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Guerrilla Through The Ages

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Kommando was the UK’s first guerrilla marketing agency, and with over 15 years in the industry and a client roster to shout about, our MD, Mark has a few insights into the art of guerrilla to share. Here’s what he had to say on the subject:


Guerrilla marketing can sometimes be perceived as a complex and ineffective method of marketing and is often sold as this by traditional agencies so that they can guard and protect their own methods.

Unfortunately, this means that it can be easy to miss the benefits of guerrilla marketing both as a standalone activity and as a way of supporting wider campaigns. Before bringing you bang up to date on guerrilla marketing in 2015, I’ll walk you through the history of guerrilla, starting way back in the Roman Times…


How were people in Roman Times successful in informing and capturing the attention of their target audiences without the media platforms and technology we have today?

Fly posting, stealth marketing and even early forms of social marketing were some of the keys ways to communicate essential messages. For example, they would fill the coliseums and send ranks of the Roman Armies in to seed stories of great battles and glory that never existed, whetting the appetites of young men at enlistment age. Through the power of word of mouth, whispers of fictitious battles and the great rewards of being a Roman soldier became amplified into stories of conquest, treasure and easy love with no mention of the darker realities of war.


As advertising grew from the simple fly post to full street parades of captured beasts promoting the likes of Caesar’s blood theatres and war enactments, the ‘brand experience’ was born.

In encouraging people to buy into brands and products, Caesar was masterful; free loaves of bread were often handed out to poorer sections in the coliseums, building future audience loyalty to the arena in question.


Fast-forward to Barnum’s Circus in the 1870’s and we see the use of brand experience and live marketing to drive business and inject branded messages into villages and towns. The master of self PR, Barnum used stunts and buzz (think along the lines of twoheaded ladies and werewolves) to create press coverage and distributed leaflets and free sweets to his target audience of children and mums.

Barnum required high numbers of paying punters in a short period of time to be successful. With little time to get the message out there, it was his guerrilla actions that allowed him to achieve his aims, using every means of communication available to him to work for his brand and sell his story to the consumer.


The arrival of the swinging sixties brought the birth of mass media and we saw the end of boutique agencies and the rise of the ad agency, signifying the end of “touch and feel marketing” and the evolution of one message fits all.

Have you ever seen the Monty Python sketch where the woman in the café gives her menu to the diner and says “you can have spam, chips and egg; chips, egg and spam; or egg, spam and chips!”?; I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this… “TV, press and outdoor; press, outdoor and TV; outdoor, TV and press”… This approach may have worked well then, however bear in mind there were only 2 or 3 TV channels back then and with families crowded around the screen every night it was pretty much a given that they would see the ads as well as their programmes. Introduce fragmented family culture, 100’s of new TV channels, the facility to fast-forward and the arrival of the internet and everything changes...



With the marketing landscape dominated by the big media houses, guerrilla marketing became tarnished through its association with the likes of illegal fly posting and flyering and in turn any company who thought like a guerrilla also suffered from this misconception.


Finally, we have begun to see this fog lifting as more brands and agencies turn to guerrilla to promote their messages in a stand-out way. Successful marketing doesn’t always come with big budget TV and press ads – by using the entire marketing mix and employing methods such as guerrilla, experiential and social media to drive activity, the return on engagement is as rewarding today as the return on investment was yesterday.


At 26 I owned and launched one of the UK’s first super dance clubs in an old sea life centre slap bang on a beach in sunny Scotland. To attract the high footfall I needed, I decided to go for instant credibility by using a medium risk PR angle with viral activity on the ground and casting my customer net further afield; making my business a destination and experience driven model instead of a local only attraction.


With a low budget, my mass media access was low so I used my guerrilla mind, mixing up everything I had available to me to create noise above the other businesses who were padding along with repeat local press and radio ads.


My strategy began with finding a subject that the press and media were hooked on and hijacking it, tying it in with my launch campaign. The perfect subject came in the form of the film ‘Independence Day’, a story of the world being taken over by alien invasion which at the time was captivating young minds on all things “out of this world”. Using the ‘Independence Day’ angle meant that my strategy was born from public emotions delivered by the big screen and mass media; the emotional part was already there, I just had to get their attention and drive the all important footfall. Planning and timing was essential; while my decisions weren’t exactly life or death, getting it wrong would have cost the best part of £1million.


To create buzz in the run up to the launch I hired a team of actors wearing a wardrobe of extreme clothing and masks;  guys covered in red body paint on dog leads being walked by stilt-walkers who distributed posters, flyers and free CD’s as a taster of the music to be played in the club.


Momentum started to build and a buzz was created stretching  beyond PR. The brand was created from the ground up – not from the airwaves down, and it really connected with the target audience.  The hype and chatter drove enthusiasm for the pre-launch night – the date and time of which was detailed on the flyers promising that “something out of this world” was set to take place.


When the pre-launch night came I aimed 8 beam searchlights I had purchased at the conveniently low misty cloud cover and switched the lights on.  The weather conditions were ideal so the lights showed up perfectly; mission accomplished.


That night I used my guerrilla mind to create something so unique, on brand and targeted that BBC, Sky and almost every red top newspaper reported on suspicious ‘alien like’ moving white circles in the clouds above Glasgow and the West Coast of Scotland. Cars drove to chase the lights and people filmed and photographed it in the street; if social media had been in full swing back then who knows what extra coverage I would have enjoyed, but for a budget of £13,000 returning in excess of £1m PR value I was happy.

Thinking guerrilla can result in a more creative approach to growing your business. With the rise of social networks and media, the boom of blog and a new generation of media savvy people, I predict we will begin to see the demise of the integrated agency. As the marketing toolkit gets bigger, it becomes more and more difficult for one agency to provide the entire marketing solution.

As we look ahead, I hope that you will initiate YOUR guerrilla mind and confidently explore the full and exciting range of opportunities to communicate your marketing objectives, allowing you to enjoy the success it offers.

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