Ambient marketing: what it is and how to apply it online

Many times we ask ourselves what are the best strategies to activate to make our brand or company stand out from all the others. The evolution of marketing is constantly developing and keeping up to date. So, to keep up with the times, let’s take a look at this form of promotion called ambient marketing, which you will no doubt have come across when looking around the streets. But let’s understand what it is and how to apply it.

What is ambient marketing?

Ambient marketing refers to the placement of advertisements in unusual places that may even be unexpected, often using unconventional methods and in such a way as to be the first to do so. As applied by many brands, ambient marketing can catch people by surprise in squares and stations as if it were a flash mob played out in a different way.

The adjective ‘ambient’ was first used in 1996 by a British agency – Concord Advertising, which specialized in outdoor campaigns using unconventional communication techniques requested by its clients to evaluate a different alternative to the usual ad (advertising) we are now used to seeing.

ambient marketing strategies for online businesses

The agency found the solution by placing the ads in very unusual places: on the ground, behind toilet doors, and in petrol stations. All places that until then had never been considered as spaces made suitable for advertising, and in fact this is what ambient marketing still does today: in squares, stations, at bus stops, and underground stations, making extensive use of public spaces (but in a temporary way), in order to convey a direct and contextualized message of one’s company/product. This is why we speak of a kind of revolution in the business world.

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Let us look at the main points where the message to be promoted takes shape:

  1. to disseminate the advertising message in a way that astounds passers-by, that is disorienting and provocative, immersing oneself in the real world through an operation of distortion and reinterpretation of the physical environment in which the consumer habitually moves;
  2. are physically modified to impress, attract the attention of people in transit, and engage users in an original and immediate brand or product experience;
  3. reach the recipient where and when they least expect it. They are effective stimuli precisely because they reach the user unexpectedly. Like other forms of unconventional marketing, ambient marketing stems from the need to reach an audience that is increasingly reluctant to the messages conveyed by traditional media;
  4. be able to give the public a memorable experience that can be easily recounted and become known to the media.

To recapitulate, ambient marketing resorts to original means. The objective is to reach the consumer where one would not expect to find a promotional message, thus taking advantage of the surprise effect to overcome his or her normal resistance to this type of communication; and it does so with an added purpose: that of out of the house, by which is meant, the singular possibility of meeting one’s target outside the usual and traditional structure to which advertising communication is usually isolated.

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How much and why it is effective

Ambient marketing becomes effective when it succeeds in transforming a promotional action in the territory into a viral event, capable of surprising and triggering word of mouth.

It must be emphasized that ambient marketing does not follow the typical patterns of traditional outdoor advertising, but is profoundly detached from them: billboards, in fact, in addition to lacking the necessary contextuality and uniqueness of the message, presuppose a passive consumer concept, for which no form of participation or involvement with the brand is envisaged. Each initiative is affiliated with a certain context and with the type of people that may be encountered there at a certain time.

The purpose of such initiatives is to make those present interact with the brand, to give them an intense sensory experience, and to induce them to become active propagators of the brand message. These are particularly campaigns designed for subsequent web dissemination.

As the latest reports on the advertising market show, investments in unconventional marketing (albeit offline techniques) are still very strong. Today, we are literally bombarded by promotional messages and communications: when we watch TV, when we listen to the radio, when we read an article, or when we go on social networks. This is the era of so-called infobesity, i.e. overcrowding of voices shouting louder and louder for their own to be heard, creating confusion in the consumer and thus leading him to lower his average attention span.

By betting with non-conventional such as ambient marketing, guerrilla, viral marketing, or street marketing, you can do something unexpected and exciting, offering a unique message that is hard to forget and very creative.

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Difference between guerrilla and ambient marketing

We are talking about a type of sensationalist marketing; more precisely, it is about obtaining maximum results with minimum effort, implementing an unconventional technique where it is not money that counts, but empathetic intelligence and creativity.

The term guerrilla marketing derives from the war tactic – called ‘guerrilla warfare’, characterized by assaults and ambushes. As in a real guerrilla war, this discipline ‘attacks’ the individual consumer, thus also managing his or her reaction.

As we have said before, reaching consumers in common places and situations generates great visibility. As a result, displacement and curiosity will give rise to quick word-of-mouth and viral spread of the message.

