Stealth Marketing: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Stealth Marketing?
  • 1:24 Product Placement
  • 2:10 Covert Agents
  • 3:25 Subliminal Messages
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Fenner

Susan has an MBA in Management from the University of North Alabama. She teaches online and campus-based Business courses.

In this age of blatant consumerism, we are bombarded with advertisement everywhere we look. Marketers sometimes employ a questionable marketing tactic known as stealth marketing. Let's take a closer look at some of the stealth marketing techniques in use today.

What Is Stealth Marketing?

We're all familiar with the way businesses bombard us with advertising on a daily basis. Television, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines, billboards . . . you can scarcely go ten feet or ten minutes without running into some sort of advertising aimed at separating you from your hard-earned cash. Would it surprise you to learn that in addition to all of the ads that we clearly see and recognize as advertising, we are also subjected to a controversial marketing technique known as stealth marketing?

Stealth marketing, also known as undercover or buzz marketing, is a marketing technique that advertises a product to people without them even realizing it. Many people consider stealth marketing deceptive and unethical, and there may be backlash against companies who use it on them. When consumers don't recognize the advertising for what it is, they do not have an opportunity to opt out if they don't want to view it.

Still, many experts believe that that stealth marketing is a very effective marketing tool, and there are plenty of businesses willing to take that chance. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines regarding misleading product endorsements, but some organizations continue to push the envelope between unethical and illegal and wander into this murky gray area.

Examples of Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing takes many forms, some of them more acceptable to consumers than others. Let's take a look at a couple examples.

Product Placement

Product placement, or showing or referring to a particular product in movies or television, is a very common form of stealth marketing. Let's go over some examples.

  • A computer manufacturer pays to have their laptops used in a movie, and the brand logo is plainly visible when the camera pans the open cover.
  • A fast food chain pays a movie company to have actors seen enjoying their food with the chain logo prominently displayed.
  • Clothing manufacturers pay to have actors or television hosts wear their brand of clothing on a television show.
  • A sunglasses manufacturer pays a movie company to have lead actors wear their glasses in the film.

Product placement is less likely to be perceived negatively by consumers than some other forms of stealth marketing. What are your thoughts? Have you noticed product placement in the movies? Do you think it is unethical or fair play?

Covert Agents

Some companies utilize another type of stealth marketing called covert agents. This marketing uses people agents who appear to be just going about their daily lives but are actually paid workers promoting a business or product. Again, let's go over some examples.

  • Covert agents might be sports figures who are paid to wear a particular brand of clothing when going out in public.
  • They might be paid workers who join online communities and special interest message boards to chat with people about products without revealing that they work for the company, or they post fake reviews online.
  • They might be paid actors, though not celebrities, who are posing as regular people to strike up a conversation with strangers in order to put the company's product in their hands. Actual examples include actors posing as tourists who asked strangers to take their picture in order to introduce them to a new camera-phone and actresses who flirted with men in public and then handed them a sleek new phone so they could add their phone number to the address book.
  • Also, YouTube videos posted by individuals who seem to be average people using a product in their daily lives but are actually paid agents.

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