A Guerrilla Marketing Primer: How to trigger the Curiosity Reflex of the consumer

By Wyatt Duvall, CEO of Diversified Solutions, Inc.

Guerrilla marketing? What is it, you ask. That subject, my friends, is up for debate. Guerrilla marketing can take many forms. It can be a well-placed sticker on a lamppost. It can be a clearly visible stencil on the back side of a stop sign. It can be a discarded flyer lying face up in a trash can. One thing that guerrilla marketing is not — vandalism.

Vandalism is a false art practiced by the vain and the selfish, by poor planners and simpletons, by the reckless and the criminal minded. Guerrilla marketing is practiced by the determined, the calculating, the creative. Successful guerrilla marketing endeavors require patience and, most of all, planning.

However, such planning does not, in any way, deter spontaneity or adaptation. It is the belief among the more successful marketers at Diversified Solutions Inc. that a well constructed plan actually encourages deviation.

Often I’ve been approached by a novice marketer who complains about the strict guidelines imposed by DSI. The inexperienced guerrilla claims that such preparation undermines the subversive nature of the advertisement. But this is not true. So to the novice, I reply, imparting this simple rule: “You cannot break free from jail until the bars are in place and the cell doors have been locked.”

Yet, while careful planning is important to successfully carrying out a guerrilla marketing campaign, it is not, in and of itself, the campaign itself. However important planning is to a campaign’s success, it is preparation and nothing more. Guerrilla marketing is something else entirely.

So what is guerrilla marketing? Let us look at the components of a successful guerrilla marketing campaign.

One, a guerrilla marketing campaign must trigger the “Curiosity Reflex” of the intended target, the viewer. This could be your student on the way to class, your businessman on the way to a power lunch, your derelict looking for a handout. If a guerrilla marketing campaign fails at triggering the Curiosity Reflex, then it is little more than graffiti and no better than a child’s crayola doodlings on the bedroom wall.

Two, a guerrilla marketing campaign must remain relatively inexpensive.

Three, a guerrilla marketing campaign must have limited exposure.

Four, a guerrilla marketing campaign is carried out in secret.

Five, a guerrilla marketing campaign is a criminal act.

To begin, let us mention briefly the Curiosity Reflex. Like a guerrilla marketing campaign itself, the Curiosity Reflex is difficult to define, but its effects are clear. Viewers who are affected by a guerilla marketing effort approach the world with more enthusiasm than their counterparts. Because they have been confronted by a in-the-shadows guerrilla marketing campaign and, in turn, their Curiosity Reflexes have been aroused, they look at the world more intently. They see a clearer vision than their sleepy-eyed counterparts. For those who have had their Curiosity Reflex triggered, the world is a place of excitement where the next alleyway, the next light post, the next newspaper rack promises a wonderment of intellectual stimulation.

As a society, this behavior can only be beneficial, for individuals driven by their Curiosity Reflexes, individuals who crave intellectual stimulation, are known to be calm and collected. Although excitement courses through their veins, this excitement is primarily of an intellectual nature and, therefore, they are often in deep thought. When lost in this intellectual dreamland, an individual is less apt to act, and if human history has taught us anything, acting itself is often an act of violence.

What the citizens of the world need is a great slumber. Under the influence of our day-dream-inducing thoughts, reality itself becomes less real, and as such we have less reason to be attached to it. With our attachments abandoned, we can better judge our actions and the actions of others and see them for what they really are — the restless movements of a sleeping man in the throes of a nightmare. By allowing ourselves to truly fall asleep, we will be awakened. Our living nightmares will be forgotten as we drift by lost in our dreams. Only with our eyes shut, will we see.

With the discussion of the Curiosity Reflex out of the way, let us address the cost of carrying out a guerrilla marketing campaign. Although a campaign requires a financial investment on the part of the guerrilla marketer (spray paint, stickers, computer hardware/software, photocopying, time, etc…), guerrilla marketing efforts can be conducted with minimal investment. A stencil is only as expensive as a can of paint, a piece of cardboard, an Exacto knife, and a steady hand. Approximately 100-200 stickers can be purchased for $10-$20 dollars, making the price roughly that of a case of cheap beer.

