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.