Guerrilla Marketing in Times of Economic Crisis

Anabela Mendes*, Beatriz Pinto*, David Santos*, Inês Barbosa*, Jorge Oliveira*, Marta Lago*, Raquel Pinheiro*, Jorge Marinho**

*Student in the Communication Sciences Program at the University of Porto (2012-2013)

**Research supervisor. Ph.D. in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism, Professor at the University of Porto (Portugal) Journalism and Communication Sciences Department.

email: marinho.mediaanalysis@gmail.com 



This work addresses guerrilla marketing, in the context of the economic crisis, as an advantage for small, medium-sized and large companies. To this end, the focus is on the importance of emotion, aimed at persuading the target audience regarding guerrilla marketing initiatives. Originality is also vital for differentiating goods.


Keywords: guerrilla marketing; economic crisis; advertising; persuasion.



(This work is based on research conducted as part of the subject of Psychosociology of Communication in the Communication Sciences Program at the University of Porto - 2012-2013).

What is guerrilla marketing? André Rabanea, founder of Torke, Portugal’s first guerrilla marketing agency, says it’s a way of getting consumers involved with the brand, not by imposition, but through conquest. The major aim is to use emotion, boldness and the unexpected to surprise, with differentiated and innovative strategies. He himself states that “a little is used for making a lot.” (“Torke – Exclusive Interview” 2013).

On the current economic and social scenario, innovation increasingly appears to be the answer everyone has been looking for. It's important for brands to invest in differentiating the product and the brand itself. By delving deeper into the study regarding guerrilla marketing, the idea is to understand how this emerged, which market it seeks to target, whether its purpose it to replace or supplement traditional marketing, and whether this is a resource in times of economic crisis.



Bibliographical research becomes vital for bringing about this goal. Such research rests on current information, mostly in books, scientific articles, documents and news provided on the Internet.

Along with bibliographical research, interviews were also conducted with various professionals of companies from Portugal and from other countries.


Advertising, Persuasion and Economic Crisis

Currently, many paradigms linked to advertising and to persuasion have been altered because of the economic crisis being experienced worldwide. The financial crisis took place at a time when the economic assets of a given country or region are deprived of their nominal value. This features price fluctuations due to inflation or deflation, which often stifles the liquidity of corporations and causes individuals to lose buying power. In order for a given company to be able to survive in a time of crisis, it is vital to always think for the medium to long term.

Thus, and especially at this time of crisis, companies have at their disposal a weapon that should be very wisely used: advertising. These days, this is a “communication technique for persuasive commercial and content-related purposes.” (Veríssimo 2001, p. 19) and “emerges with modern capitalism, a reflection of the development of industrial economics, whose goal is to achieve massive consumption.” (Veríssimo 2001, p. 19).

Therefore, knowing the importance of continuing to turn to a commercial message in times marked by economic crisis, the idea is to try to find out how advertising and persuasion are used in current times, where, to many, the creation of the need to buy is often shown to be incompatible with the need for people not to live beyond their means.


Guerrilla Marketing

In a nutshell, guerrilla marketing is conducted with very low budgets, as its chief mission is to capture consumers’ attention as well as to make them interact with the campaigns themselves, with the product itself. Bearing in mind the current market context, it beckons the question: is guerrilla marketing actually persuasive in times of crisis? The next few pages will present a short contextualization of guerrilla marketing (how it emerged, what it consists of and what its main weapons are). Next, we will address the results of conducted interviews and conclusions drawn with regard to the suitability of guerrilla marketing to times of economic crisis.

In 1982, American advertiser Jay Conrad Levinson created the concept of guerrilla marketing, while drawing inspiration from guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla means “unconventional warfare (…) where the major tactic involves psychological action, thus providing victory over adversaries considered to be stronger.” (Santos 2010, p. 12). Thus, companies with insufficient financial resources for investing in traditional marketing tools use guerrilla techniques, that is, cheaper and more effective weapons, based on creativity and innovation, to achieve market exposure and positioning.

Guerrilla advertising is a good alternative to traditional advertising because it wins over the consumer through the unexpected, by strong persuasion. These days, the most original ads are more effective at reaching the target audience, as “consumers pay attention to that which is different, while noticing what they’ve never seen before.” (Veríssimo 2001, p. 16).

As the years went by, and considering the previous premise, guerrilla marketing started being used not only by small companies (with few financial resources) which needed to gain notoriety, but also by large firms, worldwide. In the current scenario of world economic crisis, where “the value of products goes well beyond their physical properties, it no longer becomes effective to advertise them by mentioning the latter, which means informative dimension of advertising becomes completely sidelined, giving way to direct appealing to the consumers’ emotions.” (Veríssimo 2001, p. 54) Therefore, large companies look at guerrilla marketing as a complement to communication plans, since it involves more direct communication and interaction with the consumer.

It is by appealing more to people’s emotions than to their rationale, that guerrilla advertising places products and brands in the spirit of consumers. More than meeting physical needs, products should meet needs that are “psychological, emotional: desires and fears.” (Ferrés 1998, p. 203).

