The Pros & Cons of Grassroots Marketing

Let’s start at the very beginning: What does grassroots marketing mean? You might have heard about it before in a political sense. Marketing borrowed the term from political campaigns, and it now also applies to marketing campaigns that start on the ground and seek to create a groundswell by reaching a small, highly targeted and influential group as a catalyst for a larger, sustained movement.

Grassroots marketing, also known as guerilla, ambient, or experiential marketing, means bypassing paid media. Instead of launching a message to many people via mass media, you instead focus your efforts on a small audience and hope that they will connect so well to your message that they will spread it to a much larger group.

Advertisers flock to grassroots tactics for a variety of reasons, but what are the true advantages? Let’s unpack the benefits of this approach:


Reduce marketing costs

If a grassroots effort really takes hold, it can spread like wildfire, and for free! That let’s the advertiser reap the rewards of tremendous reach without having to pay for using more traditional channels.

Increase authenticity

Grassroots campaigns, when done well, can feel much more authentic and “real” to consumers than typical advertising. This means that your target audience may spend more time, focus more attention and otherwise engage more deeply with your message. Bonus: If a message feels both authentic and relevant, the target is more likely to share the message and spread it even further.

More targeted reach

Billboards and radio ads are an essential part of advertising campaigns because they allow you to have a large reach and really get the word out. However, they often have to use more general messaging in order to resonate with a mainstream audience. With a grassroots campaign you focus in on a specific audience and tailor the message specifically to them. In grassroots marketing it’s very important to know the behaviors of your target audience, so you can create something that will impact them.

Now, onto the disadvantages. With grassroots efforts, the advertiser sows a seed and lets the community take over its cultivation and harvesting. This same spontaneous and free flowing momentum that makes grassroots efforts so exciting also comes with risks. Keeping in mind that most grassroots efforts do not reach dramatically bad proportions, let’s discuss some of the drawbacks of grassroots approaches:



Size and scale

Mass media still offers advantages that can’t be achieved in most grassroots efforts. Take scale, for starters. Mass media is still the single most effective tool we have for getting the word out to a significant population.

Production Costs

Many advertisers learn that producing an effective grassroots campaign can be very costly – even to the point of competing with mass media budgets. Production of highly specialized campaign elements, manpower or street teams, talent, video and other components can be expensive.

Grassroots needs mass media

We’ve noticed that the most effective campaigns still include a combination of paid, earned and owned media tactics. While it’s true that we have designed and deployed campaigns where the grassroots elements were wildly successful, it’s better not to rely on it every time. In most instances, we know that our grassroots campaigns took advantage of the paid or mass media runs in order to be effective.

Before diving into a grassroots marketing campaign, it’s important to understand how these pros and cons are going to impact it. Most importantly, you need to have realistic expectations on the results it will produce. At some point, a client might ask how to make their campaign go viral. While we wish there were a magic viral button, it’s unfortunately not something we can automatically make happen.

One thing is for sure, grassroots marketing allows you to use unconventional methods. This spring we did a grassroots campaign for Coloradans Against Auto Theft by creating a Kilo Car, which had the power to both turn heads and educate Colorado residents on how auto theft and drug crime are connected. The full-size vehicle was constructed of materials that looked like different types of drugs, from heroin, to cocaine, to fentanyl. It definitely got a lot of attention in downtown Denver, but it did not stand on it’s own – it had both paid social media and paid event placement behind it.