Stealth Advertising: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Not all advertising is clearly on a consumer's radar screen. Just like covert military operations, some companies engage in stealth advertising campaigns. In this lesson, you'll learn about stealth advertising. You'll also have a chance to take a short quiz.


Stealth advertising is a method of advertising in which the consumer is often not consciously aware that she is being subjected to advertising. While some argue that stealth advertising is a deceptive and unethical marketing practice, regulators have generally not pursued companies for engaging in it.


Product placement is a standard type of stealth advertising. If you have ever watched a television show or movie, you have almost certainly been exposed to product placement. Let's look at some examples:

  • A soda company pays a movie company to have its stars drink its soda out of the can - clearly displaying the brand label.
  • A beer company pays a television sitcom about a bar to prominently display its brands of beer instead of its competitors'.
  • A cooking show is paid to use a certain brand of cookware.
  • A movie company is paid to use a certain type of sports car in its chase scenes.
  • A clothing company pays a game show to have its host wear clothing from its product line.

Subliminal Advertising is a controversial type of stealth advertising. In the past, for example, people who watched movies would be subjected to a single unseen frame in the film that said 'eat popcorn.' Current research indicates that subliminally sending complex messages will not work, but some research indicates that a simple message, such as 'eat,' might have some effect.

Covert agents are even used to get you to sample the product without you even knowing it. That kind old couple that asked you to take a snapshot of them in front of a water fountain with their fancy camera may have been paid employees whose job is to get consumers to experience the camera.

Web pages can also be used for stealth advertising. Those handy-dandy informational or 'how-to' sites are often just a front to get you to click on a link that will send you to a site that offers a product or service related to the information or 'how-to' issue.

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