Stealth advertising & ad-creep

The LATimes has an article called "The pitch you won't see coming" on ad-creep and "stealth" strategies- like SubservientChicken from BK, film shorts made by advertisers (BMW, American Express, etc), and promoters in disguise as normal folks in the crowds- becoming more and more common in advertising today. (free reg req)
Read on for an excerpt...

Robert Liodice, president and chief executive of the National Assn. of Advertisers, took the podium before a banquet hall of marketing execs recently to tell them what they already knew: Advertising is dead.

"Consumers don't want to be marketed to like some robotic object," he said, as if debunking conventional wisdom. "Rather, they want to be involved, engaged and, in fact, entertained."

In order to breach a consumer's "initial headset barrier" against advertising, he said, the sales pitch must be "embedded" in something more palatable, such as a TV show, a sporting event, a video game. It must woo with charm and empathy. Liodice laid out the strategy: "First, capture the consumer's attention in human, intriguing and emotional ways. Then, embrace the consumer. Get him or her to feel comfortable with you. Finally, make the sale without really selling. Let the consumer know, hey, we're always there when they need us."

In fact, advertising is more deeply embedded in our culture than ever before. Almost nothing is excluded from branding — not our cities, our museums, our schools. Even our private lives are being co-opted by corporations desperate to reframe their images as "authentic."

"Stealth" strategies are essential to disarm our cynicism, advertisers say. So teenagers are hired to study trends among their peers and develop ways to reach them — known as "peer-to-peer" or "viral" marketing. Actors are hired to shill product while posing as consumers in Internet chat rooms or on city streets — in the name of creating "organic" brand awareness. Logos and slogans are "seamlessly" integrated into the story lines of films, video games, even textbooks.

Consumer activists call this "ad creep" and predict an Orwellian corporate takeover of society. But advertisers herald this movement as the future. Soon, they say, advertising will so effectively impersonate the ideas we use to define ourselves that we won't even consider it selling.
"Advertising," says Jeff Hicks of the Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency, "will disappear."

And, consequently, virtually no experience will be commercial-free.

Advertisers are hiring companies that do nothing but "outsource the influencer," which means finding the hippest person on every block and sending "street teams" to "seed product" to them, creating "organic" buzz. Magazines are hosting branding events -- celebrity parties, concerts and fashion shows -- paid for by their advertisers, whose products end up in the hands of the "cultural influencers" attending.

There's a lot more in the article discussing both sides of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing and how consumers will react to it over time. Definitely worth the read.

Adland: