Stealth Marketing: a double-edged sword for business campaign

Stealth Marketing: a double-edged sword for business campaign

What is stealth marketing?

Stealth marketing is one of the digital marketing strategies advertising a product or service to a person, without them knowing they are being marketed to. Compared to the traditional advertising media channels – for example, print and broadcast, stealth marketing are more commonly found in nowadays social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.

There are many techniques in stealth marketing, but all of them share one ultimate goal –to get audiences to remember the products or brands with more interest and excitement, so as to make the clients be more receptive to direct advertisement and increase the conversion rate later.

In order to cause an emotional reaction with audiences, viral and buzz marketing are usually combined in stealth marketing campaigns. With assistance from influencers and high-profile media, products or services can easily be promoted. Product placement and undercover marketing are classic examples of stealth marketing.

A product placement example of Lamborghini in Transformers 4 (Retrieved from the movie Transformers 4)

Why do people adopt stealth marketing campaigns?

Low cost

Compared to pay for advertisement, the cost for editable and controllable product reviews are cheaper. But of course, in case you are collaborating with artists or famous influencers (read also Work with Micro and Nano Influencers ), the cost may be more expensive.

Effective than traditional promotion campaigns

It is noted that people tend to purchase products by viewing the reviews or recommendations from the figures they know (for example, credible celebrities, trust-worthy influencers) than traditional advertisements. This is also why the influencer marketing strategy is becoming trendy recently.

More beneficial with the facilitation of buzz marketing

Not only posting reviews on websites, with the use of buzz marketing (such as having “give away” campaigns, providing discounts to customers, etc.), the information and details of the product or service that you are promoting can be spread widely. It turns into a higher possibility in conversion as well.

Why is stealth marketing risky?

By knowing the definition and the cons of stealth marketing, isn’t it sound great for a business campaign? Yet, there are still numerous hidden issues in stealth marketing strategy that you may not be aware of.

Security Issue

Imagine yourself as a consumer, don’t you have a concern related to how these practices affect your privacy and security? If a brand or an influencer can create a business in doing stealth marketing, there is also a risk about selling followers’ or clients’ personal information. Especially since the world is more emphasizing the protection of privacy, the disclosure of the use of stealth marketing does not provide a positive impression to the general public.

Risk of being illegal

Some practices and strategies of stealth marketing are regarded as illegal and existing in a legal grey zone.
In the United States and the European Union, many explicit undercover marketing practices are illegal (i.e. putting explicit hashtags or wordings such as #ad #adv #supplied #gifted or similar discourse).

Although Japan has no straight regulations for stealth marketing, the Consumer Affairs Agency in Japan (CAA) has launched a guideline for stealth marketing tactics on the internet. If someone posts fake reviews for a product or a service that he/she has never used, there is a chance to be charged because of deceiving customers by posting misleading advertisements. That’s why some influencers refuse to get hired by brands for doing stealth marketing in order to prevent breaking the law.

Decrease credibility

As mentioned, stealth marketing is a strategy that tangles clients’ emotions in order to turn potential customers into loyal customers for increasing sales. With the information spreading from influencers, stealth marketing is easier to gain trust from audiences, so as to have more conversion in the future (i.e. cosmetic rankings from brands).

However, as this strategy is based on the trust of customers and influencers, that’s why when there is a disclosure of undercover promotions in rankings or reviews, influencers, and loyal customers will probably share a sense of betrayal. In addition, this kind of brand damage takes a long period of time to rebuild its credibility or becomes an irremediable damage in the worst case.

Risk of getting flaming

Often we can see flaming happen on the internet when people share their anger, complaints, and negative feelings. There are no doubt that flaming is great damage to a brand. But one thing you better keep in mind is, different from the past, flaming on the internet is more damageable and durable, especially the records might be kept on the internet forever. With the big data technology and the frequent usage of social media platforms, simply by one search with the name of your brand, clients can easily know the related comments and news that will harm your brand everlastingly.

Fail examples of stealth marketing campaigns

Sony Ericsson

The most famous stealth marketing campaign in the globe should be the 2002 Fake Tourist Sony Ericsson campaign for their T681 new cell phone with camera.

In the video, a fake tourist is asking random pedestrians to help him taking photos with a T681 model cell phone instead of a camera. But these 60 random pedestrians were actually hired by Sony Ericsson for the campaign.

Though the campaign aroused a great buzz for the product, there were some critics about the campaign as a deception.


Not only the overseas markets, but there are also examples of failed stealth marketing campaigns in Japan. A Japanese cosmetic company ORBIS, is a recent example of having trouble in stealth marketing. A post by one of the anonymous ORBIS employees was shared on a social media platform on January 21, saying one of the influencer accounts on Twitter was operating by staff to share excellent reviews and comments for promoting ORBIS products.

Although the company has no comment on the issue, there are concerns found on the internet about the incident and stealth marketing.

A successful example of stealth marketing campaign

On the other hand, appropriate usage in stealth marketing can lead to a successful campaign as well.

Prada and Vouge

The Devil Wears Prada demonstrates how a successful stealth marketing campaign looks like. The main characters Miranda Priestly, a fashion icon and the editor-in-chief of Vogue, and Andrea Sachs, Miranda’s secretary, show glimpses of how the high-class fashion industry works.

A product placement for Prada in the Devil Wears Prada (Retrieved from the film the Devil Wears Prada)

Since the story is based on the experience of working as an assistant for the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, when the movie gained a hot debate around the world, both the fashion brand Prada and the fashion magazine Vogue were being advertised globally at the time.


Stealth marketing seems a double-edged sword and may be problematic if misusing it, thus, we do not recommend you to adopt stealth marketing without careful planning. Still, it is a powerful marketing strategy when you adopt it in an appropriate manner. Contact specialists like us to assist your digital marketing plan.