and general messages of positivity about the city, but always in a consistent assortment of colours - the colours of our logo as it happens. What a coincidence.
Eventually, once people had started to notice them crop up, we began drawing the occasional image, arrow or line from our own version of ‘Simon Says’ - Bill Says.
(‘Bill says treat yourself’, ‘Bill says you should put your feet up’, ‘Bill thinks you deserve a drink,’ ...that kind of thing.)
You can really do what you want with it though, that’s the fun bit - the possibilities are endless.
We had so many people come up to the bar and mention that they’d spotted something we had written, or that they were sad to see the rain had washed something else away.
I love this concept because it’s eco-friendly advertising.
Again, check your local authorities as many have ‘off site advertising’ regulations that prohibit this kind of thing.
The idea is that you go to a public space and find an area of flat ground or wall that has a buildup of dirt or limescale, and instead of writing something on, you clean something off by removing the dirt underneath the stencil. ‘Reverse graffiti’.
We picked up some clear Acetate from Walmart, drew on some ‘I ♥ Bill’s Bar’ type messages and then cut them out to make a low-budget stencil.
I then rented a jet washer from Home Depot and spent the evening cleaning particularly dirty parts of town (...if you catch my drift)
The effects lasted way longer than the chalk, and could be placed not just on sidewalks but walls, fences, benches and other building sides. Hours of fun!
Billboards are old school - and not in a good way - so I wanted to see what I could think up that would be similarly visible, but more imaginative.
Something that was still hung up for people to see, but so out of the ordinary and jarring that it got people’s attention.
I’d seen a lot of interesting, alternative billboard concepts for big movie and TV show releases like HBO’s Sopranos and the Spiderman sequel that certainly got people’s attention:
But realistically, we didn’t have the budget for those kind of stunts. Although, what we did have was a projector.
We’re quite fortunate to be located on a road where there’s a lot of through traffic so, I pitched up the projector outside so that we could screen things against the white wall out front of the bar.
It was previously ‘the black wall out front of the bar’, but it was the perfect spot to catch people walking past so I thought I’d white wash it.
We put together a slideshow using Prezi and projected a loop of all our upcoming events, pictures and videos from past events, screenshots of our most glowing reviews - that sort of thing!
It was quite the conversation starter.
We got inspired by similar Stanley Cup and Coca Cola campaigns using projection
In addition to the projector, we also started running what we came to call ‘naughty posters.’
I know how that sounds, and that was exactly the point.
The point was that we drew someone’s attention with something so outlandish that they have reason to remember the advert. It’s a bold step, and some ads have even become newsworthy from perhaps going a bit too far with it.
But, there’s a certain element of risk involved with running a Guerrilla campaign, so being controversial can actually play into your hands.
Provided we weren’t actually showing anything indecent, and we did it in (or on) our own space, we were safe to experiment.
Our naughty posters were literally as basic as having one storefront saying: ‘Have you seen the naughty poster on the next window?’ so people would actively seek it out, or do a double take when walking by.
On the next window, we had a poster that said ‘I am a very naughty poster’. Simple, but people luckily thought it was as hilarious as we did.
Naughty posters were inspired by this campaign - designed to infuriate the grammar conscious - by Milk:
It was worth it just to have people come in and say ‘I saw the naughty poster in the window.’
Talk about turning some heads.
Bear with me, I know it sounds like a lot of work. But all it actually took was some willing staff, a track, and few lighting changes.
(Note: I’m just pretty lucky to have 6 members of staff that are always ready and willing for a laugh.)
During the Super Bowl we staged a rendition of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, which would spontaneously erupt every time one of the teams was eliminated.
It might sound silly, but people came to watch the game with us purely for the entertainment factor.
It also meant that user generated content went up because people were Snapchatting, Instagramming and using Facebook Live to videos us. It was so out of the blue that the smiles it managed to capture was incredible.
Flash mobs are more about the shock factor, so after awhile it just became a fun bar tradition, and eventually patrons even began joining in.
People seemed to like it…
Probably my personal favourite.
That’s because marketing doesn’t generally do much for anyone but the advertiser - it’s one-sided, so you always feel like a sales pest. This time people stood to benefit from it.
We embarked upon a bit of a social experiment.
