Chaper 2: The Origins and Evolution of Guerrilla Marketing

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(Check out our complete Guide to Guerrilla Marketing.)

In the first part of our series on guerrilla marketing we examined how the movement got its start and why it is so effective. Before that, we took a look at some of the most creative guerrilla marketing campaigns the world has ever seen. But now, if you’ll indulge us, we’d like you to step into our time machine. It’s 1987. The scene at the club is hectic. The lights are flashing, the music is thumping, and the hair is big and teased. The dance floor is a sea of acid wash jeans and Adidas mingling with huge plastic earrings and punky lace layers. Suddenly a gorgeous woman sidles up to the bar next to you and purrs “Buy me a drink?”

Since it’s the 80s and you’re up for anything, you happily agree. It’s a little weird when the woman insists on a very specific brand of vodka…and then goes on and on about why she loves that particular brand of vodka. Before you know it, she slips back into the crowd and you’re left alone at the bar, unfulfilled and a little confused but with a strange yen for the lady’s brand of vodka.

Dude, you’ve been guerrilla-d.

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The “buy me a drink” club girls of the 1980s were one of the earliest examples of guerrilla marketing in action. The tactic proved to be so effective that it’s still in use today. If you’re lucky enough to be in a targeted hotspot when a new liquor or energy drink comes out, you’re likely to see these guerrillas in the wild.

Around the same time as the “buy me a drink” girls, a struggling shoe company was desperate for an image overhaul. At one time, Adidas was on top of the world. They were popular with Olympic athletes who were all too happy to sing their praises. But after a series of management changes and a whole lot of upheaval, the company was in trouble.

In the mid 1980s, a French businessman named Bernard Tapie took over the company. He knew he had to do something drastic to get the shoe brand back on top. His answer? Give pairs of Adidas away to up-and-coming rappers in New York.

Tapie was no doubt called insane (and worse) for making that move. What did rappers have to do with shoes, anyway?

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As it turned out, one rap group brought Adidas back from the brink of extinction. In 1986, Run DMC put out a single called “My Adidas.” Practically overnight, Adidas shoes were on the feet of every hip young thing and wannabe from NYC to LA.

By today’s guerrilla marketing standards, the Adidas method probably wouldn’t work. With the tons of free products being sent to celebrities every day, the shoes would likely be lost in the shuffle and the business-saving phenomenon would never happen.

Because guerrilla marketing tactics become ineffective once the method is well-known, marketers have to keep moving and changing, bobbing and weaving, avoiding detection and blazing new trails. Their business
depends on stealth and the element of surprise.

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Since these early examples of guerrilla marketing, the personal approach to g-marketing tactics has spread to almost every industry. The most effective sales pitches aren’t made by an actor playing a role in a TV commercial. They’re made by the cute young couple who ask you to take their picture and hand you their brand new camera phone to do it…the spend 10 minutes telling you how much they love it and why. They’re made by the hot guy walking around the bar with the bright green drink and happily explaining what’s in it to anyone who looks interested.

This type of personal, one-on-one marketing has done wonders for a lot of small and struggling businesses. But what happens when an already-successful large business takes on a guerrilla approach? Does throwing money into a g-marketing campaign make it more or less effective? Be sure to tune in for the next installment in this six-part series on guerrilla marketing.

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See More of Our 8-Part Guerrilla Marketing Series:

Guerrilla Marketing 1: History of Guerrilla Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing 2: Origins and Evolution of Guerrilla Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing 3: Major Corporations Go for Guerrilla Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing 4: Guerrilla Marketing versus Viral Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing 5: Guerrilla Marketing for Good Causes
Guerrilla Marketing 6: 10 Types of Guerrilla Marketing
Guerrilla Marketing 7: Is Guerrilla Marketing Right for You?
Guerrilla Marketing 8: The Future of Guerrilla Marketing