The actual use of the term originated in 1984, thanks to a famous marketing and communications expert, Jay Conrad Levinson – who was president of ‘Guerrilla Marketing International’. Levinson worked with giants such as Adobe and Apple, and his background in psychology certainly helped him in laying the foundations for the development of the discipline through the study of the brain, its functioning, and above all the decision-making process of human beings.

Ambient marketing is very closely related to the guerrilla concept in that it also establishes an experiential approach, interacting with the user by bringing the message directly into contexts experienced by the specific target. It is potentially very reactive because it is caught in a moment of relaxation of the consumer in an environment into which he or she is directed with completely different motivations from those common for receiving advertising communication.

Guerrilla and ambient marketing, over time, have varied their fields of action: we are therefore not only talking about the real, physical experience but also digital. Virality is part of the strategy that can be produced online and that goes to maximizing the resources needed compared to a standard marketing strategy.

The principle of guerrilla marketing uses important resources such as imagination and innovation to achieve objectives such as:

  • brand recall
  • positive feedback and sentiment
  • referrals
  • fun, amazement, and engagement
  • profit
  • USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

In both cases, we speak of an unconventional form of marketing. The main difference between the two is that guerrilla can use the environment to meet the target audience, whereas for ambient marketing this is a prerequisite.

Both forms are derived to remedy the difficulty of getting noticed in common spaces; a problem that can also be traced back to the web and social networks. In practice, both guerrilla marketing and ambient marketing aim to create astonishment in the user, bringing advertising to a specific place where the target audience is present at that moment, who will naturally not expect to receive messages and communications at that precise moment.

Characteristics of ambient marketing campaigns

Initiatives related to ambient marketing campaigns have the following characteristics:

  1. strong use of creativity;
  2. integration into the surrounding environment:
  3. presence in high-traffic flow locations;
  4. association with the launch of novelties (contests, film releases, events, new products/services, etc.);
  5. occupation of spaces normally intended for other uses (surprise effect).

How to apply it online

Studying the online movements of our target audience helps us to more consistently and consciously choose the right platforms to position our advertising messages.

If our typical user uses social networks a lot, we could plan good Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter advertising campaigns, or if he often views web magazines dedicated to sports, we could plan a promotion on a particular display network.

The most important thing is to know the habits and places of interest of our potential audience so that we can choose to use the most suitable strategies, traditional or unconventional.

Ambient marketing is particularly effective for the simple fact that it captures the consumer’s attention at times when they are relaxed, and therefore, do not stop their thoughts in order to defend themselves from the overcrowding of content that populates the traditional media and now, also the digital world.

The branch in which it is mostly used in social communication is often for the most important environmental and humanitarian associations. In short, as with other forms of marketing, there are many methods to be applied and the strong points are always strategic planning and creativity.

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Achieving a viral effect on the web

Many people nowadays aim to achieve good results by conveying the ideals of their company or products. Implementing it online is becoming increasingly viral and many are successful or benefit from it, but few manage to implement a good positioning strategy and come up with creative ideas.

Every day on social networks, online magazines, and blogs, millions of advertising initiatives in the form of images, videos, or texts are reviewed and shared. Thus, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter make viral marketing a key component in the creation and dissemination of advertising. These campaigns must be able to arouse interest in the viewer behind the screen in order to be shared as many times as possible on digital channels, with the advantage of fuelling the promotional effect alone.

ambient marketing and consumer perception

This new form of word-of-mouth, which has been created in recent years on the Internet, is responsible for the advertisement remaining in the ‘digital memory’, thus generating more views over the years. Regardless of whether it takes place in a physical or digital location, the important thing is that the advertisement is seen as a unique, lasting, and shareable experience.

What is the right message to send to your target audience? Hard to say. Let’s think for a moment about the Google SERP; the ads and results we find can push the user toward the click and then toward the conversion you have defined. Using Facebook advertising well (which also makes the most of images and videos) can become the ideal strategy to increase the visibility of your brand, especially in a short period.

Ambient marketing strategy

When planning an ambient marketing strategy, the first thing you should think about is where you will carry out the campaign. You have endless possibilities, the trick is to identify spaces where there is a large flow of people on a recurring basis. If you are in a spot with low transit, your chances of finding potential customers will be greatly reduced. Once you have set the space, you need to develop a plan to define which target audience you want to hit with your campaign.

