Last Updated: November 24, 2020

Many traditional forms of advertising hail back to the 1960’s, and have been the standard for marketers ever since. However, today their effectiveness is on the decline. No Call Lists make telemarketing more challenging (See also Telemarketing), direct mail is expensive and offers a small return on investment, while cable TV, Tivo, and iPods have made it simple to skip radio and television ads.

On top of this, traditional advertising is becoming extremely expensive. Adweek reports that in 2011 the average cost of a single, 30 second advertisement during a prime-time television broadcast was almost $110,000 — an increase of five percent from the previous year. As advertisers pay more to see smaller results, they look toward marketing strategies that use new venues, technologies, and theories that contradict traditional wisdom.

What is non-traditional marketing?

Non-traditional marketing strategies rely on new and unorthodox marketing methods. Anything that falls outside the categories of traditional marketing can be considered non-traditional, but the term has typically referred to a more specific range of marketing tactics.

The goal of non-traditional advertising is to create striking advertising experiences that capture interest through their creativity and unpredictably. Much of non-traditional marketing involves putting ads in unusual places, or displaying ads in unusual ways, hoping to command the attention of unassuming viewers. (See also Guerrilla Marketing)

Consumers tend to view non-traditional ads as more organic, authentic, and relevant. Because they stand apart from the majority of advertising, they are largely immune to the cynicism and skepticism that is applied to print, radio, and TV ads. Non-traditional ads also tend to be targeted, speaking directly to specific demographics on their own territory. Beer makers might advertise on coasters, or shoe makers might place ads around basketball courts.

This type of advertising tends to be cheaper as well. Print ad campaigns can cost thousands of dollars, but a clever street marketing strategy might cost less than a hundred. Managed well, non-traditional advertising can deliver huge returns on investment.

While non-traditional marketing is unexpected and eye-catching, it is also unpredictable. It can be difficult to know whether a campaign is working because it relies on methods that fall so far outside the tradition of marketing. Marketers may struggle to quantify and measure the success or failure of a campaign. Even worse, a confusing or poorly executed campaign can confuse consumers and create a negative image around a company.

Types of non-traditional marketing

  • Guerrilla Marketing – The makers of the Simpsons movie placed images of Homer Simpson at the base of escalators. The steps of the escalator were covered in pictures of donuts that seemed to disappear into Homer’s gaping mouth.
  • Street Marketing – Kinkos placed huge sculptures of Highlighters and White Out on city streets so that they looked like they were coloring in no parking zones and the lines in cross walks.
  • Seminars – Arrow Electronics held seminars in 10 cities to educate engineers on the embedded systems they had begun selling.
  • Stunt Marketing – Proshade, a sunglasses maker, offered the National Parks Service $4 million dollars if they could put sunglasses on the Presidents on Mount Rushmore. The Service declined, but the outlandish offer was picked up by the press and the company received significant publicity.
  • Stealth Marketing – Blackberry paid attractive young women to flirt with men and have them enter their number into Blackberry phones.
  • Public Jokes – in 1996, Taco Bell announced that they were going to buy the Liberty Bell and rename it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” The public outrage that followed raised awareness of the restaurant and increased sales.
  • Events – Harley Davidson sponsors large group rides and meet-ups for motorcycle enthusiasts to connect with each other.
  • Membership Organizations – Hallmark runs a club for fans of the company’s keepsake ornaments to meet and discuss.
  • Museums and Factory Tours – Budweiser offers daily tours of its flagship brewery that include a tasting of all their products.
  • Theme Parks – Disney maintains several major theme parks that help reinforce the history of the company and the image of the brand.
  • Product Placement – BMW paid for their Z3 model to be featured prominently in the James Bond film GoldenEye.

Who implements non-traditional marketing?

Non-traditional marketing is a strategy that is available to all businesses. Many of the most famous campaigns have been carried out by major companies, but smaller businesses have used non-traditional marketing with great results. Valley Screen Process, a small manufacturer of decals for children’s rooms, saw a huge increase in sales after they developed partnerships with bloggers. They offered free samples to popular “Mommy” bloggers who then talked up the products on their blogs.

The only requirement for using non-traditional marketing is vision, creativity, and commitment. Since it is often significantly cheaper than classic forms of advertising, non-traditional marketing is an effective tool for companies with modest marketing budgets. The only drawback is that the results are unpredictable and there is the risk of wasted effort.

Consumers and Trust

A recent report from Nielsen research reveals that many consumers do not trust traditional forms of advertising. Ads on TV, radio, billboards, and in newspapers all received less than a 50% rating as an indicator of consumer trust. By contrast, non-traditional advertising strategies like word of mouth marketing and official websites are trusted the majority of the time. This study reveals how savvy the modern consumer has become in regards to advertising.

Traditional vs. Non-traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing may be in decline, but billions of dollars are still spent on it every year. Many marketers utilize a mix of both traditional and non-traditional marketing strategies. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The key is determining which strategy will be most effective for the product that is being pushed. The two methods are contrasted below.


