A sneaky and oftentimes underutilized advertising strategy is stealth marketing. It’s a strategy of advertising a product without consumers noticing it. In this article, we will explore what stealth marketing is, how it works, and some interesting examples you may have never considered.
What is Stealth Marketing?
Also commonly referred to as buzz marketing, stealth marketing is a marketing strategy that advertises products to people without them really taking notice. Although stealth marketing strategies are heavily criticized as being unethical and deceptive they can send a powerful message and reinforce brand loyalty.
The most common technique in stealth marketing is product placement. This can often be seen in movies, tv shows, bench ads, bus ads, and more. It’s used extensively through mainstream media and the general public is usually oblivious to it.
Techniques of Stealth Marketing
Below are some of the most used techniques in stealth marketing. Although they are heavily criticized it’s hard to deny the fact that they can be extremely effective in helping to push new products to market. Some of the techniques of stealth marketing include:
- Product Placement
- Undercover Marketing
- Misleading Websites
- Subliminal Messages
- Fake Controversy
Product placement is one of the most popular techniques used in stealth marketing. This is when references are made to specific products and brands that are incorporated into someone’s work, tv shows, movies, and other media.
If you hear major brands being mentioned on tv or movies, chances are those brands paid for the insertion of their brands being mentioned in the show or movie. This is also commonly referred to as embedded marketing. One iconic product placement example well known in the movie world is the Aston Martin in James Bond.
Undercover Marketing (Cover Agents or Celebrities)
Undercover marketing is a marketing strategy in which a product or service is introduced in a way that doesn’t seem like formal advertising at all. It can be very subtle and oftentimes missed by people.
This can include reviews from people about a new product they have tried or heard others try. It can spread through quickly word-of-mouth and cause curiosity from others to try.
This is a new sort of stealth marketing in which third-party websites start discussions about a particular product in order to spread it around on the internet to consumers. These websites are usually incentivized by product owners as affiliates to spread information about a new product in order to help generate sales.
It could come in the form of consumer reviews and most people aren’t aware that the websites are compensated for their reviews of the product.
Subliminal messages are techniques used in marketing and the media to influence the opinions and product choices of consumers.
This involves split-second flashes of a specific text, products, images, hidden messages, or cues which has the power to impact consumers below their own awareness. One of the most classic examples of subliminal messages is embedding a message in a song while an image pops up.
This is a new method of stealth marketing that is being used online. Product owners can start online feuds about products or services with the intent of drawing attention to them in order to promote them. These fake controversies can attack very minor details about a product or service which has no material impact on the quality of the product.
This is done in order to draw the attention of the consumer to give their own opinion and start discussions about the product online.
Podcasts are an extremely valuable technique for stealth marketing. In recent years podcasting has grown at an astronomical rate. People have demonstrated that they have a desire to consume long-form in-depth content in audio form. This provides an extremely valuable opportunity for marketing.
Recommended Reading: 8 Best Marketing Podcasts for Marketing Professionals
Podcasters like Joe Rogan can talk about certain experiences they have had with products in depth.
The depth can drive extreme curiosity for people to try a product out at least once. Most people who listen to podcasts don’t even realize that they are getting marketed products directly since they are built into the framework of the podcast as an experience.
Advantages of Stealth Marketing
Stealth marketing can provide extreme value for brands of all sizes. Some of the advantages of using stealth marketing as part of your overall marketing stack include:
- Advertising products before they launch (building pre-selling interest)
- Can help mold a company’s image and brand
- Stealth marketing can be very cost-effective compared to traditional marketing tactics
Disadvantages of Stealth Marketing
- Can damage the image of a brand if the marketing is borderline unethical
- It oftentimes dances between the line of unethical and illegal
- Stealth marketing tactics are often forced onto people without their knowledge
Stealth Marketing Examples
Stealth Marketing in Movies
In the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, you can clearly see the FedEx logo in the movie. This is a perfect example of how this type of marketing can be inserted into movies.
Stealth Marketing With Influencers
In this example we can see influencers directly using a product that will help them whiten their teeth. It showcases products that they use which they recommended to their large audiences.
Why Stealth Marketing Is Considered Bad
Many people consider it bad because they think it forces ideas and products onto people without their knowledge. Critics believe that stealth marketing has the ability to push negative messages onto people as well as ideologies that may be manipulative in nature.
Is Stealth Marketing Illegal
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has created strict guidelines against consumer fraud regarding misleading product placement and endorsement. Although stealth marketing isn’t illegal, there are plenty of companies who tread the line between what is unethical and illegal.