Updated June 12, 2023
Introduction to Guerilla Marketing vs Viral Marketing
Guerilla Marketing vs. Viral Marketing – It is common to find words or terms from other disciplines to enter the management domain ambush. Marketing terms like strategic and tactical marketing, guerilla marketing, and viral marketing are borrowed from military warfare and medicine/IT fields respectively.
Traditional media such as television, newspapers, magazines, and radio focus on creating brand awareness through good-quality creativity. Some may have used animation and humor to attract readers and viewers. But the primary purpose was to build brand awareness and increase sales, not to engage or entertain consumers.
To combat competition, recessionary conditions, and limited budgets, marketers must innovate cost-effective tactics to gain attention from small and medium enterprises. Two such strategies are:- Guerilla and viral marketing, both quite unconventional. The success of attention seekers depends on fast spreading via word-of-mouth or social media.
Jay Conrad coined guerilla marketing in his 1984 book Guerilla Advertising. It was borrowed from guerilla warfare adopted by armed civilians. It is quite irregular warfare that includes ambushes, sabotage, raids, and elements of surprise.
Guerilla marketing is unconventional and confronts competition directly. It often surprises and engages the targeted consumer. Guerilla marketing campaigns must exercise caution to prevent backfiring. Misinterpretation by people or regulatory agencies may occur if the creative spirit and humor are not understood. Balancing creativity and sensitivity is crucial for successful guerilla marketing campaigns.
The 2007 Boston bomb scare was caused by Turner Broadcasting’s viral marketing campaign to promote a film featuring a Cartoon Network show called Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Turner Broadcasting partnered with Interference, Inc. to place LED placards resembling the ‘Mooninite’ character from the show in Boston and surrounding cities. These placards would light up at night, showing the ‘Mooninite’ character giving the middle finger. However, due to their resemblance to explosive devices, the campaign caused a scare and resulted in a costly $2 million expense for Turner Broadcasting and Interference Inc.
If used wisely, guerilla marketing can pay rich dividends, as happened in the case of The Blair Witch Project.
The University of Central Florida Film program graduates used an internet campaign to spread rumors about the Blair Witch legend, creating a sensation even before the release of the psychological horror film. The campaign involved a website claiming that student filmmakers had disappeared while shooting a documentary, generating intrigue and curiosity among audiences. The Blair Witch campaign grossed $248,639,099 worldwide, showcasing the power of creative marketing tactics. Orangetheory Fitness Canada utilized ghost bike-inspired orange-painted bicycles as a marketing strategy to evoke emotions and create a memorable experience. Unconventional marketing campaigns, such as these examples, can generate buzz, capture attention, and lead to successful outcomes when executed effectively.
Following social media protests, the Florida-based firm’s London franchisee withdrew the campaign. However, the campaign had worked in 98% of the markets they tried, according to Hifa Maleki, Senior Director of Orangetheory Fitness Canada. It was successful in Chicago, Vancouver, Seattle, Barrie, Newmarket, and Waterloo.
In 2011, a Coca-Cola truck roamed the streets in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and onlookers who pressed a special red button got unique gifts. It ranged from a beverage to a surfboard spreading happiness around.
The virus spreads in the human body when the immune system weakens, in computers when executing virus programs. Viral marketing spreads messages/branding via social media, newspapers, and electronic media.
There should be humor, a human interest element, a surprise, or some sensational content to be ‘viral.’ The most quoted viral campaign is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People had to pour a bucket of ice water on themselves, capture them on video, and tag friends to join in. Soon celebrities like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Martha Stewart, among others, endorsed the campaign meant for charity.
Comparative look at Guerilla and Viral Marketing
Guerilla and Viral marketing fall into unconventional marketing techniques companies adopt to get noticed. Sometimes it is used to complement its mass media campaigns. Still, these unconventional methods may be the ticket to entering the big league for small and medium enterprises with lower marketing budgets.
Here is an attempt to discover the similarities and differences between guerilla and viral marketing.
1. Surprise and Bewilderment
Renault’s Megane campaign in Belgium used surprise, awe, and cutting-edge technology to create a viral marketing campaign. Real-life experiences, facial recognition software, and incentives for consumer opinions increased website traffic and engagement, standing out from traditional methods and generating buzz.
Similarly, Red Bull’s viral campaigns have been known for their ability to captivate audiences with surprising and awe-inspiring stunts. From dropping a Toro Rosso F1 car from a helicopter onto a ski slope and racing it, to orchestrating extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking skydiving jump from the stratosphere, Red Bull has successfully grabbed attention and generated millions of views on YouTube. These unexpected and thrilling campaigns align with what markets desire – shock, excitement, and bewilderment – making them memorable and shareable, further establishing Red Bull as a brand that knows how to create viral marketing campaigns that get people talking.
