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Undercover Advertising

I was watching 60 Minutes tonight and in one of the segments they discussed a new advertising technique called "Undercover advertising".

Apparently a marketing agency hires actors to use their product in a public place.  For example, one agency hired actors to promote cigarettes in a bar.  The actors simply sat at the bar drinking and smoking.  They then would ask other customers at the bar if they wanted a smoke.  Most said yes.  The actor then asked if they liked the cigarette and casually mentioned the name.

They did the same with a pair of gloves that allows you to control video games, except the actors asked if they could have peoples email address so they could email them some information on the subject.

My explanations may not give you the whole picture but I hope I explained it well enough so that you understand.

An attempt to "spread the word" (by word of mouth) of a product by not actually telling people that you are trying to sell them (on) something.

I personally consider this deceptive (some don't mind it) and I would think border line illegal (although I don't know the law, but paying actors/people to do this?).  Isn't it enough that we get bombarded everyday, everywhere we go with someone trying to sell us something?  And now we have to watch out because someone is probably trying to sell to us without us knowing.

Does the software/computer world have this type of advertising?

Dave B.
Sunday, October 26, 2003

Would the JoS <-> Creo back-scratching count?


Sunday, October 26, 2003

I think most advertising is deceptive, but I agree this "advertising undercover" does make me a tad paranoid.

Anon Again
Sunday, October 26, 2003

Have you seen the latest TV commercial for Northwest Airlines? I thought it was a commercial for Apple untl the very end.

Interaction Architect
Sunday, October 26, 2003

I figure the CEO of Philip Morris is burning up the phone lines to his attorneys right now.

You see, the tobacco companies are under a massive consent agreement with several states regarding regulation of their advertising...

As for the practice, it's the same old thing - you're coughing and someone standing next to you offers you a cough drop. If they're a samaritan, it's a nice thing to do. If they're a paid advertiser, they're in league with Satan. What if they're not a "paid undercover advertiser" but simply a happy employee of the company? Does that make it only slightly distasteful?

Are you going to start asking people when they offer something "are you affiliated with this product?" Honestly, why care? You got a free cough drop when you needed one.

In fact, so long as they take "no thank you" or the turn of a cheek as an answer, I wouldn't mind advertisers taking all their TV commercial and popover ad money and funneling it into this technique.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, October 26, 2003

This is really a case of the TV reporter or newspaper columnist who takes money from a company to write glowing reviews about the product. Just on a smaller scale.

I think that people in general would like to know whether the person writing the glowing review has been paid to do so. In fact, I think we have a right to know.

The same applies to the guy on the street. I think we have a right to know that they're being paid to advertise the product to me.

But I somehow doubt these people disclose they're being paid to recommend the product. That would foil the whole astroturfing idea.

Sum Dum Gai
Sunday, October 26, 2003

>> "Honestly, why care?"

Why care?  Isn't that a careless question?  These people are PURPOSELY DECIEVING you in order to get you to buy their product.  There are some moral/ethical standards that should be abided by.  It's unfortunate that the almighty dollar has such power so as to force people to decieve like this.  So everyone has become numb to regular advertising and now look what they've resorted to?  What next?  I thought you were smart than that Philo.

JJ
Sunday, October 26, 2003

Philo, I agree with you it does not matter at all, I do not feel deceived in some sort of "they are evil" sort of way.

But there is something to be said about being aware of intentions.
I went bowling with my husband a few weeks back and he (who always wins) purposely threw a game (well he just didn't try at all), so that I would win. Now I was actually havinga good game and could possible have beaten him, I enjoy playing even if I lose, I enjoy trying to beat him. At first I wasn't sure, but when I realised, I felt cheated. I hadn't been beating him at his best, He had been going easy on him. I stood ready to bowl and just didn't have the heart. I addressed him on it, and he was sorry about it, he has never ever lied to me, and yet he did. We usually play a few games of pool after we bowl, I always beat him, I said to him "how would you feel if I gave in to you..." he knew, it just doesn't feel good.

I think that is an important point. While it really doesn't matter, and a certain part of me can say "who cares" another part of me does care, and it does matter. No one likes being deceived like that, no one wants to find out that that nice person was really just being paid to be nice. I think there are countless movies on the subject ("10 things I hate about you" aka Taming of the shrew).

It just doesn't feel good.

Aussie Chick
Sunday, October 26, 2003

So you're saying that up until this point you honestly believed that drinking beer would make bikini'd supermodels appear out of thin air? Or that cigarettes somehow affected your lifestyle?

Come on - it's a free sample, period. You get to try it - if you like it, you can buy it. If you don't, don't.

If you're going to actually purchase mass quantities of a product just because a stranger told you to, you have much, much deeper problems than worrying about the prevarication of advertising companies.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, October 26, 2003

So Philo, you wouldn't feel in the least bit used by this?  I think you would, as would most people with common sense.  It's not something to worry about, it's just something to be aware of.  There should be a law requiring "undercover advertisers" to inform you that they are in fact selling a product.  I'm sure that would put an end to the trickery fast.  You do realize these people are getting paid to make you look like a fool?

JJ
Sunday, October 26, 2003

I would say someone who feels like they're "made to look a fool" by this has bigger issues than undercover advertisers.

It's not like there's a hidden camera ("Watch this idiot think he's getting a free sample when in fact his new 'friend' is actually a PAID ADVERTISER!!!") or the rest of the bar is "in on the joke."

I'm sorry - I simply cannot even raise the interest to care about this. I'm more fascinated by the horror that some people seem to feel when they discover some subterfuge in a product recommendation.

Here's a hint: the manner in which you are exposed to a product does not actually affect the product itself.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, October 26, 2003

When the new cell phone cameras first came out I read that they hired young, good looking actors to pose as tourists and ask to have their pictures taken.

