Only a few years ago, when I presented guerrilla marketing strategies and tactics at conferences and seminars, I began by featuring two photo portraits that were flashed onto the overhead screen: Mao Tse-Tung and Sean “P Diddy” Combs. These two, I would say, are the godfathers of guerrilla marketing. This usually received a collective chuckle from the audience, but the juxtaposition of the two when describing guerrilla marketing was oddly compelling: Mao – and later Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara — codified strategies and tactics for guerrilla warfare and spread these methodologies throughout the world in wars for national liberation; P Diddy used them all in the ghetto boroughs of New York City to launch a multi-million dollar music, media, fashion and luxury goods empire that has become serious competition for traditional ad agencies, whose clients are wooed by his non-traditional approach to marketing.
There’s a distinct ethos that these two men bring to the emerging concept of guerrilla marketing that form two fundamental concepts to the way my company defines guerrilla marketing, and the reasons why guerrilla marketing is emerging as a major force in the marketing world. First, guerrilla marketing is “populace friendly.” It is based on people and winning these people over to the cause, “because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, [and] it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation.” Once the populace is on the side of the guerrillas, revolution will inexorably grow. Second, guerrilla marketing is “street friendly,” which means that the guerrilla marketing revolution is not fought on billboards, 30-second TV spots or fancy magazine spreads. It’s fought in the streets, where the consumer works, lives, plays and purchases.
Comb’s hip hop roots instinctively drew him to street-friendly aspect of guerrilla marketing. Realizing that New York City ghettos didn’t have HMV megastores for his potential consumers to sample his new artists – and discovering that commercial radio wasn’t willing to break unknown rappers from the ‘hood — Combs used guerrilla tactics to attack his market with a fleet of trucks outfitted with huge speakers, and spun his artists’ records on corners and block parties himself. If the street wasn’t going to come to him, he was going to come to the street. This ethos is especially palatable to the youth demographic – the present and future consumers, the so-called ‘prosumers’ — which is both idealistic enough to believe in the power of the individual, street-savvy enough to understand the power of grassroots activation and jaded enough to develop deep immunity to traditional mass marketing.
The brave new world of media overload, word-of-mouth frenzy and the white noise of commercialism is fertile ground for guerrilla marketing. Not surprisingly, guerrilla marketing has inexorably taken its place in this world as a methodology for companies and marketers to break through in a sea of competing messages and commercial pervasiveness, especially when targeting the younger generation of marketing-savvy consumers.