The most brilliant ambient marketing strategies have been created with a very limited budget. Don’t worry if you are afraid that people won’t understand your campaign, using usual spaces and objects on the street will easily attract users’ attention. Remember that the goal is to create an impact on the user to associate that emotion with the brand.

So the person may or may not buy the product, but they will have received the input. You have to learn to put yourself in people’s shoes, be empathetic, and furthermore, being able to understand their behavior in the marketplace will help you attract the attention of more people. Remember that users move through emotions, by generating the appropriate reactions, you will be able to strengthen the brand image.

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Ambient marketing: examples

Brands are aware of these advantages, and it is for this reason that ambient marketing campaigns are also increasingly being planned and thought out down to the smallest detail. Let us start with the choice of location: squares, stations, city center streets, underground or bus stops are, as already mentioned, favorite locations because they aim at ‘large numbers’ precisely because there is always a great bustle of people.


The best choice, however, would be somewhere where it would be easier to identify one’s specific target audience, as Airbnb did in this case, which with an initiative somewhere between an advertising campaign and a prize competition, in 2015 designated a cable car in the French Alps as a used holiday flat with a clear message: the service is the only one that allows you to spend your holidays literally anywhere you want.

ambient marketing examples

Among the most important elements to consider when doing ambient marketing is that the message conveyed is in perfect accord with one’s image, values, and corporate history, and that it can best reflect the type of product or experience offered.

Still, in line with original gimmicks, it is worth mentioning Redbull who, some time ago, hung urinals on the roofs of the toilets of Spanish discos, playing with their idea of a commercial: ‘Redbull gives you wings’ and with the evidence that discos and pubs are generally the places where the famous energy drink is most consumed.


Instead, the well-known chain placed sofas at city bus stops, thus recalling the idea that any place can become home if it is furnished to the best of its ability.

ambient marketing ikea

In all these cases, these are initiatives that reward creativity and originality: like almost all forms of unconventional marketing, ambient marketing is a low-cost marketing that can be done without excessive costs, as long as you know how to mix the right doses of flair and technique.

It is no coincidence that this type of communication is also well suited to the needs of public bodies, non-profit associations, and more generally, because it is high-impact and very engaging for the recipient, and is often used in the case of social campaigns.

Best known campaigns

  • Public transport

Public transport is ideal for attracting people with the ingenuity of your brand. A good example we can see is that of the Kleenex brand. In this campaign, it plays with three-dimensionality to arouse the interest of users.

ambient marketing ideas for outdoor events

Another rather curious example is the design created by Zoo: an enormous snake that wraps around the entire bus, generating a suffocating feeling in the vehicle. It is an effect very similar to that generated by 3D graffiti.

  • Pedestrian strips

What could be more common than a footbridge?

ambient marketing crosswalks

The creatives of the Mcdonald’s company saw an opportunity to exploit the zebra crossing. They were able to move one of their most consumed products to street level. The common white zebra crossing stripes became the largest fries Mcdonald’s has ever brought to market.

The potatoes came out of the distinctive red container with the typical mark formed by a big yellow M; surely many would have wanted to eat chips at that moment.

  • Ambient marketing for social campaigns

Another of the most well-known actions with this element was the rainbow-colored zebra crossings. This initiative, implemented in thousands of cities around the world, seeks to denounce the deplorable situation of the LGBT community in countries where many people are persecuted for their sexual orientation.

ambient marketing social campaigns

As you can well see, ambient marketing is not only reserved for commercial actions. It is also very effective for social causes. And such bright colors hardly go unnoticed.

There are no fixed rules or a perfect place to implement your street marketing strategy. It is all about how you interpret the space to achieve creative customer interaction. The essential factor is to generate positive feelings related to your product, and once you have captured the user’s attention, the rest is pretty much done.

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Times change and professionals in the field of digital marketing have had to reinvent their techniques. Ambient marketing is a set of promotional strategies and techniques that aims to create a greater impact among consumers. What makes it different from other types of campaigns is that many times people interpret it as an experience and not as advertising.

Today, users are looking for more than just an advertising campaign. What they really want is to have an experience with the brand, to feel part of it. These are usually campaigns with a high degree of creativity and interaction with users, all in order to remain longer in their memory.


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