Guerrilla Marketing as the new Surrealism

Guerrilla marketing is the most recent form of surrealist art – modifying the urban landscape to incorporate marketing messages.

Advertising is the most ubiquitous and visible aspect of marketing. Every day we are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of brand images.1 This onslaught of communication has been dubbed the Battle for Eyeballs. Consumers are under siege and have developed perceptual vigilance to filter out unwanted communication.

Just like in an ancient warfare, marketers continuously develop new siege engines to try to win the battle for eyeballs. One of the more creative strategies is Guerilla Marketing.2 Expressions of Guerilla Marketing appear in unusual places and uses surrealist messages to attract attention. Denver Water, for example, motivated its customers to conserve water by placing absurd expressions in public place.

"Use Only What You Need" Guerilla Marketing campaign by Denver Water.
“Use Only What You Need” Guerilla Marketing campaign by Denver Water.

Guerilla marketing is reminiscent of surrealist art. Surrealist works by artists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, feature an element of surprise, juxtapositions and illogical images. Surrealist art flourished in the 1930s and was expressed in painting, film, writing, theatre and music. The surrealists sought to free society from false rationality and restrictive customs by using absurd humour and juxtapositions of reality. Surrealism was first and foremost a philosophical idea, expressed in art.

Surrealism and guerilla marketing share common ground. Both are expressions of post-modernism in that they acknowledge that reality is mailable and only exists in its interpretation. Surrealism and guerilla marketing use humour to pierce the observer’s rational defences. While surrealist art depicts an alternative reality and is confined to museums and galleries, guerilla marketing changes reality itself and is placed in the social reality.

Although both convey a message beyond the work of art itself, the major difference between surrealism and guerilla marketing is the motivation. Surrealism is a philosophical movement grounded in anarchism and Marxism. Guerilla marketing is generally aimed capitalist inspired profit maximisation. However, the Denver Water example shows that advertising is necessarily aimed and maximising the profitability of a product but can be used to achieve the reverse.

Guerilla marketing could be renamed surrealist marketing as it shares many characteristics with this school of thought. However, using surrealism to promote consumerism is a contradiction in terms as the ultimate aim of surrealism is to open the observer’s mind to a new reality and not reinforce the old ways of thinking.


  1. James B. Twitchell (1996) Adcult USA: The triumph of advertising in American culture. New York: Columbia University Press. 

  2. Jay Conrad Levinson (1984) Guerilla Marketing

Author: Peter Prevos

Social scientist and engineer who dabbles in magic tricks.

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