5 Crazy-Cool Guerrilla Tactics to Generate Buzz

UPDATED: October 20, 2015
PUBLISHED: July 29, 2015

Guerrilla marketing, by definition, is surprising and unconventional (think of the viral flash mobs of the recent past). It aims to woo customers by being memorable and by fueling buzz through online and in-person conversations—possibly even by attracting news media coverage.

Usually guerrilla marketing is fun. Remember when Starbucks attached its logo cups to the roofs of vehicles (often taxis) in 2005? Videos of people wildly gesturing to drivers about their “forgotten” java made newscasts from Boston to Vancouver to California. Or in 2009, maybe you ginned up your own shareable 1960s-style avatar during the “Mad Men Yourself” guerrilla campaign that promoted the third season of the award-winning AMC drama.

But guerrilla marketing can be serious, too. In 2009 UNICEF loaded a New York vending machine with water bottles labeled “cholera” and “typhoid” to emphasize that many people lack clean water and that a $1 donation can supply a child for 40 days.

A key advantage of guerrilla marketing is that its tactics often grab more attention than traditional advertising such as a radio spot, TV commercial or billboard. Here are five techniques to jump-start your thinking.

1. Light Projection

When the last employee leaves an office building for the night, light-projection advertising can use the structure’s walls as a canvas. Live Urban Walls is one company that can combine light-projection technology, broadband connectivity and prime real estate to stream high-definition video for marketing.

“High-impact visuals projected on a massive scale engage even the most jaded metropolitan consumers,” says Alex Vandoros, founder of Live Urban Walls. His company makes these larger-than-life displays interactive by using local Wi-Fi networks to allow viewers to listen to synced soundtracks on mobile devices; play video games “on the wall”; or upload related photos, videos and social posts. Costs range from about $20 to $80 per minute ($2,500 to $10,000 for a night); prices vary depending on location, time of year and more.

Vandoros has created light-projection displays for Möet-Hennessy, Coach, Reebok, Red Bull and Jaguar. “Ideal target brand products [are visual and] include fashion/beauty, music/entertainment, games, gadgets, beverages, automotive, lifestyle and others.” Live Urban Walls recently worked with Paul Mitchell Systems’ The Truth About Curls campaign, projecting live and recorded consumer-generated content simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles.

He says light-projection companies should help clients optimize their campaigns by, for example, identifying prime locations for their target markets, personalizing displays with QR codes, and providing post-campaign reporting on the behavior of individuals who attended events and participated in interactive elements (they registered online or locally through Live Urban Walls’ Wi-Fi network).

2. Chalk Art

Chalk murals—some with optical illusions and photo-realistic portraits—on sidewalks and in parking lots frequently go viral on the Internet. So businesses tap this art form for marketing in high-traffic areas, says Melanie Stimmell Van Latum, creative director of We Talk Chalk, a 3-D street-painting company in Irwindale, Calif.

“The best place to stage a street painting is someplace with a built-in crowd,” she says. “We love creating paintings at trade shows, festivals and busy city streets. It doesn’t have to be near your business because the street painting can tell viewers where to go with integrated hashtags or QR codes.”

The artwork—which lasts until the next rainfall or contact with water unless treated to extend its life by days or even years—is priced based on the square footage, type of surface and amount of detail, Van Latum says. A small painting can begin at a few thousand dollars; a large one, $25,000.

Online research and chalk festivals can help you find an artist, Van Latum says, adding that the artist can advise you about content. “We send each client questions asking about what type of imagery they have in mind, what logos or tagline should be included, which of our images they find the most engaging, what type of mood or message they are trying to create, etc. We do two to three full-color sketches that convey their message while creating something fun for an audience.”

She says the best pieces are those that people want to pose with for photos—not ones with in-your-face logos. For example, to represent the Asia component of its Go Global campaign, Verizon Wireless requested that We Talk Chalk create giant images of sushi and dumpling soup with a small corporate logo in a corner. “Spectators had a blast posing in the bowl of soup or as if they were lying between the sushi,” Van Latum says. “The logo was present in each photo without being the main focus.”

3. Reverse Graffiti

By strategically removing dust or grime from buildings, sidewalks and subways, reverse graffiti creates a message and/or image in the clean surface beneath. Businesses leverage this avant-garde technique, also called clean tagging, to pique the interests of passersby.

In 2010 Miller Genuine Draft commissioned a large reverse-graffiti mural in Bucharest, Romania, and ran a commercial depicting its creation. For a 2012 campaign in Los Angeles, Greenpeace used reverse graffiti to demand that KFC and its parent company Yum! Brands improve packaging.