2. They are More Suited for Small and Medium Businesses
Guerilla and viral marketing have gained popularity due to their cost-effectiveness. A successful viral campaign may only require an amateur handycam, a mobile camera, and some presence of mind to capture and share events on YouTube and social media. Using viral campaigns can help companies get noticed, differentiate from the competition, and generate fun and entertaining content. Although larger companies like Samsung, Red Bull, Turner Broadcasting, Vodafone, and Coca-Cola have utilized viral marketing, it is also applicable to small and medium-sized companies.
3. The Campaign Should not Offend Cultural Sentiments
The Orangetheory Fitness Canada franchisee in London had to backtrack on its orange cycle campaign as people began connecting it with placing cycles in memorials of dead cyclists. Although this campaign was successful in some other markets, it received criticism in social media in the UK. Therefore, the cultural context and local religious and ethnic differences can impact the success of a viral and guerilla campaign.
4. They Reflect Real Life, Most Events on the Road, Air, or Water
Unlike scripted mass media campaigns such as guerilla marketing, which are shot in studio settings and edited, viral campaigns are often unscripted or loosely scripted, with the strategy outlined in detail. For example, Red Bull and Coca-Cola have both created viral campaigns that took place in unconventional settings, such as in the air or on the streets. An example of a successful viral campaign is Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Machine” at St. John’s University in January 2010, which captured students’ reactions on hidden cameras and went viral on YouTube with 4.5 million views. This campaign even won the prestigious CLIO Gold Interactive Award.
5. There Should be a Brand Connect
Humor, surprise, bewilderment, and shock will not bring the desired result without customers connecting with the promoted brand. Customers may enjoy humor, but it might not result in increased sales.
Kellogg’s ReTweet to Feed a Hungry Child campaign failed in the UK, and the company had to apologize. Despite the company’s involvement in charitable activities and its reputation, people thought it was holding the hunger of children hostage as part of a viral campaign. There was no inherent message or brand connection that consumers could appreciate.
6. Involvement of People Important
In Viral and Guerilla campaigns, the involvement of the people in the street is more important than anything else. A New York City-based Pretzel Company that makes sandwiches hit on a novel campaign by placing tiny sandwich boards around town announcing the new menu item. It encouraged people to take pictures and share them on social media. In the process, they earned discounts for their sandwich purchases. It was so successful that sandwiches are now a hot-selling item for Pretzel.
7. It’s Not About Money Alone, but a Noble Cause
Viral campaigns, like ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, leverage social media and celebrity endorsements for noble causes. Likewise, the Medecins Du Monde campaign pulled off one of the cleverest and most altruistic grassroots marketing efforts by highlighting the plight of the homeless in Paris. The humanitarian organization distributed 300 ‘ two-second tents’ to destitute Parisians sleeping outdoors. The prefab shelter with Medecins du Monde logo drew attention to the number of homeless, and authorities acted quickly to approve $10 mn for emergency housing. During one of the worst floods in history in the south Indian city of Chennai, Ola Cabs ferried boats to transport people stranded in different places and also for emergency relief.
8. No Formula for Success
All forms of unconventional marketing have no success formulas. The outcome is unpredictable, and a lot depends on the creativity behind it and the cultural context in which we deploy it. However, it can save money on advertisement costs and provide a better return on investment (ROI). According to Ryan Lum, founder, and editor of Creative Guerilla Marketing, America spends $250 bn annually on marketing and advertising. In this context, unconventional methods such as guerilla marketing are advertising with a wink, dirt cheap, and full of trickery.
Guerilla campaigns focus on events that take place on the streets and generate word-of-mouth and social media buzz, while viral marketing heavily relies on social media to gain visibility.
Sports events, films, favorite tv commercials, and trade shows have become favorite places for brands to launch innovative campaigns. PRWeek reported that this year’s Super Bowl would be no exception. Outside of the US, the UK is the country tweeting most about the event. From the marketing point of view, its reach has become phenomenal but not as much as the $3.2bn global TV reach of the soccer World Cup. It could emerge as an event that could witness several unconventional marketing strategies, such as guerilla, ambush, and viral.
This is a guide to Guerilla Marketing vs. Viral Marketing. Here we have discussed basic concepts, similarities, and differences between Guerilla and viral marketing. You may look at the following articles to learn more –