What Is Stealth Marketing?

Stealth marketing (sometimes called undercover marketing) is when you try to advertise a product or get people interested in a product without them realizing that you are doing it intentionally.   It is advertising in ways that don’t make it obvious you are advertising.  There is a lot of stealth marketing going on without you even realizing it.

Advertising With No Brand

You may recall this scenario from some years ago when you were watching a movie or watching a television show.   You would see a can of soda on a kitchen table.   If you looked closely at the can, you would realize that it was just a stage prop with a generic label on it for some fictitious brand of soda or else it would just say Cola.

Nowadays things are different.  Instead of using a stage prop “generic” soda can, the producers sometimes contact a company like Pepsi and collect advertising revenue if they will use a Pepsi can in that scene instead.    By having a can of Pepsi appear in the scene, it is a great way to advertise the Pepsi brand in a really subtle manner.   This is even more effective if they could show a really popular actor or celebrity actually drinking the Pepsi.  It provides an element of social proof to the audience that this popular celebrity drinks Pepsi.

Stealth Marketing

I honestly don’t know if Pepsi engages in this form of advertising or not.   I am merely using that scenario to illustrate my point.   It could apply to any product in any setting like that.  You could think up a million different ways to use that kind of stealth marketing.

It is the same reason why a company like Nike will pay a golfer millions of dollars to wear Nike clothes and use Nike golf clubs.   The golf fanatics who really love that particular golfer will want to use the same brand of equipment that he uses.  That is a form of stealth marketing.  Without even seeing an advertisement for Nike you would want the brand simply because it is associated with your favorite golfer.

Suppose you are thinking about getting a new cell phone.   You stop in a local restaurant for lunch one day when you accidentally overhear two people talking about their cell phones.  They both seem to agree that the latest Android phone is superior to the latest Iphone.   Would this influence your opinion about what phone you would buy?   You bet it would.  Unless you are an expert on cell phones, that conversation would probably influence your decision at least a little bit.   Now, what if that conversation was staged by Motorola in an effort to influence your opinion about the latest Droid phone?


Stealth Marketing On The Internet

This kind of thing happens on the internet too.  Suppose you want to introduce your website to people for the first time using stealth marketing.   Let’s use an imaginary scenario for the purposes of illustration.

Suppose you manufacture a product called the “CamperLight flashlight” – a special kind of flashlight that is perfect for people who do a lot of camping.  You sell your flashlight via your website.

Advertorial ArticleOne possible way to use stealth marketing would be for you to publish an article that tells a fictitious story about a camping trip someone went on last year.  Maybe your story is about the horrors of camping in bad weather.  You spell out this vivid story about how bad it was when it was raining sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that it was rocking the camper.

Somewhere in the middle of the story the person just happens to mention your brand of flashlight.  They could say something like “We always keep a couple CamperLight flashlights in our camping gear so that we don’t have to remember to bring batteries.”

That sentence would be embedded into the story so that it doesn’t look like you are trying to advertise the CamperLight flashlight.  Make it look like you are mentioning it because it is an important part of the story.   You would just mention the product without even linking to it.

Some of the people who read that article will stop and think “Yeah, that really stinks when you forget to bring batteries for your flashlight when you go camping.”  They might be inclined to go investigate this CamperLight flashlight to see what it is all about.   And in their head they will already have this picture of an avid camping person who uses that particular flashlight.   They already have one positive impression of that flashlight which makes it much more likely that they might buy one.  What if that person came across that CamperLight brand name more than once when they were at different websites and both times they got a similar positive impression?

That is how stealth marketing works.   You can influence a person’s opinion about your website, your products and your services without looking like a biased salesman.   I am sure you can think of many different scenarios where you could slip your website name or your product name into a conversation like that.

Imagine that you are reading some conversations on a public forum where people talk all about going camping.   What if someone was to ask a new question like this on a camping forum?

“Hey guys.  I can’t make up my mind about this.   I would like your opinion about which of the following flashlights would be best for us.  We do a lot of camping in really remote areas of the Smoky Mountains where you are really out in the middle of nowhere.  I am trying to choose between the CamperLight, the Eureka Niteguide and the SureFire E1L Outdoorsman flashlights.  Does anyone have any experience with any of these?”

That looks like a completely honest question.  Doesn’t it?  In fact it is an honest question if you word it so that it actually does apply to your situation.  What do you suppose is going to happen when other people read that on the forum?   Some people are going to go do some research on all 3 of those flashlights.  You are going to get people to discover your CamperLight flashlight and read deeply about it to compare it to the other models.   That is stealth marketing.

You are not suggesting that they buy the CamperLight flashlight.  You are merely getting people to notice that it exists.  And, if that CamperLight flashlight is perfectly designed for the rugged camper, then you can bet that you are going to generate some real interest in that product.

Pretty cool stuff huh?

What if you actually hired someone to go spread the word about your website or your product or your service using these tactics?   Would you agree that your business could benefit big time if more people were talking about your brand in public places where other people can see those conversations?


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