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Guerilla Marketing– The 10 Worst Campaigns of all Time!

Guerrilla-marketing is an unconventional marketing strategy that involves the promotion of a product or service in a non-traditional marketing manner and with limited or little funds but I assure you that it is no way related to the popular warfare style! I can pledge this with conformity and with Ho Chi Mi’s blessings! 

The core objective of any marketing strategy is to create, keep and satisfy the customers. Since its inception, businesses far-and-wide started to utilise its various attributes in order to garner consumers for their offerings. But, its genesis too has a pretty interesting dark story. 

A Brief yet Enthralling History

Marketing and advertising traces its roots back to Egypt in the 4000 BC where the early Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters. However, the concept never really reverberated until the 1900s. In the early 60s, advertising was being undertaken by businesses via mass campaigns utilising media channels like the radio and the print. Yet, by the late 80s, customer interest was already dwindling due to desperate Agencies and lack of creative campaigns. The fate of marketing was not nurturing much optimism and hence, forcing the industry stalwarts to look for a new and better approach to re-spawn consumer interest. 

In 1984, in order to combat the traditional forms of marketing, marketer Jay Conrad Levinson coined the term guerilla marketing in his book with the same name. In his book, he went on to describe guerrilla marketing as an unconventional form of advertising within a small budget. It was something that the realm of advertising needed desperately in order to bounce back in the game! 

“Guerrilla marketing requires you to comprehend every facet of marketing, experiment with many of them, winnow out the losers, double up on the winners, and then use the marketing tactics that prove themselves to you in the battleground of real life”- Jay Conrad Levinson. Rightfully so, this form of marketing involves the use of marketing props and unconventional advertising tactics in real world scenarios like public places and crowd-intensive areas to generate a buzz and try to build a personal connect between the consumers and the concerned brand. 

Simplifying Guerrilla Marketing and Exemplary Samples

The key to any successful guerilla marketing strategy is the connection that it builds with the emotions of the consumers. I understand that its concept can get confusing at times without proper examples and thus, I will be providing you with a few of the same.  

One of my favourite brands, Coca Cola came up with a unique concept in 2010 to connect with the happiness quotient of its customers. It collaborated with Definition 6, a creative advertising firm and came up with a “sui generis” vending machine called the Happiness Machine. They strategically placed those machines across varied geographical locations by replacing their regular vending machines. When the customers approached to buy a drink, they were pleasantly surprised with a reward, which involved extra cokes to surfboards and pizzas! It was a definitive and successful example of guerrilla marketing that resulted in a 7% increase in sales for the company in the next quarter. 

The top ten Disastrous examples of Guerrilla Marketing

“Not every shiny object is gold; you might never know that the metal is gold-plated.” True to the saying, guerilla marketing doesn’t always ensure the desired results. There are ample instances when a well-formulated campaign have misfired and produced results that did everything but benefiting the brand. 

Here is a list of all those guerrilla-marketing campaigns that have backfired on the brand in ways that the fabricators have never imagined: 

  • The Boston Bomb Scare: No discussion of guerrilla marketing gone wrong can be complete without the mentioning of Cartoon Networks’ Boston Bomb Scare. In 2007, Cartoon Network decided to put up several LED signs around Boston designed to promote the channel’s upcoming show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The pubic mistakenly comprehended the signs as intricate explosives as a continuation to the 9/11 massacre. It was a terrible idea and Turner Broadcasting, who is the owner of the channel, paid millions of dollars to the city police and Homeland Security in order to resolve the matter. 
  • The “Crippleware” Zune: Since its release, the public never really accepted the Microsoft Zune. At one point, it seemed that the Zune had more haters than fans, which apparently included some police officers in Austin, Texas as well.  In a desperate attempt to market the Zune, Microsoft assigned an individual to poster guerrilla advertisements of the same across Austin. However, the person was soon handcuffed and detained by the authorities. What’s funny is that a police officer was heard saying- ”We’ll have none of your advertising for your DRM CRIPPLEWARE crappy mp3 player littering our town.” Ouch! Microsoft didn’t see that coming! 

  • The Tutu Wearing Prankster: During the 2004 Athens games, a Canadian man wearing a “tutu” jumped into an Olympic pool in an attempt to market an online gaming website. Needless to say, things didn’t turn to his tide afterwards. He was convicted of various counts of trespassing and disturbance and was sentenced to multiple months of imprisonment in a Greek prison. 
  • Consumers at risk: tried to conduct a guerrilla marketing campaign by hiring a group of people to hold a gargantuan sign on a Seattle overpass. If one of them slipped, the sign would have fallen on the commuters below and could have turned out to be a disaster. The campaign didn’t bring any positive results for the brand and the site’s management posted a public apology a few days later to the incident. 
  • The Pozzle Arrest: New Yorker Rich Tu in an attempt to market his event management application called Pozzle, ended up in a 24-hour imprisonment in one of the city’s police stations. Tu along with his cofounder attempted to post 1000 stickers across the city bearing the application’s logo but soon founded that the authorities didn’t quite like his idea. After postering around 500 of them, he and his cofounder were detained by New York police and went on to spend a night at one of its prisons for several counts of violation of public properties. 
  • NVIDIA’s fake posts: Few years back, NVIDIA tried to run a guerrilla marketing campaign that involved spamming various online forums with positive user reviews of their products. They even hired some individuals to pose as users and do the necessity. The internet didn’t take these actions lightly and the public retaliated forcing the company’s officials to stop doing the same.
  • All I want for Xmas is a PSP: In the Christmas of 2006, Sony tried to market it’s recently launched PSP by creating a fake blog called “ALL I WANT FOR XMAS IS A PSP”, allegedly written by some teen called Charlie who seemed to try and convince the parents of his pal Jeremy to get them PSPs. Many blogger smelled something fishy and traced the site’s domain, which was found to be registered to guerrilla marketing company, Zipatoni. Sony soon deleted the site and saved itself from the public’s retaliation. 
  • The Melting Popsicle: In 2005, Snapple attempted to conduct a guerrilla marketing campaign as well as a world record by trying to erect the largest popsicle ever on New York’s Time Square. The 25-foot frozen popsicle was made of Snapple juice and weighed around 17.5 tonnes on an 80-degree June day. Needless to say, it soon melted flooding Downtown Manhattan with kiwi-strawberry Snapple juice.

  • The Impossible Mission Impossible: In 2006, Paramount pictures found out that it was better to not mess with a person’s daily newspaper. Trying to promote its upcoming release, “The Mission Impossible III”, the renowned studio put small Red musical boxes in 4,500 L.A. Times issues. The reaction was far from what they have imagined. There were numerous panic calls made to the Homeland Security about possible bombs distributed via the paper. There was one instance where the Santa Clarita bomb squad was called up.   
  • Heart Attack grill: L.A. based heart attack grill soon found that naming their menu after ailments was not a good idea after all. At one instance, a customer suffered a cardiac arrest while eating their “Bypass Burger” while the rest of the diners cheered thinking that it was a marketing gimmick. 

Any marketing strategy remains incomplete without proper research and analysis of the target market. All the above instances mentioned by me display the lack of proper research before conducting the campaign. Since, guerrilla marketing involves performing campaigns at real-world scenarios, proper market study is a mandate before embarking on a visionary endeavour. 


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Guerilla Marketing– The 10 Worst Campaigns of all Time!