Deceptive Marketing

This week my communication research has encompassed a wide range of marketing techniques and their effectiveness. I’ve reviewed the delicate and deliberate ways messages are developed. I’ve also studied how they are meticulously placed in society to reach their target audience, specifically in political campaign advertising, mass media marketing, social media platforms and guerrilla marketing. Some of my findings prodded me to dive more specifically into a particular form of advertising and its ethical grounds.

Marketing has transitioned in many ways throughout its existence. Digital marketing experts estimate the average American’s daily ad exposure to be anywhere from 4,000 – 10,000. Ron Marshall, Red Crow Marketing contributor, set out to get a better grasp on this estimation. He spent a day tracking this exposure and had reached nearly 500 before walking out the door that morning. After becoming “Brand-weary” he decided to call off the experiment concluding that the estimates were probably pretty accurate (Marshall, 2015).


We are bombarded with marketing messages in every form possible. Some of that exposure comes in the form of radio and TV commercials, print ads, brand labels, Facebook ads, Google ads, smartphone ads, or anything else a business can produce to get your attention and compel you to buy. In this competitive market, advertisers will go to all costs to stand out from the crowd to get their message heard. These organizations are getting more and more creative. Here are a few of the unique ways organizations are getting consumers’ attention:


Of course, most people won’t actually recall seeing 10,000 messages. This is because, in order to keep our sanity, we’ve developed a screening process to ignore most advertising messages. Less than 100 of them make it past our “attention wall” each day. It’s simply a matter of self-preservation. This is why you must be creative, memorable, and engaging. Finding an advertising agency or having a creative marketing strategy is a must. If you are not strategic, your efforts will be lost among the multitude of other advertising messages out there. (Marshall, 2015).

In effort to fight through the sea of advertisements consumers are exposed to daily, some organizations are resorting to rather extreme methods to place their products into the lives of consumers. Marketers have transitioned to attempt a more natural, organic approach. They have implemented techniques described as stealth marketing. “Stealth marketing, also known as buzz marketing, is any marketing strategy that advertises a product to people without them knowing they are being marketed to.” (Stealth Marketing, 2012). Although there are many types of stealth marketing, product placement and undercover marketing are the most common techniques. This marketing of course falls under objectives of immediate product sales, but also introducing consumers to a product to create excitement, openness and recognition to future advertising.

The concept behind undercover marketing is for an organization to hire actors to introduce their product into real life scenarios. “Act” being the key word. In 2002, Sony Ericsson used undercover marketing to expose their new product, one of the first phones with camera capabilities. They hired 60 actors in 10 major cities and posed them as tourists. The “tourists” were given the task of asking fellow tourists and bystanders to take their picture. This gave the public the opportunity to see this product in a natural environment. The excitement about this product grew, as did sales and the campaign was seen as revolutionary and largely successful.

This method of marketing has grown, especially in organizations with limited advertising budgets. Although it has proven to be effective, I believe it flirts with some ethical boundaries. This practice employs people to pretend or act in order to persuade others. They twist an everyday, natural experience into an advertising advantage. It’s deceptive and tricky.

Proponents of this strategy claim that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to use wisdom to decide if they like the product, regardless of how persuasive the actor may be. It is ultimately the consumer’s decision to purchase or adopt the new product, but it’s a little too fishy to me. I’m skeptical of persuasion and influence methods. I do not like pushy salesman or overly-involved shop clerks. I view a purchase as an investment of my earnings. I like to be able to decide on a product through my own research, rather than outside influences. To me, this method is just an inch away from lying. I wouldn’t feel right being hired to deceive others and I definitely wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the undercover marketing technique. I value transparency in the organizations I support.

Currently, there are not any laws preventing this type of marketing from being practiced.

Some stealth marketing practices exist in a legal gray area. Some consumer protection groups have asked the United States Federal Trade Commission to investigate stealth practices as early as 2005 and many undercover marketing tactics are explicitly illegal in the European Union. Any company considering using stealth marketing should be aware of local laws regarding the strategy (Stealth Marketing, 2012).

The US FTC frowns upon stealth marketing, and intends to investigate these practices on a case-by-case basis, rather than launching a full scale investigation.

There are a several other techniques to market an organization or product in a more ethical and honest way. Advertisers should be vigilant to seek those out instead of leaning on a crutch such as undercover marketing. Representing an organization with integrity rather than through deception is a better business practice and in the end creates a more reputable brand and genuine sense of rapport with consumers.

How Many Ads Do You See in One Day?



The Role of Communication in Leadership

Leadership is a term often used to describe an individual or group who is placed in a role of authority. However, one who leads and is recognized as a leader is more than just a superior. This individual embraces an entirely different mindset. The person not only does what is asked, but goes well beyond the call of duty.

