What is Astroturfing in Marketing? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

AstroTurf may have originated on the football field, but it's creeping into marketing. How? That's what we'll talk about in this lesson. Let's dive into astroturfing in marketing and look at a few examples.

Hitting the Field

If you've ever been to a football or soccer game, you've probably seen it: the perfectly manicured, exquisitely green surface where players run, kick and throw. Don't you wish you could get your yard to look so good?

Astroturfing gets its name thanks to its artificial nature.
astroturf, marketing, astroturfing

Well, there's a little trick about these lush, grassy surfaces you may not realize: they're not grass! That's right! Many of the fields are made of something artificial known as AstroTurf.

What's funny about AstroTurf is that the term has taken on a new meaning in the marketing world, and it's not a good one. Let's learn more about astroturfing in marketing in this lesson.

What is Astroturfing in Marketing?

Astroturfing, sometimes calls astroturf marketing, isn't something you really want to be associated with as a marketer. A term first coined by a U.S. Senator more than 30 years ago, astroturfing in marketing happens when a company tries to create ''buzz'' about its products or services while making it look organic. In fact, the buzz is actually artificial.

How does that happen? Most often, it occurs when a company hides its participation or sponsorship of a message to make it look as though it has a grassroots vibe. True grassroots efforts come from regular people who promote something or rally behind a cause. In astroturfing, the company is actually the one behind the messaging, but conceals it. Here's a quick example: The Alliance of Australian Retailers came out strongly against plain cigarette packages that would exclude brand names and logos in exchange for health-related warnings. But, surprise! Behind this alliance were companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, brands that stood to be impacted by the new law.

Astroturfing has become a larger problem in today's world, thanks to loads of online forums and blogs, as well as social media, where it is easy to push out a message. The benefits of astroturfing for organizations (if they don't get caught) is that it makes the message more credible or authentic, and can boost a brand's image or revenue. The problem is, many times these attempts are exposed and a company comes out looking worse on the other side.

It can be difficult to spot astroturf marketing in action because who knows what's really behind viral content? For consumers, it pays to be aware. Here are a few examples of companies who've been caught engaging in astroturfing.

Examples of Astroturfing

ExxonMobil

''An Inconvenient Truth,'' the global warming documentary featuring Al Gore, fell victim to a spoofed video titled ''Al Gore's Penguin Army.'' In the spoof, a 29-year-old resident of California shot down the former vice president's theories. But, wait, it wasn't actually a 29-year-old with a different set of beliefs after all. Instead, the origins of the video were traced to a public relations firm that has the world's largest oil and gas company, ExxonMobil, as a client. The company, which relies on the burning of fossil fuels for its revenue, would certainly take issue with a global warming filming faulting that very practice.

Walmart

Walmart has long been on the receiving end of criticism for its policies concerning employees. That is, until ''Working Families For Walmart,'' came along to explain just exactly how much the company actually does for its employees' families.

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