Stealth marketing – you may have heard this buzzword used before, but have you ever wondered what it actually means?
What does stealth marketing entail and how is it being used by businesses today? We answer all of these questions and more to help you better understand all about it.
noun [ U ] | US/ˌstelθ ˈmɑːr.kɪ.t̬ɪŋ/
Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, stealth marketing is marketing (= encouraging people to buy a product or service) in such a way that people are not aware that you are trying to persuade them to buy it.
So, hold on a second… if people aren’t aware that you are trying to persuade them to buy something, isn’t that illegal? Aren’t there certain laws in place that restrict businesses from advertising to people without their direct knowledge?
Yes! Stealth marketing is a grey area when it comes to marketing and you need to ensure that you are following all advertising laws in your respective country. However, when done right, stealth marketing can also be properly executed without crossing any legal boundaries.
If it’s a grey area, what are the benefits of stealth marketing?
With that being said, stealth marketing has many benefits and is widely used today as a marketing tactic.
Have you ever seen a movie or TV show and noticed the actors drinking cans of Coke? Or all working exclusively on HP laptops? This is called product placement and it is a form of stealth marketing. The idea is that you are not screaming your product in the consumer’s face but rather incorporating it in existing settings that complement it well.
Stealth marketing takes creativity because it’s not an easy feat to try and advertise your product to a group of people without them knowing that they are being advertised to. Marketers will sometimes use buzz marketing and stealth marketing interchangeably because the primary purpose of stealth marketing is to create buzz surrounding a particular product or brand.
However, it is important to note that there is a key difference between the two as buzz marketing can be direct or indirect. Meaning that with buzz marketing tactics, people may be aware that they are being advertised to. Whereas stealth marketing’s whole purpose is to be…stealthy.
So why should I consider using stealth marketing for my business?
Why would a brand want to use stealth marketing rather than traditional marketing or other tactics? Well, there are many benefits to using it and it’s widely used across the world. If done properly, it gives brands the opportunity to go global with their reach.
Stealth marketing is typically used as an awareness tool, meaning that brands that launch stealth marketing campaigns are usually focusing on awareness KPIs rather than conversion. A company that places their product in a movie or TV show is not looking for you to directly recognize the product and then go out to the store and buy it.
Rather they are indirectly showing you its uses, benefits, etc., for example, a successful businessman in a movie is closing a deal in his office while using an HP laptop.
You may not pay too much attention but next time you are shopping for a laptop you will have much higher brand recognition with HP because you have already seen the laptop. If it was very well done then you may go so far as to actually purchase the laptop.
Similarly, a popular example of product placement is the use of luxury cars in movies.
Next time you watch your favorite action-packed movie, pay attention to what car the hero or main character is using.
Notice them getting out of a luxury BMW or Audi while everything blows up behind them? That’s product placement for you; the brand specifically wants you to feel the power and luxury of the moment in the movie and also their car. They want you to remember those feelings the next time that you’re thinking about buying a new car.
Can I create stealth marketing campaigns through social media?
Yes! With the rise of social media, stealth marketing has also made its way into the realm of influencers.
While you may see obvious advertisements from popular influencers using products and speaking directly about the benefits of the product to their customers. You may also not notice more indirect, stealth marketing collaborations that influencers engage in.
Going back to the car example, a company like BMW may gift a car to a prominent influencer knowing that it will be featured in various future posts from here on out. The influencer wouldn’t directly call out the gifted item from the company, but you would notice that their new Instagram stories have been in an all-black BMW lately.
Stealth marketing can also be done through online social communities, and forums to create buzz around a specific brand or product. Making it seem like it’s naturally coming up within these communities rather than being forced upon them.
So what does stealth marketing look like in real life?
Stealth marketing executed in the real world has been successfully done by some of the biggest brands and names in Hollywood.
A great example being the anticipation created around the release of King Kong 3D. Where they created giant, King Kong size, footprints and special effects to make it feel as though he really walked through the beach, destroying a Jeep in its path.
There were no direct call-outs or signage for the movie which made for a captivating and engaging experience for people passing by. This created a buzz about the movie online as many posed with giant footprints and broken Jeep and posted it to their social media accounts.
Stealth marketing doesn’t have to be expensive; it can be little changes done to everyday things to convey a specific message. For example, Axe body spray extended exit signs with female icons chasing after the running man. This is simple yet clever, as we know that Axe frequently promotes the men who use their products will smell so good that they will have women chasing after them.
How else can you use stealth marketing?
Aside from product placement and indirect outdoor activations, another form of stealth marketing is fake controversy.
Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is.
You are purposely creating controversy about your brand or product with the hopes of getting the media to talk about it. For the movie, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”, Ryan Holiday, working with the movie, purposely vandalized the movie’s billboards that were set up around the city. He then alerted various news outlets about the “incident” that occurred, and they ended up writing about it, creating even more buzz for the movie.
What are the risks with stealth marketing?
It’s important to make a stealth marketing plan before you go ahead with the execution. Keep in mind that often times it may be hard to get measurable results as a lot of the conversations will be happening internally between those who experience it. Similarly, companies have faced backlash before for their stealth marketing tactics and it’s important to consider that possibility when executing your campaign. Avoid any risks for potentially negative criticism when executing your stealth marketing campaign.
A prime example being when Sony’s stealth marketing campaign backfired.
When their consumers found out that a viral video including Sony’s PSP was done with a paid actor. Consumers felt as though it was now inauthentic, and it ultimately decreased sales of the new product. So, keep in mind that you still want to come off as authentic, even if you are trying to be inconspicuous.
Stealth marketing can be risky, but it can also be extremely rewarding.
Remember to thoroughly plan out your stealth marketing plan, whether it’s product placement, outdoor activations, influencer partnerships, or fake controversies. You want to ensure you are doing everything you can to mitigate potentially negative press and are offering a positive and memorable experience to your intended audience.
It’s important to consider laws and regulations and ensure you are not overstepping any legalities with your campaign. Stealth marketing is a bold advertising tactic that, when done right, will increase your brand awareness, image, and save you costs along the way.