Top 5 Guerilla Marketing Mishaps

In the never-ending quest for free publicity, guerilla marketers have gone through great lengths to try to make a big splash. Many guerilla marketers will often concoct stunts that are risky or illegal to grab the publics’ attention. Some stunts go over better than others while a few completely backfire. As a tribute to these foolhardy souls, WebUrbanist has put together their top 5 mishaps in guerilla marketing. The list, inside…

5. at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
A man donning a purple tutu with the words “” painted on his torso, jumped off of a high dive board into the olympic swimming pool. Greek officials were not pleased, slapping the man with 3 months in Greek prison. Ultimately, he was released and given a fine of a few hundred dollars.

4. Microsoft Zune at South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
At the SXSW, a man was simply posting bright large Zune posters in different locations, but it would seem that the hatred of Zune spreads far and wide. He was detained and handcuffed by police as onlookers were heard yelling things such as, “We’ll have none of your advertising for your DRM’d crippleware’d crappy MP3 player littering our town!”

3. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” movie poster campaign.
This campaign featured posters across the country that read, “You suck Sarah Marshall.” However, the real Sarah Marshalls’ of the country were none too pleased. In response, new posters went up that read, “You suck Judd Apatow,” a hostile salute to the film’s producer.

2. Nvidia manufactures hype with fake forum fanfare.
A few years ago, Nivdia was accused of making fake posts in forums to tout their new product. This is probably the most common guerilla-marketing tactic since it is so easy to do. Because Nvidia is such a big company with a ravenous fan base, their forum forgeries seem to be the most infamous. The Consumerist featured this story in early 2006.

1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Boston bomb scare of 2007.
Approximately 20 glowing signs depicting a character from the cartoon series were mounted in strategic areas around Boston, including places around bridges and overpasses. The areas seemed a little too strategic for Boston officials who summoned the bomb squad to dismantle the innocuous signs. The stunt cost Turner Broadcasting Company $2 million which went to reimburse Boston PD and Homeland Security. Apparently, the city feared the dreaded “Lite Brite” bomb, so popular among terrorists.

5 Great Examples of Guerilla Marketing Gone Wrong: Olympic Belly-Flops To the Boston Bomb Scare [WebUrbanist]
(Photo: WebUrbanist)


Edit Your Comment

  1. statnut says:

    Good lord, were real Sarah Marshall’s really that offended? Talk about taking yourself too seriously.

  2. AD8BC says:

    Those stupid light up alien things were the dumbest idea ever.

    I can’t believe how many people actually sided with the people that put them up.

  3. CPC24 says:

    What, no OK Cola?

  4. Spinfusor says:

    The Sarah Marshall ads deserve to be on the list not because they offended overly sensitive people named Sarah Marshall, but because they were extremely annoying (as any “hand-written” viral ad is).

  5. ElizabethD says:

    Is that Lite Brite guy giving us the finger?

    Or is it a secret terrorist signal…?

  6. smonk says:

    What about Sony’s Alliwantforxmasisapsp?

  7. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Poor Zune, never catches a break.

  8. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    When it comes to PC components, there’s a lot of fan fakery out there in gaming and computer forums. And there’s even more pay-for-play type of advertising on hardware review sites.

  9. johnva says:

    @AD8BC: I side with them. The authorities were overreacting idiots.

  10. Ryan H says:

    How did Sony’s repeated Astroturfing not make this list? Especially since they always seem to be so shocked when they get caught.

  11. humorbot says:

    For the record, Judd Apatow produced – but did not direct – Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

  12. Hamm Beerger says:

    @AD8BC: The lite brite things are certainly not the dumbest thing ever. The cops that thought they were bombs are the dumbest things ever.

  13. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    What happened to the guerilla marketing for the Sony PSP where they sprayed grafitti all over various cities?

  14. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @AD8BC: It’s a freaking Lite-Brite!

  15. B1663R says:

    what about that post a few weeks back where that guy almost got killed because he was handing out tomatoes wrapped in money.

  16. Machete_Bear says:

    The mooninites hate our freedom!

