I remember the last time I was in Gothenburg, I walked past a man who was holding a sign that said all you can eat pizza. I was looking at the man, and I was looking at the sign. I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t end up going to the all you can eat pizza.
Looking at this man with the sign in his hand, I started thinking about undercover marketing and the movie The Joneses, a very interesting movie about marketing. Well, this man and his sign was more or less the opposite of undercover marketing, he was telling the world who he was working for and what he was marketing.
Once in a while, you don’t realize that you’ve been marketed to, people have named it buzz marketing, stealth marketing, and roach baiting, but I like to use the name undercover marketing. And, businesses are using it, probably more often than most people realize.
One of the most obvious examples, are when celebrities get free clothes or free products that they are using to get other “ordinary” people to start buying them. The same goes for product placement in movies. The reason it’s undercover marketing, is that it doesn’t say anywhere that we’re actually looking at any type of promotion. I remember the Junior Mint episode in Seinfeld, and when Sylvester Stallone took a $500,000 payment from one tobacco company to smoke their brand in three of his films.
But, bloggers receiving free products, are also part of undercover marketing, that is, if they are promoting the products without telling their readers that they received the products for free.
Why undercover marketing is working
The reason why undercover marketing works is that people tend to trust it more than if they know that it’s an advertisement that a company has paid for. And, it’s a lot easier to create a buzz with a marketing campaign that people don’t know is a marketing campaign. One great example is when RayBan launched their viral marketing campaign on YouTube called Sunglass Catch. Right now, it has more than 5.2 million views, and I bet that the number would have been much lower if people had known that it was a paid marketing campaign by RayBan. Here’s the video and a great buzz marketing example:
The risk of undercover marketing
The most obvious risk for an undercover marketing campaign is failing to keep the campaign hidden. If people feel, or understand that they are being manipulated into liking the product, they might become angry at the product and/or at the company. This way, especially with the speed of communication in social media, a failed undercover marketing campaign might hurt a company really bad.