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What is ambient marketing?

When executed correctly, ambient marketing can be a powerful way to stand out from your competitors and build your brand.

Anyone who has ever identified that person dancing wildly at a music festival as their child’s schoolteacher or driven past a discarded toilet seat by the side of a deserted country road knows how jarring it is to see something out of context.

Our brains have been trained over time to expect to see certain things at certain times. When we see something different, we’re startled and it sticks in our minds.

And that’s the basis of ambient marketing.

Ambient marketing, when executed correctly, can be a powerful way to stand out from your competitors and build your brand.

So, how does ambient marketing work? Let’s take a deep dive – you might be surprised.

What is ambient marketing?

Ambient marketing is a marketing technique that places advertisements in unexpected places, to stand out and be remembered.

We know when we’re driving to work, we can expect to see a few billboards, but did we expect to see a giant soft drink can sitting at the bus stop we passed?

By placing visual and interactive advertisements in unexpected places, your ads make the customer remember your brand and encourage them to spread the campaign through word of mouth.

The term ‘ambient media’ was first coined in Great Britain in the 1990s, and over the decades has grown in its use and its creativity.

How does ambient marketing work?

The key to successful ambient marketing is the element of surprise, and that requires creativity and originality.

The most successful ambient marketing campaigns all have these things in common:

  • Creativity: The more creative the campaign, the more memorable it is.
  • Unexpectedness: The element of surprise disarms the audience, making them more open to persuasion.
  • Engagement: The more interactive the ambient marketing, the more the audience develops a relationship with the product.
  • Subtlety: Ambient advertising never harasses or frightens its audience. Rather, it gently encourages interaction.

What are the pros and cons of ambient marketing?


  • There’s always a chance the campaign will go viral, especially when people take videos or pictures and share them on social media.
  • By placing an ad in an unexpected place, you’re reaching a wider audience than you may normally, potentially leading to new customers.
  • Ambient advertising makes people smile – at its very best it makes people take photos – creating deep and meaningful engagement.
  • Unlike salespeople or pop-up ads, ambient advertising is non-intrusive.


  • Much can go wrong with ambient marketing. Your digital marketing pop-up might experience a technical glitch; that pavement street art might be washed away by an unexpected storm.
  • In its quest to be memorable and creative, there’s a risk of the brand being lost. Sure, it was funny and unexpected to see the group of people walking down the street dressed in suits of bubbles, but did anyone know it was an ad for sparkling wine?
  • Ambient marketing may not get the desired reaction. That giant soft drink bottle sitting at the bus stop, for example, might prevent people from sitting down, leading to anger and outrage.


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A post shared by Maybelline New York (@maybelline)

Examples of ambient marketing

From the wall painting of a woman that used the tree above it as the woman’s hair, to the hot air balloon shaped like a bar of soap you saw drift over your house, we all have memories of ambient marketing, but there are some campaigns that enjoyed worldwide success.

You’ve probably seen videos of Maybelline’s ambient marketing campaign for Sky High Mascara, because the campaign went viral. Maybelline added eyelashes to London Underground’s tube carriages and London buses, which were so unexpected and delightful, people began taking pictures and videos and sharing online which routes had the eyelashes. To add to the drama, at some train stations, Maybelline installed giant mascara wands, so that when a train with the lashes passed through, it looked like it was having mascara applied.

A less dramatic, but enduring ambient marketing campaign, was when KitKat installed park benches decorated to look like KitKat bars, with the slogan encouraging people to ‘have a break, have a KitKat’. It was memorable because who knew the slats of park benches are actually shaped like KitKat fingers, and because it so brilliantly aligned with the brand’s strapline ‘have a break’.

Speak to the marketing experts

Assemblo is a full-service marketing agency based in Melbourne that combines marketing expertise and experience with a culture where creativity thrives, and the best ambient marketing campaigns are born.

To find out how we can help your business, give us a call on (03) 9079 2555 or send us a note via the contact form below.

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