  17. Balisong says:

    @AD8BC: And people like you are exactly what is wrong with this country.

  18. spanky says:


    I don’t necessarily side with them, but agreed on the overreacting idiots thing. I can see momentary alarm, maybe, but a cursory inspection would reveal that they were just LEDs. However, I hate guerilla marketing, so I have to hate it even when it’s for something I like.

    I’d cast a vote for this being a pretty bad one. Every couple of weeks or so, someone sees a picture of this, becomes enraged and righteous over it, blogs about how this billboard proves that all womens are moneygrubbing whores, and submits it to digg and reddit.

    Nobody has any idea that it’s not real, and nobody has ever heard of the show it was advertising. (I think it’s probably been cancelled by now, anyway.)

  19. Laffy Daffy says:

    Yep, Boston really did overreact to those lite-brites.

  20. puffyshirt says:

    @Balisong: way to generalize there, sport.

  21. johnva says:

    @spanky: Oh, I agree. I hate guerrilla marketing in general, too. I just hated the totally overblown response in that particular case more. As far as I know, the authorities in Boston STILL have not admitted they overreacted. Yes, the guys running the ATHF campaign were idiots. But the cops and Boston politicians were bigger idiots.

  22. spinachdip says: stunt doesn’t really belong, since the millions of dollars of prime media placement they got from all the news coverage more than paid for the fine.

    I think it’s tacky as shit, but they’re going after an audience that doesn’t care about tackiness. Their entire temporary tattoo tactic (with boxers and sponsored streakers) are an unqualified success.

  23. Balisong says:

    And much sympathy and support for those guys who were only doing a job they were hired to do and had to suffer and apologize for it because of terrorist paranoia. But at least AD8BC is happy our freedoms be protected.

  24. meeroom says:

    Um, this all worked, I’d like to point out. Pictures are posted, we’re all talking about it, we are familiar with the company names.

    I thought the ATHF thing was hilarious.

  25. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @B1663R: Yeah, I’d have put that one up there instead of the Zune one which failed mostly because people hate the product. The only thing that made the Zune advertising guerilla was that they didn’t have permission to put the posters there. Otherwise it’s just a poster that’s clearly advertising the product which is normally a good idea.

  26. telepheedian says:

    @Ryan H: @AlteredBeast: Honestly, Zune has had some serious missteps, but I don’t think any of them can top

  27. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Um, this all worked, I’d like to point out. Pictures are posted, we’re all talking about it, we are familiar with the company names.

    @meeroom: But I’m not visiting, buying a Zune, or buying a Nvidia product. I was an ATHF fan before the stunt for the movie and that still didn’t get me to go see it in theaters.

    Doesn’t advertising have to convince you to buy their product or service to be considered successful?

  28. evslin says:

    1-31-07 Never Forget

  29. Balisong says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Just because you didn’t buy the product doesn’t mean other people didn’t…

  30. Megatenist says:

    Yeah,I think the whole ATHF “bomb scare” was incredibly stupid.It’s FREAKING LITE BRITES!! How threatening is an animated Mooninite?(That’s the little dude in the picture)

    Great PR for the Boston PD….

  31. spinachdip says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: It doesn’t have to convince you, it just has to convince enough of the people they’re targeting.

  32. kiloman says:

    I feel that this article contains too in-depth a summary of the original article. The entire list is given and detailed. Images for each list item from the source article are also used here. Having read the Consumerist post, there is little reason to visit WebUrbanist. While I understand that the Consumerist is interested in increasing its own web traffic, it should not do so at the expense of other sites, from which it is co-opting content.

  33. spanky says:

    The Lite Brites were clearly illegal under Massachusetts laws that prohibit hoax devices, infernal machines, or anything anyone might be afraid of or confused by for some reason.

    So, as an example, it would be illegal to construct a large obelisk in Boston and play a recording of Thus Spake Zarathustra; and if there are any moths in Massachusetts, it would be illegal to have light bulbs or other sources of artificial illumination.

    It makes perfect sense if you think about it, really.

  34. stupidjerk says:

    @AD8BC: stupid campaign maybe, but how about the guys that confused a lite-bright for a bomb?

