Shock Tactics: The Good, Bad & Ugly Side of Guerrilla Marketing


Guerrilla marketing is the perfect advertising strategy for a small business trying to gain some serious traction. With a little bit of creativity, elbow-grease and a big willingness to take risks, this low-cost, unconventional tactic can yield mega results.

Of course, with something as provocative as a guerrilla marketing campaign, plenty of things can go wrong. We’ve gathered a few well-known examples of the good, bad and ugly side of guerrilla marketing and broken down what you can learn from them.

A good guerrilla marketing campaign evokes a gut reaction – that’s what makes both it and your company memorable.

Earlier this year, Londoners crowded around what appeared to be a Range Rover covered in a spurned lover’s accusations. Phrases like, ‘hope she was worth it’ and ‘cheater’ were spray painted all over the car in bright red paint as it drove through one of London’s wealthiest areas. A dash cam revealed crowds of people who just couldn’t get enough of the spectacle, whipping out their phones to get a picture or record video. These pictures and videos quickly went viral.



In reality, the stunt was a collaboration between auto-design company, R-Tec and Revere London, a luxury car supplier. The stunt served its purpose and served it well, as it attracted global attention to the car, R-Tec and Revere. The best part? All they had to do was drive around for a couple hours (the spray paint was in fact plasti-dip, so no cars were harmed in the making of the stunt).

Lesson: Aim to get a reaction, and make it a good one. In this case, everyone could relate to both sides of the story. Find an emotion you’d like to tap into and go for it. Also, remember to keep it simple; a bit of paint and a good driver was all it took to bring this campaign to life and it created a major impact. Finally, be strategic; both R-Tec and Revere cater to a luxury customer so it made sense to pull a stunt like this in a neighborhood teeming with their target demographic.

Telecommunications company, Vodaphone is a famous example of how guerrilla marketing can backfire. In 2002, the company hired two men to streak, wearing nothing but the Vodaphone logo painted on their backs, across the field during a major Australian rugby match. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fans were upset at the disruption and ultimately, the streakers were apprehended and fined. While Vodaphone managed to garner worldwide press, most of it erred on the negative side.

Lesson: Vodaphone made several mistakes, one being not ensuring the safety of the ones carrying out the stunts. While guerrilla marketing is typically unregulated, try not to get anyone fined or thrown in jail. Also, disrupting a major event is probably not the way to go either – create your own event! Try putting a smile on people’s faces while they’re out and about enjoying a sunny day, not while they’re concentrating on rooting for their favorite sports team.

While the above example still had a silver lining – after all of that, Vodaphone gained a reputation as being risk-takers – not all attempts necessarily will. It’s important to read your audience and the overall social climate as well. Not doing so can mean major trouble. Back in 2007, The Cartoon Network learned this the hard way. Not taking into consideration the public’s heightened awareness to danger (lingering effects post-9/11), the cable station foolishly planted dozens of blinking, electronic placards around several cities as part of a campaign promoting a new show. The campaign quickly went sour as residents mistook them for explosives and called the police, turning what might’ve been a harmless stunt into a full-blown terrorism scare. Ultimately, the stunt resulted in a $2 million bill (for costs incurred during the incident) and the head of the station’s resignation.

Lesson: While these outlandish stunts are meant to seem on-the-fly, a LOT of thinking needs to go behind them. Take risks, yes, but be sure to account for anything that can possibly go wrong. If the example above is an even remotely possible worst case scenario, re-think your strategy.

Experiential Marketing is just one of the many branches of Guerrilla Marketing tactics, read more about it below!