Stealth Marketing: A Primer

Stealth marketing – also known as undercover marketing – has received a great deal of attention in recent years, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. Basically, stealth marketing refers to advertising a product or service to someone without disclosing that you are a representative of its company. A classic example of online stealth company is when the representatives of a product or service post glowing reviews and comments for that product on public boards. This can boost the product’s rating, while not actually reflecting what actual, unbiased users of the product think.

The Ethics Of Stealth Marketing

Many people believe that stealth marketing is a shady, unethical way of advertising a product or service because it basically relies on deception. The advertiser willfully deceives his audience by not disclosing his relationship to the product or service being praised. Considering the negative reactions of people who realize they’ve been marketed to in this way, it is pretty apparent that a lot of risk is involved in using this marketing technique.

Stealth marketing is most popularly used in instances when a new product or service is receiving negative word of mouth from the general public. A new cell phone, for instance, might receive a huge number of poor reviews on a popular website. Naturally, the people thinking about buying this phone will think twice about doing so if it seems to have a uniformly negative rating. In this case, a company might begin engaging in stealth marketing by posting its own, positive reviews of the phone in order to counteract the negative ones that are piling up.

In this case, stealth marketing is almost certainly unethical. After all, the phone is obviously a poorly made product if so many people feel compelled to write drastically negative reviews about it. Others who are considering purchasing it in order to make an informed decision put their trust in the premise that the reviews are made by average, every day people – not marketing personnel. Without full disclosure, a company that posts positive reviews and ratings about its own products is actively deceiving the buying public.

Social Networking And Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing may be performed in a number of different ways. The Internet has made it far easier to engage in, but there are ways of doing it through print media and even in person as well. Each different type of product generally requires a subtly different approach in order to use stealth marketing for maximum effect. The fact that it can be done in so many different ways is certainly a big contributor to the public’s growing lack of trust in advertisers.

In addition to posting positive reviews and ratings on various websites, the Internet can be used to perform stealth marketing in countless other ways. Social networking websites can be used to great effect in such efforts. Companies can create multiple fictional characters and give them profiles on a handful of such sites. Over time, they can build up large friends’ lists or a lot of followers; gradually, they can begin sending out links to products they really enjoy using – but that are actually well camouflaged advertisements.

As with all types of stealth marketing, creating fake profiles on social networking sites creates a false sense of trust between the consumer and the fictional character. When done correctly, the people this fictional character befriends never realizes that they are entirely fabricated; they may even begin respecting their opinion, which is the jackpot in terms of stealth marketing. With that kind of trust, the character can then be used to casually mention websites, services, products – anything the company wishes to market – in order to drum up interest in them.

Other Examples Of Stealth Marketing

On many occasions, companies have hired actors to engage in stealth marketing techniques. Sony Ericsson used 60 actors in 2002 in ten different cities to market a new camera phone. These actors would approach random strangers, asking them to take their picture. In doing this, the actors could engage the strangers in the benefits of their “cool new Sony Ericsson phone”, for example. This would plant the seeds in peoples’ minds about the benefits of the phone, and in some cases may have encouraged them to buy one of their own.

Longtime bloggers who have achieved respectable followings are occasionally recruited by companies for stealth marketing campaigns. These bloggers are paid by the companies to write positive posts about their experiences with a company’s products, services or events. When done correctly, the readership of the blog never realizes that they are being advertised to; the key to this type of stealth marketing is maintaining the same tone regular readers are used to, and making a believable post about the benefits of the product in question.

Whether or not one believes stealth marketing is ethical, what’s undeniable is that it can backfire. Anyone who chooses to use this marketing technique needs to be supremely careful not to reveal the company’s identity. Consumers who discover they have been surreptitiously advertised to usually form very negative opinions about the company that pulled the wool over their eyes.

In a word….don’t do it. You’ll only ruin what you’ve worked so hard at developing…trust.

Stephen Ralph

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