Today, can you imagine a ten minutes of your awake time when you are not bombarded with any sort of advertisement? Would it surprise you to learn that in addition to all the content that you clearly see and recognise as advertising, you are also subjected to a controversial marketing technique known as Stealth Marketing?
If you have seen Tom Hank’s Cast Away, in which he plays the stranded FedEx delivery man. FedEx featured prominently throughout the film giving out an implicit message that through rain or storm or even years on a stranded island, FedEx always delivers. This is Stealth Marketing, also known as undercover or buzz marketing – a marketing technique that advertises a product to people without them even realizing it.
Until a few years ago, print ads, bill boards, TV, radio, and door-to-door marketing where the only means of advertising. However, in the last few years, especially after the smartphone boom, digital marketing has grown at an immense rate.
Digital Marketing is the New School of Marketing. Email, SMS, Social Media, Push Notifications, Voice calls – the list of digital marketing channels is ever-expanding.
Are the old school marketing techniques better than the new ones? Are the new ways just a bunch of gimmicks? Shouldn’t we stick to the tried and tested methods which have been proven fruitful earlier? These are billion dollar questions.
The debate on which school of marketing is better may be unending. However, Stealth Marketing has been around (or to say has been undercover) in both old and new schools of marketing techniques, both in the pre and post smartphone times.
Stealth Marketing in the Old Marketing Era
Some classic examples of Stealth Marketing in the earlier days, can be seen in 2000’s Bollywood movies where we could see actors drinking one particular cold drink all the time, or using a particular brand of shoes always.
Much more controversial was the technique used in the film The Blair Witch Project in which the film makers released the movie as a found footage video. They also launched a website campaign spreading the news that the content of the film is actually a found footage video, and not a film. This was in late 90’s and the early stages of found footage horror films. The campaign was made viral and also turned controversial. However, the stealth marketing strategy worked quite well for the film. It is now considered as a cult classic.
Similarly, when Sony Ericsson launched their T681 camera phones, they hired models to pose at Eiffel Tower. The models used to keep asking bystanders to take their photo. Once someone agreed, they would give them the brand new Sony Ericsson camera phone and engaged them in a conversation about how good the phone is. Sweet old ways of word of mouth marketing!
Stealth Marketing in the New Marketing Era
Have you seen casual tweets from celebrity accounts subtly mentioning that lunch at a particular restaurant was really nice? Why would someone living in Andheri go all the way to BKC to have lunch at Hemant Oberoi? You thought they were friends of the Chef? Wrong!
This is the new word of mouth in the social media era. If you are a regular Twitter user, then you know how to search for a particular topic, and if you do one, then you see similar posts by many celebrities (both off screen and on screen). This is the new way of trending.
To trend a topic on Twitter, as per the Twitter algorithm, you need at least 2000+ unique tweets (just a thumb rule and not official) coming in an hour or two from various genuine accounts (not bots, Twitter can easily identify such automated accounts and tweets). There are agencies who hire undercover celebrity Twitter accounts to trend a particular product.
And finally, there are controversial YouTube accounts. For example, Dhinchak Pooja’s YouTube channel. For all the people who are abusing/commenting on her videos, hold on. Do you think she is not aware that her songs are bad or to say the least pathetic? It’s a classic case of- it’s so bad it’s good. Are you aware how much money she made from YouTube just from the video views? Do you know how many agencies have tied up with her Twitter account?
This is the new era of marketing – Whatever works! Ends always justify the means.
Stealth Marketing is a very low cost marketing technique when compared to standard marketing strategies. It is quite effective too. But there are times when it is bordering on the lines of controversy which can backfire really badly.
Recently, when Reliance Jio was launched, many celebrities were seen tweeting about the launch. A Twitter user found out that one single tweet content was being copied and tweeted again by all the accounts. This incident created a major ruckus in social media and Reliance Jio had to face the flak for employing such techniques.
Keeping such setbacks aside, Stealth Marketing has always been around in one form or another, and it’s not going away anywhere soon. People love controversies and there is no publicity called bad publicity.