Marketing Boot Camp: 5 Guerrilla Tactics You Can Launch on a Budget

Here’s a scenario to ponder: You’re kickstarting your dispensary marketing campaign. You want maximum impact, but you only have a minimal budget. Sound familiar? It might just be time to turn to guerrilla marketing.



Relating to irregular warfare, in which small groups of nontraditional combatants use unconventional tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids and surprise to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military.

No, we’re not suggesting that you go out and attack anyone. But just as in the field of battle, guerrilla marketing is a game-changing approach that leverages the power of surprise and a willingness to break the rules to gain advantage over a stronger adversary.

Historically speaking, “guerrilla marketing” dates back to 1983 and to the publication of Jay Conrad Levinson’s classic of the same name. Levinson’s brainstorm was to apply the lessons of this novel military approach to the world of small business. In the process, he changed how many entrepreneurs envisioned themselves. Instead of advising them to model themselves after established businesses and enterprises, Levinson urged upstart businesspeople to play to their strengths: Ingenuity, a disinclination to play it safe, and the ability to be light on their feet.

Even though “Guerrilla Marketing” was published nearly 40 years, we would argue its lessons are even more relevant in the digital age than they were back then. With that in mind, we want to introduce you to 5 guerrilla marketing tactics you can launch on a budget.

But first, let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with some of the key concepts of guerrilla marketing.

Guerrilla Marketing Ideas: The Rules of Engagement

Guerrilla marketing is a potentially deep subject (we strongly suggest you read Levinson’s text if you’re interested in knowing more). But at heart, it can be boiled down to a few key ideas:

  • Guerrilla marketing thrives on authenticity. The whole idea is that a real business or entity is taking a swipe at stodginess and tradition. And if you’re trying to pul off a straight copy of something that’s been done before, you’re not doing it right.
  • Guerrilla campaigns are highly localized. They’re focused, they come and go in the blink of the eye, and they leave observers wondering what the hell just happened.
  • Guerrilla marketing thrives on the element of surprise. If your target audience is expecting it, it’s not really guerrilla.
  • Guerrilla marketing is fleet-footed and inexpensive. That means it’s not intended to replace your traditional marketing efforts (such as Cannabis Ads and SMS). Nor is it scalable. It happens suddenly, the execution is perfect, and then it disappears.

With that under our belt, let’s introduce 5 specific guerrilla marketing tactics you can employ on a budget.

guerilla marketing mcdonals

Guerrilla Marketing Idea 1: Taking It To the Street

Many of the most successful guerrilla marketing campaigns have harnessed the appeal of street art to make an impact. In fact, some of the biggest names in the corporate world have settled on this approach, including McDonald’s “French Fry Crosswalk” and Nestle’s “KitKat Bench.”

Of course, these specific campaigns required some amount of planning and coordination. In the case of the McDonald’s stunt, the burger-and-fries giant waited until streets around its Zurich location were closed for a festival, then set up the fake packaging where it would appear it was leading pedestrians straight into the restaurant.

What ideas do these examples inspire? Could you use graffiti or street art in a clever (and legal) way to point up your dispensary location? Could you play with potted trees or other shrubbery in a way that highlights your all-natural offerings? 

Guerrilla Marketing Idea 2: Use Your Influencer

One thing we talk about a great deal here at MediaJel is influencer marketing, in which third parties post or share content that points to a business’ offerings. One could argue that this style of marketing is itself a form of guerrilla marketing, in that it upends traditional notions of top-down advertising. As numerous studies indicate, the vast majority of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family more than they do advertisements.

Influencer campaigns run the gamut, from cheeky and silly to downright gripping. Case in point: Subaru’s “Slip and Slide” spot, in which YouTube influencer Devin Graham and his friends slid off a wet ramp straight into a 500-foot canyon. What does this have to do with cars? Beats us. But the video is totally gripping, and has been viewed well over a million times.

Assuming you lack the budget (or the nerve) to jump off a cliff, what’s an eye-catching, heart-stopping (or heart-warming) piece of content you can create and share on social media and other channels? Chances are, you know someone who’s done something inspiring, or had their lives changed radically for the better through cannabis, for instance. (If you need more idea starters, begin here.)

Guerrilla Marketing Idea 3: Power to the People

Get Under the Influence Launch a Social Media Influencer Campaign
A similar strategy to influencer marketing involves asking third parties—whether they be customers, employees, influencers or friends—to create content for you to package and share. That’s what British brewer Greene King did when it created its “Support Your Local” spot. With much of the content by pub owners and employees concerned about the rise of giant chains, the video captured the hearts of consumers who love small, scrappy businesses.

Think it could work for your dispensary? You better believe it. What about running a contest in which customers submit short clips about what they love about the neighborhood around your dispensary, or cannabis culture (no product or consumption shots, please), or anything that speaks to your mission and your brand. Then, with the skills of a competent editor, you’ll have your own video to share. Or keep it in the still photo realm and run a week of “fan favorites” on social media and your own blog!

Guerrilla Marketing Idea 4: Shock and Awe

Whatever style of guerrilla campaign you decide on, it’s important to remember the element of surprise. As we pointed out, a growing number of consumers are suspicious or downright dismissive of traditional advertising. That’s why Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” stunt was so effective: The network planted fake shark-bitten surfboards around select beaches. The effect was attention-getting, and possibly a little anxiety-producing for some.

Scottish whiskey distiller Lagavulin took a different approach, featuring whiskey afficionado Nick Offerman in a ludicrously serene video. Running nearly 45 minutes in total, the “Yule Log” spot depicts Offerman sitting in an armchair, occasionally sipping a glass of scotch. The shock, of course, is that nothing happens; viewers feel that they’ve stumbled onto a prank or an absurd inside joke. But it’s Lagavulin that’s laughing its way to the bank; the video has been viewed nearly 4 million times.  

Could this approach be applied to the world of cannabis? You bet it could. You could lift a page directly—sharing a long video of blissful, cannabis-powered meditation, for instance—or engage your creativity to make something eye-catching, silly, even profound. Apply the precepts of guerrilla marketing and don’t be afraid to shake up the snowglobe!

Guerrilla Marketing Idea 5: Can’t Afford It? Steal It!

Sometimes, guerrilla marketing involves subverting expectations by creating associations that aren’t really there. Case in point: Rona—Canada’s equivalent to Lowe’s Home Improvement—created a campaign that suggested the company had entered into a collaboration with Apple. They hadn’t, but anecdotally, the imagery—which merged seamlessly with Apple’s existing ads showing paint dripping off its new Nano line—gave a big lift to Rona’s paint recycling project.

Obviously, there are legal issues involved with such a stunt. But taking a page from the military definition of “guerrillas,” hit-and-run tactics are a major part of the strategy. When consumers get the sense they’re in on a fleeting moment—or that they should have been paying closer attention to you all along—it creates those all-important viral moments. Which, at the end of the day, is the best kind of currency you can generate.

Guerrilla Marketing Ideas: A Note of Caution

Guerrilla marketing works because it catches people unawares, making them stop and question their assumptions (not to mention causing them to stop and ponder who pulled off such a genius stunt). But there can be legal ramifications, too. Using another company’s intellectual property or copyrighted logos can invite lawsuits. And running promotions that violate legal statutes against giving away cannabis are, needless to say, a big no-no.

Remember: Guerrilla marketing isn’t a replacement for more traditional efforts. Instead, it’s a tactic for generating buzz, curiosity and excitement about your brand. Give it a try! Correctly executed, it’s one of the best bangs for the buck you can possibly get.