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Stealth Marketing: Secret Strategy for Selling Products

As the 7th local election will be held on June 13th, campaigning through viral marketing, a marketing method focused on spreading information through “word of mouth,” is expected to be used by many candidates. In addition, a viral marketing company has actually mentioned that currently there are a lot of inquiries coming from candidates as the election is drawing near. Viral marketing, a type of stealth marketing, is prevalent in society. The Sungkyun Times (SKT), therefore, now introduces what stealth marketing is, what kinds of stealth marketing there are, how it is misused in some instances, and how Korea should try to overcome the related problems.

What Is Stealth Marketing?

Definition of Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing is a marketing strategy that aims to obscure itself through secretive means. Through this marketing method, people are attracted to a product or service without perhaps actually being aware of it. The word “stealth,” which refers to the act of sneaking in to steal something, originated from the Old English word “stelan.” The word is also used for aircrafts using stealth technology; stealth aircrafts can appear “invisible” to radars or detector systems.

Features of Stealth Marketing

Stealth marketing is different from other marketing strategies in that the marketers can benefit even with low-cost investment. This is why stealth marketing has a significant influence on advertisers. This method can also minimize any negative reaction from consumers who are already fed up with many advertisements. Since stealth marketing should be discreet, there are only a few cases which are open to the public. For an advertisement to be successful with stealth marketing, it should not be caught by consumers, rival companies, or the media. For instance, Product Placement (PPL) marketing, a strategy of exposing products in movies or dramas, also started as a kind of stealth marketing, but the influence of PPL as a form of stealth marketing has now decreased due to its negative reputation. Furthermore, the influence of stealth marketing on the public is increasing thanks to the development of Information Technology (IT). People are using Social Network Services (SNS), which helps information to be transmitted among people quickly and covertly.

Stealth Marketing in Daily Life

Brand Pushing

First of all, “Brand Pushing” is a kind of stealth marketing strategy that involves the advertising of products by hiring “actors” who look like consumers. The actors disguise themselves as consumers, get close to real consumers by exposing the products “naturally,” and introduce the advantages of the products to consumers. This process usually aims to familiarize customers with new products. There is a well-known instance where Sony Ericsson sold its camera phone, the T68i, in 2003 by utilizing the brand pushing strategy. Sony first selected 10 tourist spots in America and hired 60 actors. Then, they asked other tourists to take a picture of them. When a tourist agreed with taking pictures of them, the actors passed their new camera phones to the potential customers. This marketing strategy targeted customers who were not familiar with the new camera phone and made customers get used to using those devices.

Viral Marketing

Secondly, there is viral marketing strategy. With the word “viral” deriving from “virus,” this marketing strategy induces information to spread rapidly among customers. The purpose of this strategy is to make the product popular without any intervention of business, especially emphasizing the role of Internet users. Usually the company first provides information, tries to promote itself, and improves its reliability through “word of mouth.” This kind of marketing was also applied to the election campaign of president Moon Jae-in during the 19th Korean presidential election. The most famous example during the election campaign was “Moon Jae-in’s First Avenue” which imitated 11 Street, a famous Korean online shopping mall, and this strategy was successful. The innovative idea of the first “shopping mall of policy” in Korea went viral on the Internet. People were interested in this novel idea and spread it through word of mouth. The online site even experienced operating difficulties as too many people were trying to view it. As a result, it recorded 12 million page views and 3 million visitors accessing the online site, attracting many voters.

Cheat Marketing

Lastly, “cheat marketing” is a kind of stealth marketing strategy that advertises the products by manipulating a situation, recording it with hidden cameras, and later revealing a well-edited video for advertisements. This marketing typically produces an unusual situation to maximize the effect of advertising by giving the product a special role in a certain situation. There is a fine example of cheat marketing that was used for advertising the Ultra High Definition (UHD) television by LG in 2013. LG directed a situation where the job applicants had a job interview. The company hung a UHD television which seemed like a real window. While applicants were being interviewed, the TV showed a scene of a meteor heading towards the window. The applicants were really shocked; some fell over and one applicant was very angry. By capturing the applicants’ reactions on video, LG emphasized the vividness of its UHD television. The clip was viewed more than 21 million times on Youtube, and along with other marketing strategies, LG took the 1st place in the UHD panel market in 2014 for the first time.

Limitations and Improvements of Stealth Marketing

Limitations of Stealth Marketing

There are mainly three limitations in stealth marketing. The first problem is the limited marketing strategies due to legal restrictions. According to the Enforcement Decree of the Act on Fair Labeling and Advertising, the marketer should specify what is being advertised and whose product it is. However, if the law is violated by omitting the name of the company, the advertiser would be punished through fines. Also, when it comes to viral marketing, the person who manipulated the information could be punished through a civil suit or defamation law. The second problem is the negative perceptions of consumers. If a marketer is caught by using stealth marketing, the possibility of receiving blame would increase. Usually, consumers have a negative image about the company when the fact that they used stealth marketing is revealed. The last problem is its negative misusages. In April, 2018, a song by the singer Nilo reclimbed the music charts, but soon the fact that the singer’s management company had hired expertise in stealth marketing and manipulated SNS accounts without revealing its identity was disclosed. The misusage of stealth marketing occurs not only in business but in politics also; some politicians can exploit this marketing strategy to attack other rivals.

Improvement of Marketing

To solve the problems mentioned above, Naver, one of the biggest portal sites in Korea, has introduced a “C-Rank System.” This system is an algorithm that exposes search results by ranking. Naver named this system the “C-Rank System” because it calculates credibility according to three factors: “context,” “content,” and how the products are well “chained.” Whenever a blogger puts up new posts, this system considers the qualities of the postings. This system surely had a negative influence on domestic stealth marketing businesses. Also, there is a new trend for stealth marketing. It not only focuses on selling products to customers, but also sends a good public message to build a positive image to customers. In the case of cheat marketing, SK-2, a Korean cosmetic products company, uploaded an advertisement clip named “My Dream, I Won’t Miss It.” The movie clip showed women, who are the main customer base of the company, getting counseling. The highlight of the clip was when the counselor was, in fact, found to be a child. 1.8 million people viewed the clip, and it received positive responses from many online communities as well.

There are a lot of stealth marketing examples in the people’s lives that are very close to them, although they are not always aware of those examples, of course. The SKT expects stealth marketing to be applied well to proper products, and customers to consume products sensibly even though a lot of advertisements occur through stealth marketing.

박예지  ggoomtlex2@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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