Traditional Marketing

  • Very disciplined, structured, and controlled
  • Focus on the four Cs – competition, consumers, company, collaborators

Non-Traditional Marketing

  • More flexible, uncertain, and subjective
  • Focuses on execution above planning
Capabilities and Benefits

Traditional Marketing

  • Uses empirical research to validate its methods
  • Results can be forecasted

Non-Traditional Marketing

  • More credible and efficient
  • Creates “Buzz”

Traditional Marketing

  • All costs are known and carefully controlled

Non-Traditional Marketing

  • Tends to be cheaper and relies on free advertising as much as possible
  • Many costs are unknown and cannot be predicted
Target Audience

Traditional Marketing

  • Defined based on demographics
  • Focused and segmented

Non-Traditional Marketing

  • Non-discriminatory, all-inclusive
  • The intended audience selects itself

How is a non-traditional marketing plan developed?

Since non-traditional marketing relies on many unknown factors, it is important for any campaign to undergo careful planning. Developing a comprehensive marketing plan does not make this strategy any more predictable, but it can help focus efforts and maximize the chances for success.

The first step of the plan is to define the target audience. This crucial step helps companies determine whether or not a non-traditional marketing approach makes sense. If a product has mass appeal, something like a soda or a movie release, marketers might plaster city streets with creative ads. But if the product has more limited appeal, software for accountants, for example, a widespread ad campaign would be a waste of resources. Identifying who will buy the product makes them easier to reach.

The next step will be to pick the non-traditional marketing strategy that will be used. It is not enough to be different simply for the sake of being different. The particular strategy employed has to be chosen carefully for the way it will impact customers and the message that it will project. Companies will need to examine market research and consult with branding experts to find the best way to align their advertising messages with their intended customers.

At this point, it may be necessary to negotiate deals for ad space in usual places. Non-traditional advertising often creates its own marketing channels. If the goal is to show ads in places where ads have never been before, this will require careful negotiation between the advertiser and the property owner (See also Street Marketing). It is important for both parties to fully understand the terms and conditions of the contract so that the ad space can be used to maximum effect.

The final step of a non-traditional marketing plan will be to define metrics for success or failure. This can be the most difficult step because non-traditional marketing often has diffuse goals. Rather than simply increasing sales, non-traditional marketing can be used to redefine the image of a brand, or to introduce product lines to new demographics. Before any campaign is put into place, empirical indicators need to be established for judging the success of the campaign.

Careers in non-traditional marketing

Branding Manager

What do they do?

Branding Managers oversee every aspect of the marketing related to a single brand. They will have input into how products are developed, how much they cost, and how they are marketed. If a brand chooses to employ a non-traditional marketing strategy, that decision will be made by the branding manager.

Education and Skills

A bachelor’s degree in marketing will be required for any brand manager. Most managers of major brands have advanced degrees in marketing. Additional education in business, communications, or public relations can also be helpful. Brand manager is typically a senior position that is only attainable after years spent working in marketing.

Street Team Member

What do they do?

Street team members are parts of marketing groups that hit the streets to put up fliers, hand out samples, and engage with customers in face-to-face ways. They do not typically design ad campaigns, but it is their responsibility to execute them. This is an entry-level position that is typically available to students, part timers, and new marketers.

Education and Skills

A degree in marketing is not necessary to be a member of a street team but it can be helpful. As representatives of brands, it is the job of the street team to sell that brand according to the company’s marketing strategy. The most important skills for a street team member to have are an outgoing personality, a strong ability to communicate, and an unfailing enthusiasm for the products they market.

Interactive Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Interactive marketing managers are in charge of any marketing initiative that involves interacting with the customer. This could be anything from an email newsletter, to an online game or a factory tour. It will be the responsibility of the interactive marketing manager to plan and supervise any non-traditional marketing campaign that tries to engage the customer.

Education and Skills

All interactive marketing managers will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Many have advanced degrees with a strong focus on digital and new media marketing. Supplemental education in computer science or programming can also be helpful.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

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There is the old cliché that you have to learn the rules before you break them, but this applies especially to marketing. Non-traditional marketing might seem like it is all about creativity and daring, but it is based on a foundation of traditional marketing and relies on many of the theories and strategies which have guided marketers throughout the ages. The best way to get the skills necessary to carry out creative and edgy campaigns is with a solid background in marketing. A degree in marketing from an accredited institution provides a thorough training in marketing that is vital for the non-traditional marketers of the future.

Marketing students will learn how to do market research, negotiate deals for ad space, and use technology to design visually striking ads. These are skills that apply to traditional and non-traditional marketing alike. The experience new marketers gain in a degree program is crucial for using non-traditional advertising successfully.

A careful study of the history of marketing can suggest new channels for advertising and unearth clever campaigns from the past. The industry professionals who teach in marketing departments have spent their entire careers studying the theories of advertising. Learning from their experience is invaluable as new marketers try to shift advertising into new and exciting directions.