We made up a few hundred cards saying things like ‘You look really lovely today’, ‘Awesome haircut’, and ‘That outfit is killer’. We even made some cheekier ones that said ‘Fancy a drink sometime?’
They all, however, carried the Bills logo and QR code on the back (similar to the stickers.)
We then tried circulating them, and encouraging people to pass them on to a stranger as a ‘random act of kindness’. Such a basic concept, but people loved it and even took to social media to share when they’d just received one.
It was like releasing a load of carrier pigeons, you had absolutely no idea where they might end up, and it meant that people had an added incentive to keep the flow of the cards going.
To continue the user engagement, we also left a little footer saying: ‘Met someone cool from the exchange? Tell us about it’ next to our Twitter/Instagram handles. Any budding relationships that got in touch with us had a drink waiting for them at the bar, on us.
I thought that was a fair trade.
From one tiny square bit of card, we managed to get people to tangibly engage with the marketing, contact us online and come all the way into the bar.
Similar to #4, installations still send a message like a billboard - but they’re interactive.
Calgargy Farmer’s market did perhaps the best guerrilla marketing trick I’ve seen in ages by dressing trees around Alberta with apples, so that people not only heard about them, but could sample their wares:
It’s one better than standing on a street corner giving out samples, because it adds the element of discovery. It makes it an event that people will talk about.
I wanted to try planting something in a bizarre context that made people double take, but you can’t exactly leave a beer trail out. (Even though I’m sure dudes would’ve gone crazy for that.)
That idea seemed dead in the water.
But what I could do was create something that got people thinking about drinking, in a humourous way.
I printed a load of posters with pull off tabs at the bottom, each with a discount voucher for a certain day at the bar.
The poster was designed to look like a pair of glasses and the frame read: ‘Beer Goggles.’ Each time a tab was removed from the poster, it would reveal more of the poster behind where we placed funny pictures (monkeys, llamas... anything we could find for free in magazines or print on the cheap, basically).
Just for fun, I then stuck one of the ‘Looks like you need a drink’ stickers next to it.
Due to the interactive quality, many more people approached the posters and took notice of them.
Even if they didn’t actually take a tab, they had still given the poster more thought and taken time to engage with it, which made our impression last longer. In my books, that made it a success!
Local/Regional restrictions - Always check what the regulations for your specific location is. You could need a ‘Right of Way permit’, to do anything in the public domain.
Weather - No point spending hours on a 10 ft chalk mural if it’s due to rain later that day - if that’s your big marketing strategy for an event, perhaps consider having a backup planned.
Keep it suitable - unless you can guarantee your display is in an area that is unreachable by children, I’d recommend keeping it above board - otherwise you’re just asking for complaints. No cursing, nudity or references to violence. We said controversial, not offensive.
Doing it wrong can really hurt your cause - make sure you study the subtext of anything you’re thinking of running with. If you’ve decided that shock factor is what you’re gunning for - be careful.
Guerrilla marketing is about being bold, but being smart.
We wouldn’t want another ‘Great Mooninite Panic’, when the Boston bomb disposal unit was called because someone spotted a ‘device’ under a highway underpass. It actually just turned out to be an LED placard of a character from an upcoming show on Cartoon Network, but caused Thomas Menino - the then Mayor of Boston - to try to get guerrilla marketing banned entirely in the state of Massachusetts.
(Although it’s arguably a pretty awesome way of bringing the name of said show into the papers - I personally think that the ‘anonymous call’ wasn’t all that anonymous…)
Boston State police removing one of the 10 ‘suspicious devices’ from the public underpass
For the best possible impact, tailor your guerrilla strategy to your specific business ethos. I had to think about what kind I wanted these campaigns to say about us, what lasting impression did they leave?
If you’re all about family, perhaps pick something fun and colourful that engages kids.
If you’re marketing a product, you want to sell your USP so think about how to incorporate what it can do in an interactive installation. Show people why they need to buy it.
For us, Bills is about fun and about community. We spent time planning campaigns that would bring a smile to people’s faces, because that is what we want people to remember about us.
Whatever you plan, be creative and rampage the city - kind of like an actual Gorilla might. Although I’m not completely sure that was what Jay Conrad Levinson had in mind when he coined the term...