When we dissect the characteristics of strong and successful leaders, many things come to mind. Leaders seem to have mastered a toolkit of attributes that define them as such and set them apart from others. Some of the most common leadership qualities include commitment, integrity, poise, positive attitude, strong work ethic, forward thinking, empowering and highly motivated. Arguably one of the most crucial skills of a successful leader is the ability to communicate. This quality alone may be the entire reason a person can be regarded as a leader among peers and subordinates. One who possesses all the necessary skills must then be able to communicate them to be recognized with high esteem.

This week I have researched a few key concepts leaders communicate to those around them.

Environment – Leaders influence the climate of the organization. Based on their actions and interaction with others, they set the tone for the entire unit. This is the vibe or energy of the organization. It’s what people feel when they encounter an individual or company. It’s what lingers when they hang up the phone or walk away. It’s the perception they create and assign as good, bad or so-so.

It reminds me of the animated movie, Inside Out, which portrays a very tangible way for how an individual associates experiences with feelings. In the film, Riley’s memories are categorized into five emotions: joy, fear, anger, sadness and disgust. Each memory is represented by a color-tinted sphere and stored in the “long-term” warehouse. When she recalls a particular memory, she immediately associates it with the previously assigned feeling.

The aura isn’t just important for consumers, it also has a major effect on employees and in turn on the success of the organization.

Leaders’ effects on their environments are usually on display through circumstances. They exude poise and confidence. They keep cool in the face of challenging news. They serve as the compass for suitable reactions. They are highly concerned with organization morale and use appropriate means to keep it positive. They use humor to keep the workplace enjoyable and smiles to radiate its friendliness.

Openness – Leaders build organizations on integrity and trust. They are down to earth, real people who are transparent to those around them. They value the feedback from fellow employees and even seek it to stay updated on company issues. They are approachable and make a habit of listening and empathizing with others. They respond quickly and appropriately to challenges within the organization.

Commitment – They are hardworking and undeniably sold out to the work of the organization. They are one with the effort and it sinks into their bones. They view everything in life as relative to the organization. They set the example and are willing to do any task.

Empowerment – Leaders recognize the skills and talents of others and place them in positions to succeed. Leaders stay connected to people and they know what roles and tasks are best suited for them. They equip those around them with the necessary resources to achieve their goals. They challenge and push to greatness. Leaders unify the group and focus on attaining success together as a team. They also recognize, highlight and congratulate accomplishments as well as encourage in the face of defeat.

Shared vision – Leaders inspire others to dream. They encourage individuals not to settle, but to push the envelope and always thirst for more. They share a vision for the organization and provide objectives and direction to achieve it. They flatten hierarchy and promote equality from top to bottom. They respect all and take time to invest in people so everyone will see the value of the vision and “buy into” its principles. Leaders believe so strongly in the organization and its future, they practically breathe it when they speak. It resonates with them on a deep, personal level.

Communication – Yes, they communicate communication. I know it sounds a little redundant. It’s imperative that they do this well! Communicating well within an organization takes wisdom. They must have a pulse on the best and most effective channels within their employee system. This will look different for every environment. This can be every form of communicating from a phone call, to a Facebook message, a Twitter post or speaking in the hallway. It’s critical for a leader to know his or her message and how best to disseminate it. Other dynamics are important to consider when communicating, such as tone and nonverbal cues or gestures. All these play a part in how the message is received. Wording of the text, as well as its punctuation, in the message is key to others’ understanding.lets-eat-grandma1Leaders must be clear and concise when communicating an essential message. Employees need to be able to easily understand the intent without filtering through unnecessary fluff.

Leaders must be prudent in communication with employees. Many things are inappropriate to communicate because of confidentiality or privileged information. It’s important for a leader to know what can be shared, and what’s for his or her knowledge only.

This week I’ve become aware of just how important communication must be in leadership. It’s everything! It’s much more the physical communication taking place, but the transfer of intangible concepts as well. Leaders are the heart and soul of their organizations. They become that central piece because of their extraordinary ability to communicate not just with their words, but other principles essential to their organizations’ success including environment, openness, commitment, empowerment and a shared vision. Leaders who embrace these develop healthy working environments. That in turn leads to satisfied and purpose-driven employees. Happy employees strive for organization success and become walking advertisements creating a positive external brand image. It’s a win, win.

Channels of Internal Communication

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Successful organizations tend to also have excellent communication strategies. I’m of the opinion that to communicate well externally, an organization must be united internally as well.

Productivity increases 20-25% in organizations with connected employees, however 70% of employees are not engaged at work (Paton, 2015). It stands to reason, most organizations have room to grow in the arena of internal communication.

