Stealth Marketing: Hiding in Plain Sight

Stealth Marketing is a marketing tactic that advertises product to the people without disclose to them that they are being marketed to the product. It also applies practices to introduce a product to the target while not showing or revealing the marketer’s true relationship for the brand.

There are many methods in stealth marketing; the most famous method is undercover marketing. Undercover marketing uses a representative or employee from a company to describe and promote about a certain product or services in a place when the target did not expect that they would be promoted for a product (as if it is not planned or it just happened spontaneously). In this method, the target does not realize that they are being marketed to a product.

Stealth marketing also occurs in online form. Product reviewers paid by the company is also considered as stealth marketing effort. Using ‘celebgrams’ wearing or using the products can also be part of stealth marketing.

This method has its own benefits such as reaching the potential customers who are typically giving adverse reaction when it comes to advertising. It can generate buzz that are more likely to go viral, and giving the customer the experience that they have discovered a valuable product or services. The main goal of stealth marketing is not to generate an immediate sales, but to create brand awareness, interest and excitement that will make customer be more acceptable to direct advertising later on.

In the movie Cast Away, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a stranded FedEx delivery man, he lived for years on a deserted island and FedEx is featured constantly throughout the film. Many considers that the message of the film is that through the rain or storm or even years on a stranded island, FedEx always delivers.

The most common practice of stealth marketing in Indonesia is fake review. People are paid by certain companies to review good stuff about a restaurant, a hotel, or even a movie. There are services to make certain celegrams to increase their followers, and companies can also pay more to Zomato to fake a review and make more accounts just to review the restaurant. This could be misleading, because the information provided is a bias information that only stated by the owners, not purely by the customers that are eating at that particular restaurant. Cigarette companies usually pay people to review their cigarettes, people are paid certain amount of money to review and recommend the cigarette towards their friends and families.

Stealth marketing rises of a lot of ethical issues. This is unethical, because it would create an ‘artificial’ word of mouth rather than ‘natural’ word of mouth. Word of mouth is when a certain product satisfies one customer, the customer would recommend the product towards their friends and families. ‘Natural’ word of mouth is involving to the products that satisfied customer’s needs and wants.  Japanese branch of the Disney corporation reportedly paid seven manga artists to tweet praise for the film. Twitter users noticed that they had posted illustrations of characters from Frozen 2, all praising the film using the same phrasing. After the criticism on this stealth marketing campaign went viral in the social media, Disney Japan apologized.

Figure 1. Frozen 2 scene

Figure 2. The tweet of manga artist

Promotional action using stealth marketing may cause a backlash effect to the company since they cannot control what to say towards the customer; there are no supervision, the judgement of the customers are not purely because they experienced the product. This becomes an “artificial” buzz that are not occurred on the experience of the customers.

We need to be critical enough to identify unethical advertising in stealth marketing cases.


Dr. Evi Rinawati Simanjuntak

Business Management and Marketing


(Students in Business Management and Marketing – International Undergraduate Program will learn relevant topics on marketing communication  under the course: Digital Campaign and Promotion. Visit our Business Management and Marketing curriculum to know more.)



Dr. Evi Rinawati Simanjuntak