Ian Lloyd Neubauer
Nov 27, 2017

Event marketing goes guerrilla

Seven low-cost guerrilla marketing stunts you can replicate at your next event.

Event marketing goes guerrilla

A marketing strategy plays a critical role in the event-planning process, but after venue hire, travel costs, entertainment and theming, there’s not always a lot of cash leftover for a marketing budget.

Cue guerrilla marketing, where clever tactics and a little creativity can elevate a brand, product, or event without breaking the bank. Here are Seven low-cost guerrilla marketing stunts you can replicate at your next event:

Getting creative with props

From sponsoring a skydiver who jumped from the edge of space in a glider to racing a branded Formula 1 car against a fighter jet, Red Bull is the godfather of guerrilla marketing. “The brand marketing strategy translates to ‘We are with you and one of you’, rather than ‘Buy this because it’s awesome’,” writes social psychologist Jennifer Aaker in her book The Dragonfly Effect.

In Hong Kong, Red Bull draws blood from the same vein using low-cost props. “At a recent event called Red Bull X-Fighters Jams—a trick motorbike event—we set up motorbikes in busy city areas with a backdrop and people got the chance to pose on the bikes and post photos on social media,” says Billy Potts of Handsome Co, Red Bull’s advertising agency in Hong Kong. “We also printed invitations that looked like parking tickets and put them on people’s cars. It was quite polarising, but motorists took the joke well and it was talked about a lot on Facebook.”

Piggybacking off other events

Every year, Adidas spends six figures sponsoring the Boston Marathon. But rival shoemaker New Balance gets a similar level of exposure at the same event at a fraction of the cost. How? By buying up advertising space on bus shelters, race barricades and subway stations along the marathon’s route. This year New Balance also released a Boston-themed running shoe—the Fresh Foam Zante v3 Boston—in the run-up to the marathon, and flooded news of its release on social media.

“Our focus is on being where runners are and that’s a focus shared by our competitors. So any major event that is going to see runners aggregated is a fertile opportunity for us to communicate,” Jeff McAdams, marketing head at New Balance, told Runners World magazine.

Dell pulled off a similar stunt during rival Hewlett Packard’s annual conference at the Boston Convention Centre last September when it dressed promotional staff in black bodysuits and got them to wave large white balloons with Dell talking points like ‘#1 in secure business laptops’.

Digital marketing tool... Snapchat's geofilters

Snapchat’s on-demand geofilters

A new digital marketing tool on Snapchat—the fastest growing social media network in the world— On-Demand Geofilters allow Snapchatters to easily to share your branding, logos or other promotional content with followers or friends from a fixed geographical place.

Geofilters can be made in minutes by choosing themes, fonts and colours, and are cheap—starting at US$5 for 30 minutes, but can cost thousands depending on time and the size of your elected ‘geofence’—the geographic area covered. And because there are no ‘geoborders’ in the Snapchat universe, you can go guerrilla and establish geofilters at other events.

When New Balance used Snapchat Custom Geofilters for the first time at the Boston Marathon this year, tens of thousands of Snapchatters near the finish line framed—and shared—their images in a New Balance customised frame.

Making headlines

According to Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), editorial coverage is three times more valuable than advertising. But getting journalists to report on your event or even reply to your emails can be challenging, and is the reason the public relations industry exists. The trick to getting journalists to pay attention is to give them a scoop—some kind of ‘hook’ or a story with sensationalism or widespread appeal.

Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best job in the world’ campaign is a textbook example. A series of classified advertisements looking for someone to work as a caretaker/blogger on a tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef on a generous US$150,000 salary, the campaign generated a whopping 46,000 placements in the mainstream media. Estimated market reach was 3 billion—almost half the population of the entire world—with an AVE of US$260 million on the back of a total spend of just US$1.2 million.

'Best job' candidates help generate content and media coverage

Going viral

In a world where consumers have grown immune
to traditional advertising, going viral online and on social media is a low-cost hacker’s alternative to the old blanket media spend. Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best job in the world’ website attracted 6.8 million unique monthly visitors with 54 million page views. By the time it wrapped up, half a million people had voted online to choose which of the 34,684 applicants should get the island caretaker’s role.

That person was Ben Southall, a one-time amateur videographer turned digital marketing pop savant who now works as Tourism Queensland’s ‘adventurer in residence’.

“I think it was an early example of adopting and embracing social media platforms,” Southall says. “Until then, things like Facebook and YouTube were just being used for personal communication. But the ‘Best job in the world’ made everyone see social media as a very strong digital marketing tool. Now, everyone has to do it.”

Flash mobs

When flash mobs emerged in the late 1990s they were just for fun—people who’d connected through a club, online or via text messaging would come together in public to do a synchronised dance and then melt back into the crowd.
 But another decade would pass until the commercial value of the flash mob became manifest with the convergence of three new technologies: smartphones, social media and video-streaming technology such as YouTube.

German mobile phone giant T-Mobile was the first cab off the rank in 2009 with a TV commercial of a flash mob at a London train station where bystanders recorded the experience on their phones to sent it to friends with the tagline ‘Life’s for sharing’.

In the same year, Saatchi & Saatchi created one of the most memorable flash-mob campaigns in history when it dispatched an army of 500 people on Hoppers (air-filled balls you bounce around on) to invade the streets of Barcelona for a TV commercial for Sony Ericsson—showing flash mobs need not involve dancing. How about a flash mob of ninjas staging a mock battle at a product launch? Or a Star Wars flash mob to give delegates at a software event something to talk about and share online?

Red Bull events encourage social media sharing


In 1987, Red Bull paid a team of energetic, young promotional staff to walk around the streets of Vienna handing out free cans of Red Bull from unmissable attention-getting Red Bull backpacks. The tactic was so successful at converting the unconverted that Red Bull took it global. The brand now employs an army of 3,000 samplers in 171 countries who spend their days “winning the hearts and minds of Red Bull consumers through highly personalised interactions”.

Giveaways are also key to New Balance’s annual assault on the Boston Marathon, where it hires a small army of promotional staff to hand out T-shirts and merchandise. Giving free stuff to people, as these superbrands show, is a surefire way to get peoples’ attention. Giveaways are also the cornerstone of the influencer phenomenon on social media, where people with large numbers of online followers receive complimentary goods or services in exchange for endorsements on social media. 

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