    “Sarge, we’ve got some easy-bake ovens spotted on the overpass…better call in the bomb squad and get homeland security on the case too.”

  35. Megatenist says:


    “Hoax device?”
    Remind me not to take my whoopee cushion next time I go to Massachusetts. I might be charged with “Flatulence Terrorism”

  36. ShirtGuyDom says:

    God, the Boston bomb scare of 2007. That was so, incredibly sad.

  37. uberbucket says:


    He’s doing it as hard as he can.

  38. Me - now with more humidity says:

    spanky wrote: “So, as an example, it would be illegal to construct a large obelisk in Boston and play a recording of Thus Spake Zarathustra; and if there are any moths in Massachusetts, it would be illegal to have light bulbs or other sources of artificial illumination.”

    I know what I’m doing this weekend!!!

  39. spinachdip says:

    BTW, can #3 really be considered guerrilla, when the movie studio paid for placement in a traditional medium?

    If anything, the response from the real life Sarah Marshalls qualify as an (unintended) guerrilla ad campaign for the movie, and successful one at that.

  40. AD8BC says:

    @Balisong: @Hamm Beerger: It is also techinically considered litter, also posting of a sign without a permit, plus they coul dbe considered obscene to many people (not you and me, of course, but still). It’s just like those stupid advertising signs posted on telephone poles “Septic Tank Cleaning call 252-POOP” or “We’ll buy your house” or stuff like that.

    At least the silly Sarah Marshall billboards were legal (unless they were an illegal billboard in Los Angeles [])

    Commenter jamesdenver on that article is a member of an organization called causs [] , I’d be interested in their opinion of these signs as well.. although I’m not too twrribly worried about most people’s complaints about littering the urban landscape, I do remove lots of these illegal signs when I can and I kind of like what this organization does.

  41. Megatenist says:



    “He said no,Urr. With his foot.”

  42. johnva says:

    @spanky: Well according to my reading of that law it doesn’t sound like the Lite-brites qualify as “hoax devices”. Because a) their creators had no intent to cause fear or panic, and b) no reasonable person would believe they were a bomb, either.

  43. weezedog says:

    What about the Zune Guy? Talk about a complete tool, this fan probably could qualify as a guerilla marketer…


  44. mdkiff says:

    “I thought they could fly!”

    /best make-believe marketing effort

  45. lesspopmorefizz says:

    is every law enforcement official in boston totally out of touch? do none of them have teenage kids, or hell, KNOW ANYONE, ANYONE AT ALL, who is in their teens or twenties and watch adult swim? someone who would’ve said, ‘hey, those are characters from a TV SHOW, YOU PARANOID D-BAGS?!’ i mean, i could fault the advertisers for not informing the boston PD…but it’s probably because they figured boston PD wouldn’t be so ridiculously ill-informed as to consider a few lite brite mooninites A POSSIBLE BOMB/TERRORIST ATTACK. i mean, really. it’s pathetic.

  46. johnva says:

    @lesspopmorefizz: There’s also the possibility (particularly in the case of the politicians involved) that they KNEW it wasn’t a terrorist threat but chose to exploit fears of terrorism for political gain.

  47. Megatenist says:


    Funny you mention that because I thought the same thing when I first heard about it.That sickens me.

  48. revmatty says:

    I think the IBM “Peace Love Linux” spray paint ads from the early 2000’s deserves a mention, they had to pay for clean up in like a dozen cities.

  49. Milstar says:

    The fact that they were hanging around Boston for weeks before the reaction and many many other major cities, it is pretty sad that Boston took such a heavy handed approach.

  50. spinachdip says:

    @Milstar: Plus, they were all over NYC, which has actually terrorist targets. Boston’s just a boarding point for terrorists.

  51. fuzzymuffins says:

    ATHF FTW !!!!

    proof of a sad, paranoid society.