Because guerrilla marketing avoids traditional advertorial avenues —newspapers, billboards, etc. — in favor of free ad space — storefronts, sidewalks, telephone poles — the financial risks are minimal. And since the cost of launching a campaign is low, guerrilla marketers are able to develop and adapt strategies and techniques as each new guerrilla marketing endeavor is attempted. (Note: the price of incarceration or a fine can be significantly higher than the cost of conducting a guerrilla marketing campaign. As such, guerrilla marketers must avoid apprehension at all cost. Think stealth.)

The low cost of carrying out a campaign has many benefits, but the most important may be this: because of the minimal investment, the success of an individual campaign cannot be gauged by whether or not the intended outcome of the marketer is realized. The low cost of a specific campaign allows for each episode to be a learning experience and any knowledge gained about guerrilla marketing is vastly more important than the success of a particular plan.

Let us consider this example of an apparently failed guerrilla marketing campaign. A banner made using nothing but a white sheet and some spray paint is hung from an overpass but is prematurely removed by an individual — let’s say, an officer of the law — or by Mother Nature  — the wind — before the banner can attract the intended amount of attention by the intended number of viewers. In the case that the banner is removed by a police officer, it must be noted that the banner succeeded in attracting the attention of that individual, so that when said individual comes across similar such guerrilla marketing advertisements, he or she will remember that particular campaign. In this way, even a failed campaign is a success. Unlike mass market campaigns, a guerrilla marketing campaign is won bit by bit, eyeball by eyeball. We ignore Super Bowls. We ignore the Oscars. We ignore presidencies.

In the case that Mother Nature removes the advertisement, perhaps the advertisement will find itself in the hands of a sanitation worker and/or a derelict who finds it on the side of the road. While a sanitation worker or a derelict might ultimately dispose of the advertisement, he or she will still take notice of it. As I’ve said many a time to the DSI board of directors, “Trash does not die for eternity. It is resurrected time and time again.” What you throw on the ground, may be blown across the street and been seen by another. Even if an individual does not pick it up, he or she may see enough of the guerrilla advertisement for it to leave an impression, no matter how small. As such, it is vitally important that marketers make sure that their campaign materials are eye-catching regardless of what physical condition they may be in when discovered by a viewer.

We are not trying to win over viewers immediately. We only want to trigger their Curiosity Reflex, and if that only means only subliminally, then we’ll take it. The next time that viewer comes face-to-face with that particular campaign, he or she will remember it, and its power will be felt more strongly than if the viewer had noticed it consciously the first time. Why? Because of the very nature of subconscious thought. Seeing the campaign for the second time, fully aware, the campaign will carry with it a sense of fate, of destiny. The viewer will recognize it, yet not recognize it, and he or she in turn will determine, however wrongly, that the campaign’s message came from inside his or her own mind and as such will embrace it as his or her own.

Now that we have discussed keeping costs to a minimum, let us address the issues of distribution and overexposure. Although guerrilla advertisements should be distributed in legion, they should be adequately spaced apart in their distribution. (We have recommended two or three city blocks between distribution points.) Overexposure of any guerilla marketing campaign nullifies the campaign’s ability to trigger the Curiosity Reflex of viewers. This is the Law of Overexposure, and this is where the techniques of a guerrilla marketer run counter to the techniques of the typical ad man on Madison Avenue. This is where we differ, for we believe that too much exposure robs the advertisement of its Curiosity Factor. Individuals must feel uniquely spoken to when they come across a guerrilla advertisement; they must feel as if they have found something unique. Guerrilla marketing works best when it is that glance down a deserted alleyway, which in turns inspires a second look. Capture their curiosity, and you’ve won them already.