Internal communication is simply communication that happens within an organization. That can be in any form from an official address to an impromptu conversation between employees.

The communication climate is the general framework of communication flow within the organization. It differs according to the nature and mission of the organization as well as its leadership. It can be freely flowing (open and welcoming) in some environments and stifled (quiet and confidential) in others. It’s one of the key components of a successful organization and is recognizable almost immediately upon entering.

Regardless of the climate, internal communication can always improve. Over-communication isn’t a term that’s used very often when referring to communicating within an organization.

This week I’ve studied some traditional methods of internal communication, as well as some more modern platforms for information sharing within organizations. Since effective communication is so valuable, leading to motivation, productivity and loyalty, choosing the best way to communicate a message internally can be challenging. This decision requires wisdom and foresight from organization leaders. The message content, audience, severity and timing must be considered when selecting the preferred communication channel.

The most common form or organizational communication is email, which became popular in 1993, soon after the internet was invented. This has transformed communication in the business world. It makes it possible to transfer text, images, and attachments immediately. All that’s required is a digital device and an internet connection – both easily accessible. This form of communication is so easy to use, therefore, it is. The average employee receives 147 emails a day (Hussein, 2014) and spends 1/3 of his or her day reading, organizing, prioritizing and replying to email (Trinkle, 2014). Therein lies the challenge. As easy as it is to send, it’s just as easy to miss. Recipients may not see your email because it gets lost among all the other email traffic that takes place in their inboxes during a day. Even if employees receive the email and open it, they may not read the message entirely or may misinterpret what was intended. Other email challenges include errors in the message, requiring follow-up emails adding more confusion. Often emails are sent to incorrect recipients or the correct recipients are left off by mistake. Organization-wide emails only go to current employees, which can create challenges when new employees join. They can be a step behind before they step foot into the door. As convenient and efficient as email can be, it doesn’t come without its own challenges and mishaps.

Intranet came onto the larger organization business scene mid-90s, around the same time as email. Intranet is an internal digital platform for an organization only accessible by its members. Current widely used intranets like Jostle and Communifire provide organizations the capacity to house all pertinent information and communication in an easily accessible location. It is contained within an organization’s network and not available to the general public. It serves as a starting point for employees to access company specific information and outside resources. Its communication benefits include employee accessibility to important documents, communicating messages to particular organization audiences, keeping employees current in policies via training tools, as well as enhancing employee connectivity through interaction and collaboration. The challenges of this tool can be numerous. Connectivity issues, password problems, an ineffective layout can be a few of the hurdles in adopting this method.

In-person communication is a strong communication tool to disseminate information internally. Individual and staff meetings are more personal, direct and conducive to two-way communication. This provides a better opportunity for the employees and leadership to be on the same page. Different members may report on key topics/events in their area and the leader uses this feedback to encourage, provide advice or redirect back to organizational goals or standards. Often employees are recognized for service, which gives employees value in the organization. Obviously, members must be present for this form to be effective.

Tele/Video conferencing has become an increasingly popular form of organizational communication particularly in connecting people located in different places. Collaboration is possible with people from all over the world using this platform, usually accessed by an internet site and or phone. This can be a major cost saver to organizations with members spread across multiple locations and can assist with organization communication. Usually these virtual meetings are recorded for reference or sharing later. Technical issues do arise from time to time, and if not resolved quickly can compromise the exchange of information.

Social meetings can often have more impact on an organization than formal meetings. These events can be birthday celebrations, staff lunches or invitations to an outing after working hours. These breaks from the working norm can boost morale and deeper the connection between employees and the organization.

Printed communication in some forms, is becoming an outdated form of information sharing, but still remains a requirement in many organizations. These includes everything from signature-approved memos, internal newsletters, a staff handbook, a resource library and even signage on a bulletin board. These methods serve to be effective in some ways can present their own challenges as well.

Some more modern channels of communication are in line with social media trends. These digital communication tools improve employee engagement through teamwork and collaboration. Some of the popular internal social media tools include: Yammer, Podio, Wrike and Skype. Yammer is a employee communication hub that fosters communication and collaboration giving employees the ability to chat, share files and organize projects. Similar in function, Podio and Wriken are web-based platforms for organizing team communication, business processes, data and content in project management workspaces. Skype gives employees a platform for digital voice and video calls, keeping them from accumulating costs on their personal devices/plans.

These digital tools are meant to assist the communication within an organization. Leaders must keep in mind the audience and members of their organizations and their openness to trying new technology. These forms are immediate fails if the employees are not on board.

