Now that we understand what stealth marketing is, it’s time to take a look at some of the most creative and inspiring examples of this advertising strategy.
Example #1: Axe
In a classic guerilla/stealth move, Axe body spray made a small modification to a common “exit” sign used in places such as garages and public buildings.
The company added customized stickers, in the same style to that of exit man sign, of women figures chasing after the man figure.
This, of course, is in line with the brand’s commercial messaging of men becoming irresistible to the opposite sex when using Axe body spray, ultimately creating a new narrative and a mini story of a famous exit sign.
Example #2: Mini Cooper In ”The Italian Job”
Movies are a commonly used media for product placement. There are numerous instances of specific automotive brands being prominently featured in movies, but one of the most striking examples of this is in the film “The Italian Job.”
During the movie’s memorable heist scene, a squad of burglars make a run for it in Mini Coopers. However, the car also starred throughout the entire movie, turning it into one giant ad for Mini Coopers, unbeknownst to viewers.
Example #3: Starbucks
In 2015, Starbucks started what turned out to be a nationwide controversy regarding the design of their traditional Christmas cups.
Every year, the coffee brand releases a unique design for their holiday cups and in 2015, the design was thought by some to be very understated, too plain and even – not Christmassy enough!
Pundits, consumers and critics made their voices heard and their opinions known about the lack of elaborate cup design. The whole ordeal created a massive media buzz about the product across the entire planet.
It later turned out that the controversy was fake: very few people actually hated the cup, but the stir caused Starbucks’ sales to soar.
Example #4: Starbucks (Pt. 2)
The massively popular TV show “Game of Thrones” suffered a so-called “blooper” when a Starbucks cup was visibly left on the table in one of the scenes.
Of course, it wasn’t really a blooper, but the unexpected appearance of the object got the people talking online and offline. This was a well-thought-out publicity stunt that captured the attention of viewers across the world.
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You’re probably familiar with the saying, “sex sells.” Well, it also stirs up brand awareness. That must be what Blackberry executives thought when they launched an undercover marketing campaign that involved their products in a rather unorthodox fashion.
The campaign, which took place outdoors in the city streets, consisted of attractive young women flirting with random males passing by. The women would ask the men to enter their phone number in their Blackberry phones, promising to give them a call.
Of course, they never called, but what they did is hand out brand new Blackberry models, thus starting a buzz about the product. Image download failed.
Example #6: FedEx In ”Cast Away”
Tom Hanks’ powerful role of a survivor stranded on a deserted island in “Cast Away” was given a touch of stealth marketing. He played a FedEx delivery man who found himself in a life and death situation.
FedEx branding and packages were featured prominently throughout the movie, in which Hanks keeps his sanity by vowing to find his way back home in order to deliver a letter. The underlying message of the movie was that, come hell or high water, FedEx will deliver and get the job done.
Example #7: King Kong 3D
When the movie “King Kong” 3D was announced as a special effects spectacle, creatives had work to do in order to meet audience expectations.
To create buzz and excitement leading up to the movie’s release, a stealth/guerilla marketing campaign involving giant “King Kong” footprints on sandy beaches was unleashed upon the unsuspecting public.
It made for a great sightseeing attraction and had people taking photos and posting them on social media, thus providing free advertising for the movie.
Example #8: Colgate
Perhaps the last thing a consumer eating an ice cream bar would expect to find is that the wooden stick is actually Colgate’s emulated toothbrush. But that’s exactly what this consumer found in this magazine ad.
And that’s exactly the essence of stealth marketing: raising brand awareness in an unexpected way.
Example #9: Tyskie Beer
Creatives at a Polish beer company, Tyskie, implemented an out-of-the-box idea to help put their product in the mind of potential consumers.
They placed images of their beer on bar door handles, to make it appear as if customers are holding a large Tyskie beer jug, thanks to the juxtaposition of the image and the door handles.
This undercover marketing example consists of a visually effective and memorable way to add an interesting detail to a mundane establishment entrance and instill the beer brand into the minds of potential customers.
Example #10: Campaign Against Landmines
This is an example of an arguably disturbing but certainly noble awareness campaign that drives a point across. It features a simple image of a pair of legs on a ketchup packet – but the corner where the bag is torn to release the ketchup conveys the horrors of landmines.