Overexposure may be unavoidable, and for that, a guerrilla marketer must be prepared. As a campaign progresses, the amount of free ad space dwindles. Still, a guerrilla marketer can attempt to avoid overexposure by picking up more distribution points in other areas — cities, colleges, malls, stadiums, etc. — or by setting up sister chapters in other locales. Ideally, if a guerrilla marketing campaign reaches a stage of overexposure, the individual guerrilla marketer will have found a way to profit from his or her endeavor — stickers, T-shirts, informational packets, etc. If financial gain as the result of a guerrilla marketing campaign is out of the question for personal and/or political reasons, then the only other way to continue a campaign is to sufficiently trigger the Inspiration Nerve in other like-minded individuals, convincing them to adopt the specific marketing campaign and spread it themselves at no cost to the guerrilla marketer who initially launched the campaign.

As for the matter of stealth, this is of the utmost importance. To be seen actively placing a guerrilla advertisement is to seriously diminish the power of the campaign. An individual who comes across a sticker seemingly by chance is more likely to have his or her Curiosity Reflex stimulated than an individual who sees a guerrilla marketer place an advertisement. The key here is curiosity — the unknown. Who placed this? What does it mean? Why is it here? If an individual spots you in action, wearing a pair of beat up shoes, ragged jeans, a wrinkled T-shirt, stumbling about in a drunken gait, then all mystery is removed. A successful advertisement must cause an individual to wonder what manner of man, woman, or child would place such an advertisement. The mental image of guerrilla marketer in the mind of the viewer must be of a person unlike no other —  a superman, a superwoman — in order to trip the Inspiration Nerve of the random viewer. If this does not happen, the viewer will have nothing to aspire to, no superman or superwoman to become.

The final characteristic that will be discussed is the comfort that a guerrilla marketer must have in breaking the law. Now, this does not mean that a successful guerrilla marketer must be fearless. Far from it. Fear is a much-needed catalyst for caution, which in turn, walks hand-in-hand with stealth. An individual guerrilla marketer must accept that what he or she is doing is against the law, and capture will bring about some form of punishment — whether it be a verbal warning, a monetary fine, or temporary incarceration. If an individual is unable to come to terms with this, then the most profitable avenues of guerrilla marketing will be blocked and the individual will be forced to either abandon the campaign or venture into the high-priced work of traditional advertising. (Note: Apprehension by law enforcement officials or private individuals means you and your campaign have been discovered. The mystery is removed. There is no curiosity. The campaign has failed.)

In total, a guerrilla marketing campaign must be thoroughly planned, yet be flexible enough to be changed at a moment’s notice. 1.) The best way to ensure this is to keep all operating costs at a minimum. 2.) A guerrilla marketing campaign must be creative in order to trigger the Curiosity Reflex. 3.) A guerrilla marketing campaign must be carried out in secret if it is to trigger either the Curiosity Reflex or the Inspiration Nerve. 4.) A successful guerrilla marketing campaign must minimize overexposure. 5.) A guerrilla marketing campaign must be conducted with the full-awareness that you, the marketer, are committing a crime, and therefore, you have more reason to keep your guerrilla marketing campaign a secret. Preserve the mystery.

So now our discussion has come to an end. As to what guerrilla marketing is, I still have not answered that question, nor will I. It is best left unknown. However, one point on which readers of this essay must absolutely understand is that not everyone who is inspired by this text is capable of launching their own guerrilla marketing campaign. Before embarking on a campaign, you, the would-be guerrilla marketer, must conduct a period of intense and honest soul-searching. If you have the creative talents to engage in a campaign, then feel free to mark your ad space and select your distribution points. If you lack somewhat in the creativity department, but know a good campaign from a bad campaign, feel free to borrow a guerrilla marketing campaign from another. It is no crime to be inspired. If you neither possess the creative or judgmental talents necessary to wage a campaign, then we suggest you abandon any such pursuit. You will only face embarrassment and ridicule.