For those of you not familiar with the goliath that is contemporary digital marketing, it operates like this - on the one hand you have a bunch of very clever people who have a passion for selling you things, and on the other hand you have a group of people who take a particularly cavalier attitude when it comes to ethics.
In short, with society living much of its life on social media, blogs, emails etc, businesses have come up with some sneaky tricks to tempt potential clients. The unscrupulous marketer engages in stealth marketing, a branch of marketing that is shall I say a little unconventional.
More and more businesses are using stealth marketing to get you using their services. As James Root pointed out in his article 'What Does the Digital Future Hold for Brands?' in The Huffington Post last year, even the big players are doing it - "Many big brands, including Interflora - and even eBay - have been penalised by Google for poor quality content, legacy link spamming, artificially linking via advertorials and serial guest post blogging."
Fake Endorsements and Fake Reviews
If you spend a lot of time on Twitter then you'll have probably encountered some celebrities who come out with tweets that rave about various products. Are these genuine? You ask yourself, well there is a chance they may not be. They've been paid to promote a product. Undisclosed endorsers are people who get paid by companies to promote their products, but instead of clearly being labelled as an advertisement or disclosing that they were compensated, these endorsers present their "opinions" as being their own, and thus blatantly lie to you.
Similar to twitter, the blogosphere is rife with trickery, you read a review on your favourite blog and you're more than likely lulled into a force sense of security, thinking "well it has to be good if this person's written about it." This is how fake reviews work, basically businesses can purchase fake reviews through online marketplaces, then a random blogger is given a cash incentive to publish it. I've had numerous agencies asking me to post a fake review on my own blog.
Fake endorsements and fake reviews permeate everywhere, for example some of the biggest names on YouTube and Vine have succumbed to it, despite the threat of hefty consequences. Mehtab Bhogal, a Vancouver based marketing consultant in Canada says "Many channels are open to sponsorships from companies looking to gain exposure for their products; this is of course no bad thing. But it is always important to disclose that money has changed hands so that the audience isn't kept in the dark, which is sadly what a lot of YouTubers have been doing. Failure to disclose can lead to heavy fines from the FTC."
Forums Shills and Suspect Message Boards
Forums are nearly as old as the internet itself, and if you've spent any time on there, you may have seen some raving reviews about businesses or products. As with fake endorsements forum shills are built entirely to coerce you into buying something, even the accounts are fake.
With forums mostly used by teenagers and techies etc, the goal is to come out with an aggressive niche campaign, which specifically appeals to the forum users tastes.
Forums have been in the spotlight many times for this type of behaviour, during the great internet gold rush of the early 2000's, when 15-year-old Jonathan Lebed used the "pump-and-dump" method to hype penny stocks using various forums, which he then sold in the ensuing rush to purchase them. Jonathan ended up in serious hot water with the securities exchange commission and was fined nearly £300,000.
Vancouver marketing consultant Ben Weir says, "As the example of Jonathan Lebed demonstrates, forums carry a surprising amount of weight with everyone from those reading about popular cosmetic brands, to investors making decisions to buy or sell in the stock market."
We've now entered an age where the voracity of stealth marketing on the web is in full swing, and as the internet continues to grow, it's up to us as individual users to understand just how unethical a lot of the marketing on the web really is.