  52. se7a7n7 says:

    The ATHF thing was just redonkulous. If you haven’t seen the press conference the guys gave about it… HILARIOUS

  53. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @Balisong: That’s why I didn’t say that no one did.
    @spinachdip: Yeah but “lots of people talking about it” does not mean “lots of people bought the product/service they’re talking about”. Maybe they convinced enough people and maybe they didn’t but the fact that we’re talking about the ads doesn’t mean the ads were successful.

  54. Balisong says:

    @AD8BC: My new big pet peeve: watering down the concept of words so that they no longer carry any meaning. Now here, “littering”? Throwing a bag of garbage on the side of the road is littering. But constructing an electric sign for advertising and entertainment purposes? It’s not a printed piece of paper as the guys in the website you linked to talk about cleaning up. These guys could have done this for guerilla art purposes – would you still consider it littering? This concept you’ve constructed of “littering” goes against everything I believe as an artist. This is, of course, all completely irrelevant, because the problem Boston had with the signs wasn’t that they were littering.

  55. spinachdip says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Okay, let me rephrase it this way – if those same products were advertised in traditional channels, would it make a difference? I’m going to guess that you weren’t in the market for them – if that’s the case, then that means the guerrilla advertisers saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on media placement since the end result was going to be the same. In that sense, they were successful in not wasting money advertising to you.

    But more to the point:
    *ATHF, even with the Boston PD overreaction, was a success – the goal was to remind viewers of the upcoming season of the show, which the news media did over and over. And the controversy probably worked nicely as a piece of branding, reinforcing the position of the show and its fans as irreverent and anti-authority.

    *Zune mockery may be big on the internet, but it’s still a very, very, very minor player in the mp3 game. That was probably the first time a non-tech/business reporter ever talked about it.

    *There’s very little differentiation among online gambling sites, yet managed to be a leader in the category. The tattoo stunts have everything to do with that.

  56. Balisong says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: So why does a piece of advertising have to work specifically on you in order for it to be successful? If enough people bought the product, it’s successful advertising.

    Not being snarky, just saying. It’s odd to say “This didn’t work on me, therefore it’s worthless.” :

  57. @Spinfusor: One doesn’t have to be “overly sensitive” to be offended by this. If it were my name on the billboards, I would have gone straight to the attorneys, no questions asked. It’s stupid, it’s offensive, and it’s definitely lawsuit-worthy.

  58. youbastid says:

    If there’s still anyone out there that thinks Boston didn’t overreact, it’s worth noting that that same campaign was carried out in (I think) five other major cities with no problems.

  59. Balisong says:

    @Steaming Pile: I hope you’re joking or trolling.

  60. AD8BC says:

    @Balisong: Good God, for an artist, you sure have a lot of bitterness bottled up inside. It’s not good for you.

    I have no problem with art, even when I need to put “art” in quotation marks to qualify it as such.

    But get permission to put it up first. And take it down when you are done.

  61. I thought another Zune marketing campaign deserved to be on the list.

    Someone decided it’d be a great idea to drive a car with its Zunified stereo system blasting music full volume around a New York City neighborhood at 1am at night.

    This was around the same time with the Zune marketing campaign on the list. I’m too lazy to google the details, but it was pretty bad. The residents were getting VERY angry. I’m actually surprised they didn’t beat up the driver.

  62. mk says:

    I nominate the US Cellular “Talk Until You’re Blue in the Face” campaign that put people painted blue on Chicago’s CTA pretending to talk on the phone and annoying us all.

    You can read more about it here.

  63. AD8BC says:

    Wasn’t it microsoft that was sticking a bunch of adhesive butterflies around some city? I may be wrong about the company or the shape of the stickers, but I do remember a big controversy about it.

  64. Balisong says:

    @AD8BC: Good God, for an artist, you sure have a lot of bitterness bottled up inside.

    You don’t know many artists, do you? :|

    Anyway, I’m just saying, don’t just jump up and yell “OMG teh litter!” That’s ignoring intent. And that’s exactly what happened in Boston; people jumped up and assumed someone was trying to scare the populace, when it was all only advertising and entertainment. You can’t just accuse someone of something without looking at their intentions. That’s what’s gone wrong with so many laws in the US.