According to Jay Levinson and Jeannie Levinson  (2011, p.3), guerrilla marketing exists if, at every stage of an experience, there is simplicity in satisfaction and value for the end customer. According to the same authors (2011, p. 4), marketing starts at the point in time when we have a product that we wish to sell to someone. In this regard, consumers raise some questions related to the product’s quality, price and points of sale (Levinson, Levinson 2011, p. 4).  Such questions can be altered through guerrilla marketing initiatives (Levinson, Levinson 2011, p. 4).

To achieve such results, creativity is a vital element for conducting guerrilla campaigns, since the goal is to “put forth such bold and unexpected proposals that they arouse the public’s attention and interest. (…) And it’s not enough to win over the public’s attention, as we also need to provide a remarkable experience between consumer and brand.” (Rodrigues 2010, p. 52).

According to Levinson, entrepreneurs appreciate guerrilla marketing, insofar as it’s simple and direct (Levinson, Levinson 2011, p. 32). This could be considered a competitive edge, when the idea is to achieve swiftness and profitability (Levinson, Levinson 2011, p. 32).


Analysis of Interviews

In the book Guerrilla Marketing Attack, Jay Conrad Levinson maintains that small and medium-sized companies have the chance to compete with large companies, using more effective weapons based on creativity and innovation (Levinson 1989, p. 195). Flávio Gart, creator of Bazooka, was of the same opinion, adding that “these days, reaching out to the public is more difficult (…) and, in general, people who turn to guerrilla marketing are people who need to communicate with a greater degree of difference and more insight.” (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013).

Flávio Gart also points out that brand memorization is minor and, because of that short time frame for memorizing brands, guerrilla marketing is suitable for drawing people’s attention differently (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013). Lígia Santos agrees with Gart and states that “a good guerrilla initiative serves to find a place in the market that is congested with information and position its brand, so as to draw and hold the consumer’s attention.” (Santos 2010, p. 13). In this case, “companies wishing to leave their brands etched in the minds of consumers will have to come up with alternatives to conventional media.” (Santos 2010, p. 13).

At first, “guerrilla marketing was created by small companies that wanted to draw attention relative to large companies.” (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013), but this type of advertising is starting to encompass all kinds of companies, and the main reason why this happens involves too much advertising in traditional media and the strong sense of emotion that guerrilla marketing entails. According to Flávio Gart, “emotions cause an increasingly greater impact than rationale.” (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013). On the other hand, the Fuse Marketing agency has the following understanding: despite thinking that “emotions can sell more products, people also need to find value in such products, and the main thing in a campaign is to convince them that a product has value.” (“Fuse Marketing – Exclusive Interview” 2013).

This issue between the emotional and informative aspect was already being debated in the 1960s, when Ogilvy became aware that “the consumer makes certain purchasing decisions based on affective elements; that is, consumers can express certain consumer behaviors based on emotional reactions related to their image of the brand.” (Veríssimo 2001, p. 19).

Another issue debated during the interviews was guerrilla marketing’s ability to alter behaviors and habits of potential consumers and, in that regard, opinions are divided. Whereas Flávio Gart feels “that it is pretentious to say marketing alters behavior” (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013), Interference Inc. is of the opinion that campaigns in fact manage to alter behaviors (“Interference Inc. – Exclusive Interview” 2013). The advertising agency Street Attack maintains that “consumer habits are so strange and very often so stereotyped that making predictions is hardly reliable. That’s why a result cannot be planned. Unfortunately, there is much more “mind control” taking place in the media (…), thus, it becomes a question of psychology of the masses and of what should be consumers’ behavior at this time” (“Street Attack – Exclusive Interview” 2013). In fact, there is a so-called perceptive theory. According to this, what is at stake is “not just a change in the system of convictions or attitudes, but also, mainly, a change in the perception of objects” and, if we want to predict the effect this will have on the attitudes of a given communication, “we will have to know how the person will receive the message, how he/she interprets, understands and/or distorts the information received” (Zani, Bitti 1997, p.  242).

There is also another theory, the functionalist theory which maintains that “the change in attitude depends on the extent to which persuasive communication coincides with the personal or social needs of the receiving party. If communication is geared toward a different need from that on which the attitude is based, there is no persuasive effect. The effects of communication, therefore, can only be understood in light of the needs of those receiving the message.” (Zani, Bitti 1997, p. 242)

Flávio Gart points out the following aspects: “Fully understanding the product, fully understanding who the customer is, ‘who’ the brand is, but, in general, the brands themselves already know that. The target is segmented, depending on the brands. However, age, common tastes and aspirations are factors that have to be taken into account. Generally, segmentation is not so much about us as it is about the customer. Segmentation is carried out on the basis of the goal, but, in general, the company itself should already be aware of that” (“Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013).