Selecting an appropriate communication channel can seem like a daunting task, but in the end the organization leaders must choose the most effective channel for a particular message with the resources available in that moment of time.

7 Surprising Stats That Show the Importance of Internal Communications


Journalism vs. Public Relations


Welcome to week 3 of my blogging journey. This week has been sort of a game changer for me. I dove into my research this week firmly grounded in my opinion on this topic, but as the week has progressed, I have found myself gradually shifting my thoughts. Also, in this week’s excursion, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for both roles.

I tend to categorize myself more as a Public Relations professional than a journalist. Both are required to be expert communicators. You could say that both are demanding roles that require constant attention. One might argue they don’t differ much, but I disagree. In many ways, they are nearly opposites. George Orwell once stated that “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

When I ventured further into studying this concept, I have to admit, I was a little close- minded. A local event prompted my digging. A school newspaper had exposed a story via Social Media that could have strong negative implications on public perception of the school. My first (PR) reaction was one of complete confusion. How could the newspaper staff think it was a good idea to share this, knowing the effects could be damaging? Do they not all want the best for the school? Do they not all want people to be proud of the institution they represent? Aren’t they all on the same team?

I’ve come across several similar instances of this toggle back and forth of journalism reporting and censorship from authority. I’ve found stories of principals banning students from reporting on controversial subjects in their school newspapers (Bailingit) and students fighting the administration’s censorship (Cheun).

After researching a little, I’ve changed my tune. The unfortunate reality of journalism (and the world we live in) is that it’s not all fuzzy puppies, rainbows and unicorns. “Bad” things do happen, all the time, and journalists have a responsibility to relay that to the public in an unbiased way. Had this particular story been tabled, the real news would not have been known. Journalists recount occurrences accurately to share information, remove doubt and preempt incorrect perceptions of what took place. In some respects, journalists serve to clarify or confirm the truth. It’s a big job and words are extremely powerful. To keep our industry credible, we have to remain neutral. We have to report the facts. We are entrusted with getting it right and in an honest way. We are all familiar with one who stretched the truth a little.


Brian Williams most likely will not be remembered for his broadcasting career that span across three decades. People will not remember that he won the Peabody award for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina or his decade of service as an MSNBC nightly anchor. He’ll be remembered for lying, or “misrepresenting events” which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. Once again, journalists have a big job.

I’m not sure which is more difficult, reporting unbiased, honest events or being on the flip side of that coin. Public Relations professionals in a way, are on the receiving end of that news and when it involves their client, they must step up to the plate.

PR pros almost live in a tainted reality. It’s not all their fault, it’s their job. They exist to present their client worthy – with a halo even. They shine the light on all the positive attributes of an organization.

If public relations only entailed promoting a client, I’d say that would be a fairly easy, carefree job. Sure, promotion certainly comes with its own challenges (budget, talent, reaching an audience, etc) but doable none the less. The real challenge in this world is not just promoting a client, but maintaining that positive image with consumers. This is where crisis management comes into play. PR professionals usually have no control over what is reported about their clients, but they have to be ready in an instant to respond.

This past week the PR staff of a couple local elected officials have been hard at work trying to manage negativity in light of their representatives’ public comments. Governor Bentley has been heavily criticized after stating that “Our education system in this state sucks,” in response to the release of Alabama’s poorly ranking test scores. Educators and administrators across the state have expressed their distaste in his comments, his support as governor, as well as his character. Whether he meant to or not, he has stirred major controversy.

Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal was also under fire recently for using the term, “colored people” referring to African Americans. In a speech where he rallied people to vote for the Amendment 1 bill that would allow the state of Georgia to takeover failing schools, Deal said, “The irony of some of the groups who are opposing doing something to help these minority children is beyond my logic. If you want to advance the state of ‘colored people,’ start with their children.” He later said that he was referring to the NAACP, who have been opposing the bill.

The challenge for the PR pro representing these officials is to try to manage the situation as best as possible. Unfortunately for the PR pro, these comments “catch fire” in a sense and seem to not go away for a while. They seem to stick with their initiators and even mark them at times. Usually a quick response from the speaker is required, providing an explanation or apology for the comments, but in many cases the damage is done.

The next several weeks and months are critical to this persons public perception. The PR staff must do everything in their power to convince the public the slip was an isolated incident and doesn’t reflect the true character. That’s a big job as well.

Social media is one platform that can play a role in the clean up process, but in challenging times, it can provide even more of a platform for people to express their frustrations. Where people would previously write letters or emails to convey their dislike about a specific instance, now they can post it to a public digital wall for the world to see.

So this week has been an eye-opener for me. I’ve discovered the world of difference between journalists and public relations professionals and the major challenges they each face in those roles.