  65. I agree deserves the win or a least a high spot. All the guerilla marketing stupidities I’ve seen from the Zune are as pathetic as the Zune itself. You should count all the bloggers and tech reviewers they had under their pockets yet still the Zune can’t even catch up to SanDisk, which spends almost nothing in marketing.

  66. AD8BC says:

    @Balisong: I though all of your bitterness was supposed to be released in your work!

    Look, I didn’t mean to offend you by my choice of words. I meant “litter” to the extent that, what would the probability be that those who placed them would retrieve them when the batteries ran out? I’m sure you’ve seen in your neighborhood the two month old tattered garage sale sign stapled to the telephone pole that already has hundreds of nails in it from previous signs? Because of that, some cities around me are allowing people who are having garage sales to have a maximum of two signs, provided by the city. From one extreme — freedom to post temporary signs — to another, government regulation of garage sales. In between, you have those that voluntarily clean up after themselves, and then you have illegal and ugly advertisements for commercial businesses ruining it for everybody.

    I call a truce, man.

  67. Optimus says:

    You think that’s pathetic? Less than one month later, the Boston PD detonated one of Boston’s own traffic counters thinking they were IEDs.

    Clearly they did not learn from their mistakes.

  68. donkeyjote says:

    1-31-07: Proving how collectively stupid Boston is compared to New York.

  69. Balisong says:

    @AD8BC: Such signs never bother me…maybe because I look at them and think that one day I’ll be living in Vermont again and won’t have to deal with that crap…one day… But I do look at old tattered billboards that noone is advertising on anymore and think what an eyesore. Noone takes those down either!

  70. pigeonpenelope says:

    @AD8BC: and the movie sucked too

  71. TechnoDestructo says:


    If it hadn’t been for the BAFFLINGLY heavy-handed (and brain-dead) response from the Boston authorities, it would not have been possible to side with the perpetrators.

    Seriously, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a greater act of stupidity on the part of law enforcement in the US in my lifetime, and that includes the Rodney King beating.

  72. sncreducer says:

    Only in Berkeley:


  73. nardo218 says:

    Do you really think cops get up close and personal with a box containing wires and electronics and decide, with their bomb squad knowledge, that it’s not abomb? No, they see an unattended box and they’re required, by law, to bring in the bomb squad. This costs the city money, a lot of it. This leads to public panic as people see uniformed bomb squad officers working over boxes all over the city.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s not a bomb, they have to treat it as one, because some stupid fuck could put a LED display of Hello Kitty on his bomb that kills thousands.

    What adult swim did was stupid, childish, and irresponsible. They cost the city a lot of money and frightened a lot of people.

  74. elephantattack says:

    Of course they did… ATHF is AWESOME.

  75. Rachael says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: “Doesn’t advertising have to convince you to buy their product or service to be considered successful?”

    Not necessarily. It’s not just about getting you to buy a product, it’s also about name recognition. So while you may never buy a Zune, you’re more aware of the brand due to a marketing campaign (even a failed one).

  76. donkeyjote says:

    @nardo218: Then can you explain NY’s reaction, and how noone was scared in Ny or Chicago or LA?

  77. I think as a nation we’ve watched too many movies when we think every bomb/terrorist attack has to involve brightly-lit LEDs. Also, what’s with the seran-wrap on the light-pole or whatever in the Zune photo?

  78. skilled1 says:

    I am sorry, but i would say that the whole Mooninite ‘bomb’ scare did exactly what it was supposed too.

  79. Metropolis says:

    Boston PD/Homeland sercurity should have been fired for being utterly clueless. I don’t want morons protecting this country.

  80. Anonymous says:

    I know! I can’t beleive they thought blinking lights hung obviously for weeks would NOT be considered a bomb! It’s not like it was done in nine other cities without incident…


  81. Anonymous says:

    @nardo218: The signs blinked and were up for weeks. What bomber advertises his bomb publicly, but waits WEEKS to detonate? Do you seriously think the officers hadn’t seen these for a week?

  82. Megatenist says:


    Exactly.It proved how awesome ATHF is and how clueless and stupid the Boston PD is


    Wow……..FEMA called.They need their spokesperson back..