One of my hobbies is reviewing emerging trends around marketing and social media (Doesn’t that sound like fun?!?) One such trend is Dark Marketing. No, this is not Darth Vader marketing his favorite life-support system or vacation spot… Hoth anyone??? This approach caught my attention as it is fascinating to me the lengths that certain brands will go to gain traction with potential influencers.
Dark Marketing (Defined in Wired recently) is discreetly sponsored online and real world entertainment intended to reach hipster audiences that would ordinarily shun corporate shilling.
This style of marketing is more “covert” in its approach. And with current and pending regulation around how products such as tobacco, alcohol and even fast food is presented to target markets this style of marketing is being deployed with more regularity than ever before.
The ultimate end goal is to reach an influencing audience without necessarily directly engaging the brand with the prospective targets. Instead the brands are almost non-existent but they are funding events through creating a sense of elite “insider” or “personal” events. During the events brand team representatives would engage with crowds by loudly ordering the products and then casually engaging in conversation about the products. Or a softer approach of casually conversing about a product or using a product that leads to a pitch in a very casual social setting.
Companies like Sony, Ford and McDonalds are actively deploying Dark Marketing campaigns. Sony recently executed operation “fake tourist” where they planted users of one of their camera products in a prime location and asked them to engage with people to take their picture which would lead to a pseudo-pitch around the product.
McDonalds is not a company that you would normally associate with a Dark Marketing campaign. Normally it is here is our food, here are the toys for your kids and by the way we have a great dollar menu… (great, now I am hungry)… is now sponsoring an alternate-reality game called The Lost Ring and it is nearly devoid of golden arches. This is an interesting approach as this ties McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics into a hip virtual-reality crossover between Lost and The Blair Witch project in an attempt to reach global youth in a very viral manner.
One thing remains very clear. The time of shotgun marketing has passed and the user is king when it comes to messaging. But one inherent truth still remains that people are social beings and their will almost always be someone who will have influence within a group. The only thing that has changed is that their defenses have gotten better and marketers have to adapt with innovative strategies that the end user ultimately wants to hear.