Renowned reverse-graffiti artist Paul “Moose” Curtis, often credited with creating the medium, is known for beautiful designs that subtly attract people who then “walk away realizing the image has been created using pollution…. I think that the general public’s senses are dulled by the aggressive nature of most commercial messaging and that simpler styles can be more effective. Too much information is a definite turnoff.”

Using tools that range from twigs and water to eco-friendly cleaning products and sandblasters, Curtis, a Brit, says each creation has a unique life span depending on how dirty the surface is, what kind of cleaning process he uses and environmental factors.

Finding an appropriate site triggers much of the cost. For example, he says New York is practically bereft of suitable spaces due to the popularity of the medium. Plus, he needs to take into account the client’s target audience and where the display will get suitable exposure. The cost of a large project can run thousands of dollars, but smaller pieces cost considerably less, Curtis says.

He encourages amateurs to try their hands (literally): “Fingers work pretty well to start with. Then move onto brushes and other cleaning apparatuses.”

Recently, Philips commissioned Curtis to create a 50-foot-long mural in a high-profile London location to promote its Sonicare toothbrushes, the only device used in cleaning the surface. Over three days, he created a festive winter scene plus a “Wishing you a whiter Christmas” tagline. “The mural showed the power the brush had to remove marks superbly and was a great success,” he says.

4. Aerial Marketing

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s super-marketing! Aerial marketing via skywriting, banners and airships/blimps is a memorable way to get eyeballs on your message. Patrick Walsh, a commercial pilot and CEO of AirSign in Williston, Fla., puts clients’ messaging in the air and provides consulting, social media, videography and reporting on results—and you should look for the same from any aerial marketing team, he says.

Because every second counts—given that the message is ephemeral—a strategically crafted message is crucial. AirSign includes a hashtag in most messages and reiterates that through accompanying social media. “This allows the user to join a much larger conversation. People see a massive hashtag in the sky, and they instantly take a picture and post it to that hashtag. Advertisers go crazy over this instant response,” Walsh says.

A digital skywriting message, which uses a dot-matrix system for lettering and takes five aircraft to produce, typically is the size of a skyscraper and can be viewed from 15-plus miles, he says. “When targeting a major market like Los Angeles or New York, you can instantly reach millions of people from all parts of the city and surrounding areas,” he says.

AirSign, which counts Ford, HP (Hewlett-Packard), Uber and McDonald’s among its clients, can produce a 30-character message in three minutes; the message will last five to 10 minutes before dissipating. The company and client decide on location and time. Rush hour is great for a captive audience; big events such as the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, also are prime opportunities.

Prices for aerial marketing vary widely. Walsh says that an average airplane banner has a one-time production cost of $2,000 to $10,000, depending on size; add $600 to $800 per hour for flight costs. Skywriting packages generally start at $20,000.

5. Sand Sculptures

Sandcastles, aka sand sculptures, can convey a message unobtrusively on the beach, where other advertising is slim to none. Sand sculptures also can be effective at trade shows, malls, state fairs, resorts and conference centers, says Rick Mungeam, an award-winning artist with Beach Sand Sculptures in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Beach sand sculptures—$500 and up—are complex to design and labor-intensive to create, Mungeam says. They must be structurally sound while meeting the aesthetic goals of clients such as Chick-fil-A, Maker’s Mark Whisky and the Florida Park Service. A 5-foot-high sculpture requires about 3 tons of sand, 1 ton of water and eight hours of construction before Mungeam even starts carving.

Live sand-sculpting is a crowd-pleaser that can increase your exposure: “Choose a very busy beach on a perfect day, and allow and encourage people to watch” as you develop a sand sculpture showing your product, logo and/or marketing message. IKEA has used a simple logo display on the beach to promote its Tampa, Fla., store; Chevrolet promoted its Colorado truck with a sculpture of the pickup (with real tail lights, headlights and front grille!) in San Diego; and Komatsu had a sculpture of its equipment with accompanying “Reliability” and “Best Value” signage at a Las Vegas convention.

Mungeam protects his sculptures with Weather Shield, containing biodegradable glue, which allows them to endure normal weather for approximately a year outdoors (barring harsh weather or human interference) and last indefinitely indoors.

Although the professional sand-sculpting industry is small, with probably 200 companies worldwide, Mungeam recommends due diligence before you hire. Ask friends and associates for referrals or do an online search. Then analyze each prospective company’s web presence and reputation and assess photos of their projects for the wow factor.

“Have fun with your project,” Mungeam says. “This is an opportunity to infuse a little joy into your business marketing.”

This article appears in the August 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

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