This is the reality of life in numerous countries, as the messaging on the other side of the bag communicates.
Is stealth marketing still an ambiguous concept for you? Let's take it from the beginning.
What Is Stealth Marketing?
Stealth marketing is also known as buzz marketing or undercover marketing. It is a type of marketing that advertises products or services to people without them knowing it.
Stealth marketing doesn’t typically look to generate immediate sales but to generate brand awareness and stir up interest and excitement around a product.
The most common type of stealth marketing is product placement. It’s the practice of featuring a product as a part of a movie, TV show, or other forms of mass media, outside of the advertising context.
Stealth marketing can be carried out in online forums, where people talk about the product to create a buzz around it. This technique makes target audiences more receptive to direct advertising.
Another popular form of stealth marketing/product placement is the endorsement of public figures and celebrities. This helps raise awareness about a product that hasn’t been widely advertised or may not have even been released yet.
Stealth marketing is usually seen as a subset of guerilla marketing. When consumers do not recognize it for what it is, they do not have the opportunity to opt out. This deceptive nature is one of the reasons why it’s considered an ethically dubious marketing strategy to some.
Undercover marketing stirs up conversations to bring consumers closer to the brand and get better acquainted with their products.
In the process, it ensures some significant perks for the marketers using it.
Stealth marketing advantages include the fact that it:
Creates a pre-launch interest: Stealth marketing grabs the attention of the target audience and instills a desire for the product by creating a pre-launch buzz around it. It creates impatience for the product and allows companies to claim a short-term profit from the initial wave of sales.
Promotes without advertising: This type of marketing is a lateral way of attracting the attention of consumers. The unconventional and unique nature of stealth marketing often puts the consumers at the center of the action. Because of the interest they create, stealth marketing campaigns often go viral, grabbing the attention of a chain of consumers.
Boosts brand image: Since stealth marketing aims to imprint a product in the minds of consumers, building a brand image is one of its immediate side effects. People who are exposed to it remember the brand and the product name, leading to brand association, brand recall and, eventually, customer loyalty.
Identifies ideal customer profiles: Stealth marketing gives marketers a chance to establish the target audience or a segment that is most interested in their offerings. By showcasing a product in this way, the brand can learn about the target audience with the highest potential for buying the product.
Saves money: Undercover marketing tactics are cost-efficient and help businesses avoid unnecessary expenditures, such as shooting in an expensive studio or a distant location. Some of the incredibly viral and effective campaigns above did not require a lot of equipment or even manpower.
Like all things, stealth marketing does have potential pitfalls and downsides, such as:
Damaging the brand image: Instead of building a positive brand image, stealth marketing campaigns can backfire dramatically. In 2006, Sony’s online video and fan site campaign promoting the PSP console took a rather ugly turn when consumers discovered that the enthusiastic fan from the videos was really a paid actor. While this did not impact PSP sales negatively, it did some damage to Sony’s reputation through negative buzz about the brand.
Dabbling into lawfully dubious acts: Certain stealth marketing acts and practices fall into the gray area of legality in certain jurisdictions. In the European Union, for example, numerous stealth marketing strategies are forbidden by law. A business that considers using undercover marketing first needs to be aware of local laws regarding this type of advertising.
What Businesses Should Use Stealth Marketing?
Stealth marketing is a useful strategy for stirring up buzz for a product or a brand for any enterprise, no matter its size or niche.
Big businesses typically use this technique most commonly, because they can afford multiple marketing strategies for a single product – stealth marketing being one of them. Companies rarely opt for stealth marketing as their only advertising channel.
However, considering undercover marketing’s low-cost capacities, it is an advisable method for small businesses on a budget that want to generate an initial buzz around their company or a product.
Smaller companies that cannot afford extensive marketing resources can use stealth marketing as a method to raise brand awareness.
Stealth Marketing Examples In Summary
Stealth marketing is a form of guerilla marketing that often uses celebrity partners, product placement and endorsement in mass media such as movies and TV shows to get the word out about a brand or product.
It’s a very daring advertising technique that, if done right, can boost brand image and product awareness for a brand, while saving money in the process.
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