The Sneaky Side of Viral Marketing

by | May 1, 2006 | Marketing

Stealth Marketing: How to Reach Customers Surreptitiously is a fascinating article from the California Management Review that describes how agencies can intervene in natural communication situations to achieve results that traditional advertising can’t achieve.

Jackie Huba, co-author of Creating Customer Evangelistsslams the report, writing that “It conjures an image of pedophiles luring naive or vulnerable young girls or boys into their cars with the promise of candy.”

While I think that particular comparison may be over the top, I do agree with some of her examples of the right and wrong ways to generate buzz about a product. For example:

Example 1: BMW Films, a series of short films created by great Hollywood talents as obvious advertisements for BMW cars.

Example 2: Fake movie trailer directed by Michael Mann and starring Benicio Del Toro. The commercial was thoroughly disguised as a trailer, and was shown among other movie trailers, but was in reality an product placement piece for Mercedes.

The two ideas are similar, but the Mercedes version is noticeably more deceptive. Unfortunately, there’s no clear line between right and wrong when it comes to creative marketing. Some people will be disgusted at Mercedes’ attempt to generate buzz, while others will dismiss it as being harmless.

Stealth marketing will always be here. Questions of ethics aside, it succeeds at generating buzz about a product or service, and that alone will ensure its survival.

It’s a risky game, though, particularly now that online personal publishing has hit the mainstream. Surreptitious marketing attempts can be discovered, documents, discussed, and well-publicized in a matter of hours, significantly increasing their chances of backfiring badly.

It really just depends on how much risk a company is willing to take in their quest for success.

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