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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.

AnonymousCoward's picture
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yaksox's picture

Aye, good get Caff. I think that stuff about gen x and y rings true and even a non-genius like me would've guessed that subserviantchicken will be a signpost on the way to where the pitch will be subtler and able to be played with.

caffeinegoddess's picture

Thanks. I don't know if it's as much to do with a subtler pitch as much as it's to do with a more interactive, entertaining, and engaging way of getting information across to a consumer who is going to be more willing to listen and check out what you've got to sell. And I think it rings true with any generation, not just the x and y'ers, although they are the groups that will embrace it as a part of culture. There's no reason for advertising not to be entertaining or engaging...as long as it relates to who and what you're trying to communicate.

Robblink's picture

Great article C.G. Thanks for the tip! Now if only advertisers had more tact in embedding their products/services into the media. Most of the time it's a force-fit and the consumers know it.

troymcclure's picture

"Ad creep?" Ad creepy is more like it. To me, the notion that "virtually no experience will be commercial-free" is chilling, not thrilling.

I would certainly agree that advertising should engage your interest, not insult your intelligence. But some of the so-called "stealth strategies" cited in the article seem to cross the line into deception and manipulation. Selling though subterfuge will only serve to reinforce consumer cynicism in the long run. If everything's a come on, a hustle, a sales pitch, who can you trust?

Instead of trying to sneak your message in under the radar, why not engage in an open and honest dialog with consumers? If your ad is entertaining enough, there's no need to cloak it in secrecy. As Howard Gossage once said (and I'm quoting from memory here, so I probably don't have it quite right), "People read what interests them - and sometimes it's an ad."

Dabitch's picture

just a thought.. is the new blogversations part of the ad creep phenomena...? In a way?

1) We match advertisers with bloggers
2) Advertisers propose a topic or question (not an advertorial)
3) Bloggers accept or reject the proposal
4) If they accept, bloggers discuss the topic or question, and link to the discussion on their blog's front page
5) Advertisers truly engage audiences without doing evil; bloggers get paid for doing what they do best - blogging!

So you log on for your daily dose of EverlastingBlortKottke or Wendellwit and they're all talking about...say, the new iPod ready BMW..... How would you feel about that? (not much different from today perhaps...but...Well, what do you think about it?)

andromeda's picture

Pardon me for being thick - but how is a paid mention not and advertorial?

caffeinegoddess's picture

I don't get that either. All and all it sounds like a very fuzzy line the are creating. I guess the upside is that if you hate the brand you have the option to not write about it, but, I don't know that people would be willing to turn down the money.
Being deceptive is never good. The fact that there are other ways to create a buzz, grab interest and move product which are entertaining and interesting makes all those deceptive moves, like planting people in bars to push Brand X vodka, just makes the marketers look sleezy. The CP+B Subservient Chicken site at least had a link to BK's site and was straight forward about "having it your way." Consumers might not notice the ads slipped into things at first, but eventually it will come out. And their reactions to the lack of "honesty" in stealth tactics might come back to bite the marketers.

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