Organizing a marketing campaign is not an easy task. According to Zani and Bitti, “Though it might cost money, advertising is not achieved via a simple exchange of funds for a message delivered via a communication medium. More precisely, it’s about generating interest in a topic in such a way that could draw attention in its own right. It is the creation of “face time” and “sound bit” (Zani, Bitti 1997, p. 9).

It is known that the current economic scenario has proven to be fatal for some companies, mainly small and medium-sized companies. At a time when “saving” is the watchword, how should companies react to such a scenario? Should they slash advertising expenses? Is communication done differently? Are more affordable alternatives being sought?

Interviewed companies are almost unanimous with regard to such issues. According to the creator of Bazooka, Flávio Gart, if the company is forgotten, it dies. It’s as if it didn’t exist.” “Bazooka – Exclusive Interview” 2013.

Street Attack says that, with the economic crisis, “marketing strategies have been more geared toward the Internet to become safer, feedback is easier to control and campaigns are cheaper” (“Street Attack – Exclusive Interview” 2013).

Sofia Tavares states that “the crisis should be regarded as an opportunity for making organizations’ management models more efficient. That’s why it’s vital to be geared toward the market, planning and marketing investment.” (Tavares 2012, p. 1).



It is certain that advertising is constantly evolving, keeping up with the development of society, media and technology, while adapting to historical, economic and cultural contexts. However, the market is saturated, and every day there are advertising messages invading individuals’ social and personal space. Given such bombardment with commercials, strategies have to be changed to achieve a greater rapprochement with consumers and to persuade them to buy the new products or services coming out.

Conventional advertising, disseminated on television, the press, radio and outdoor signs, no longer has the same impact it used to have, and so, because of this, guerrilla marketing has emerged as a solution adopted by many companies, both of the small and large variety. As has been mentioned throughout this work, guerrilla marketing emphasizes creativity and the fact that it makes a difference.

When this aspect of advertising was discovered, it appeared relevant to analyze it, in order to be able to understand whether it’s a good alternative, in times of economic crisis, and if it actually works in terms of persuasion.

After conducting and examining the bibliographical research and interviews, we arrived at the conclusion that a lot of insight is needed in carrying out guerrilla campaigns. Particular attention is required regarding the goal of the message, the target audience and the strategies used. Along with these more technical issues, honesty and trust are also aspects that must be taken into account. Without these, the conveyance of messages could fail. As concerns persuasion, guerrilla marketing campaigns do indeed manage to be more persuasive than traditional advertising campaigns. By securing consumers and drawing their attention both to the message that is conveyed and to the media or size, such campaigns become more persuasive.

With regard to the context of the economic crisis experienced, and if guerrilla marketing is effective, a few interesting conclusions were arrived at. Even though individuals’ thinking hinges on saving in such a situation, advertising agencies do not think the same way. We noticed that the companies able to overcome difficult moments are those with a budget and investing more intensely in larger-scale advertising campaigns. The only issue that divided the opinions of interviewees was the change in consumer behaviors. In this regard, there are those who agree that guerrilla marketing can alter behaviors and change the vision regarding a few topics, and, on the other hand, there are those who feel this is a pretentious idea.

In short, guerrilla marketing has turned out to be an excellent alternative not only because lower budgets can be used, but also due to the fact it is able to draw consumers’ attention, while bringing a sense of relief to their day-to-day living in times of financial crisis.




Ferrés, J. (1998). Televisão Subliminar: Socializando Através de Comunicações Despercebidas. Porto Alegre: Artmed.


Levinson, J. (1989). Guerrilla Marketing Attack. Mariner Books.


Levinson, J., Levinson, J. (2011). The best of Guerrilla Marketing: Guerrilla Marketing Remix. Entrepreneur Press.


Veríssimo, J. (2001). A Publicidade da Benetton - Um Discurso Sobre o Real. Coimbra: Minerva.


Zani, B., Bitti, P. (1997). A Comunicação Como Processo Social. Lisboa: Editorial Estampa.


Rodrigues, S. (2010). Marcas Munem-se de Armas Estratégicas Para Comunicar Em Tempos de Crise. Retrieved 18.12.2013 from  http://www.meiosepublicidade.pt/2009/02/marcas-munem-se-de-armas-estrategicas-para-comunicar-em-tempos-de-crise/


Santos, L. (2010). O Marketing de Guerrilha Como Ferramenta de Posicionamento da Marca. Retrieved 18.12.2013 from http://periodicos.unitau.br/ojs-2.2/index.php/humanas/article/viewFile/1526/1071


Tavares, S. (2012). Marketing Em Tempos de Crise. Retrieved 18.12.2013 from  http://saldopositivo.cgd.pt/empresas/marketing-em-tempos-de-crise/


«Bazooka – Exclusive Interview» (2013).


«Fuse Marketing – Exclusive Interview» (2013).


«Interference Inc. – Exclusive Interview» (2013).


«Street Attack – Exclusive Interview» (2013).


«Torke – Exclusive Interview» (2013).



Published by Marinho Media Analysis / February 10, 2014



A short version of this article was also published in The Magazine of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association – Vue / Canada / October 2014