“Guerrilla marketing” is an increasingly potent force in nonprofit internet strategy. First coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in a 1983 book of the same name, the term describes a system of marketing which uses effort and ingenuity, in lieu of money, to get a message across. Thanks to its unorthodox methods and aided in large part by YouTube and other free video hosting sites, the phrase has become a bona fide marketing term. Common trademarks of guerrilla marketing include viewer interaction, the element of surprise and precision timing.
One popular example of guerrilla marketing is the flash mob. A group of people is assembled, often following online or Twitter requests for volunteers, and trained to enact a particular routine at a scheduled time and place, with the objective to shock and amaze unsuspecting passersby, creating curiosity about the cause and leaving them with a memorable image. Mobile phones make elaborate flash mobs a possibility, allowing organizers to stay in touch with volunteers for minute-to-minute instruction, and document the event with photos and video. One recent example of a flash mob in action occurred in Times Square, where literally hundreds of people broke out into a dance routine during a Black Eyed Peas performance to kick off the 24th season of Oprah’s show. Not exactly charity, but touching nonetheless.
Other guerrilla marketing campaigns make alterations to the natural or urban environment that sync up with passersby in attention-grabbing ways, such as an ad advocating weight loss in the form of a decal affixed to the back of public seats, depicting a large, bare rear end. A similar idea was used by the South African charity Feed SA, where stickers were placed at the bottoms of shopping carts showing poor children holding up their hands to receive food. Other examples include beer bottle caps imprinted with the words “Don’t drink and drive” and a tree stump tissue dispenser.
While the very term “guerrilla marketing” was coined in response to the problem of organizations not being able to afford marketing firms and ad time, there is professional help available to the aspiring guerrilla. The Guerilla Group, for example, labels itself as “the only marketing agency adapting the principles of Guerrilla Marketing exclusively on behalf of nonprofit organizations.” They offer nonprofit consulting, training and workshops. The Guerrilla Marketing Association is another website that offers advice in this area. It lists 100 nonprofit resources, more than half of which are free, including word of mouth, electronic brochures, networking and community involvement.
Nonprofit marketing can be an uphill battle, as charities ask for money with only a clear conscience in return. In addition, advertising is typically out of reach as nonprofits generally need, rather than bleed money. It would not be unfair to say that charity work is mostly marketing, and every tool in a fundraiser’s toolkit is another step towards meeting that goal. As the Guerrilla Marketing Association site makes clear, traditional business owners generally use about five or ten marketing techniques, while guerrilla marketers have access to dozens.