When my sister was pregnant, she was surfing all sorts of pregnancy sites, and when she logged in to her Yahoo account, guess what kinds of ads they showed her? Doubleclick is good at what they do.

There's a small city somewhere where the local shopping center has a discount card. They show different ads to different people, and see what their buying ratio of that product is in the coming weeks. I heard about this about 10 years ago in college.

Discount cards are increasingly popular now, but I don't think they've gotten to the point where they show you diferent ads on Cable and track your spending habits that way.

A freeway in LA has one of those digital billboards, and a laser that measures the sound frequencies coming out of your car and customizes the advertising to you based on the radio station you're listening to.

And of course there's You Are Where You Live from Claritus that breaks down the nation by zip code (similar programs exist in the UK as well). They define different demographics and spending habits.

Oh and then there are people who follow customers around department stores to study their browsing habits.

And then there's the Gruen Transfer, named after the guy who created the shopping mall. Get the customer confused enough and they become putty in your hands. That's why malls, Ikea, etc. are so confusing, why department stores are placed so that you can't see one from another, etc.

If you give me more time I can come up with more examples. We're cattle, and they're trying to figure out how to maximize their profits. How much beef can get get out of one steer?

Commerce is big business and a lot goes into studying consumer behaviour.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, October 26, 2003

Philo, the reason people take exception to this sort of marketing is that it's deceptive.

Instead of saying: "we're telling you about a product," they pretend they're just part of your life. It's about honesty and trust. Simple as that. Some people value those sort of things.

There are much bigger examples than people in bars, too.

To the original poser, product placement in movies in a very big business too. You know, when you see a can of Coke and it's very obvious what it is. Lots of money for arranging that. There is a slight element of deception there, but not as much as the segment of your life actors.

.
Sunday, October 26, 2003

I suspect there is a lot more uncover advertising going on that we don't know about, for example, I have heard that publisher's pay to get their books on the display just inside the door at a bookstore. At grocery stores it is known that items at eye level sell better than ones on the bottom of the shelf and the placement can be paid for. The displays at the end of the aisles sell better so vendors want their items in those locations.  I am sure the list goes on and on. Paid promoters as just a new wrinkle.  Let the buyer beware.

John
Monday, October 27, 2003

I'm sorry, but I'm with Philo and Mark on this one. What's there to get worried about? It's just another form of marketing {http://www.resultswa.com.au/}.

Just because you try the full bodied golden beverage bought for you by the lusty blonde at the bar doesn't mean it's going to impact on your life in any meaningful way (unless they have a couple with you). Product placement, spam, tv ads, subliminal ads {http://www.resultswa.com.au/}, none of it really makes 5/8s of F all difference.

It's not crack. If you don't like it, you won't need it. If you do, well, welcome to a whole new world of wonder.

Now, if that lusty blonde I was talking about then proceeded to throw back the drinks I bought for her... well, I'd better be getting more than my beverage horizons widened... er... that really didn't come out right...

Jack of all
Monday, October 27, 2003

Well, I guess it depends on where you draw the line. Are they lying about the product? Remember that Paul McCartney / Michael Jackson video where Paul sold a miracle cure, and when Mike drank it he could defeat a musleman at arm wrestling? No, they're not making explicitly false claims, though they may be implying that beautiful women like men who smoke a certain brand of cigarettes.

What we object to here is that we're not given the opportunity to know we're being sold to, so our normal defenses are down.

A good salesman can also break down your defenses, get past your normal behaviours and intelligence and make a direct appeal to your emotions, but at least you know going in to that situation that you're going to be sold to.

While a bar isn't a private thing, it is a haven, the legendary "third place" proposed by Ray Oldenburg. So this kind of advertising is akin to your friend trying to sell you on something.

And intention *is* the difference here. Bob Cialdini pointed out to us that there are certain knee jerk reactions that we have - someone does you a favor, and you want to do them a favor. Well what happens when the kid selling you boy scout cookies, "can you please buy five boxes?" concedes that 5 is a lot and gives in a little, "well okay, mister, how about just one?" you feel a little guilty and feel like you should also give in to him a little.

Q.v. the famous case of the Hare Krishnas in the airports. It was found that their giving you a flower caused the people to give them money in return. This behaviour actually went to court and was outlawed.

When it's your neigbor loaning you a bar of butter, it helps build community because you'll do them a favor too and it builds bonds between neighbors. But when it's contrived, planned, and designed to ellicit a certain reaction from you, then yes, it is "evil" because it's causing us to act in a certain way without our knowledge.

In other words, it's a lie, and it's not a lie designed to spare our feelings, or even protect the dignity of the person telling the lie.  It is, on a small scale, a conspiracy. A double agent who pretens to befriend you, but is working for "the enemy."

The ultimate damage this does is to cause us to lose trust in the social bonds, and start to mistrust our judgement, our own friends and family. "Alright, what are you trying to 'sell' me? What are you trying to convince me to do."

Of course, if it works as planned, one meeting in a bar won't do this to you - you won't be aware it happened, but as this type of behaviour is repeated, copied, and diluted "Welcome to Macy*s, how are you doing today?" We become more aware of it.

As a whole, society is much more cynical when it comes to advertising than it was a few decades ago. Advertisers have retailiated with "mock" advertising - we know you're on to us, wink wink, we think advertising is silly too. Drink 7-Up.

If a stranger approaches me on the street today and asks for a few seconds of my time I'm wary that that person is probably going to try to sell me something. 100 years ago I probably would have given him or her a few moments. In another 100 years when an attractive woman comes up to me in a bar, I'll be wary that she might be trying to sell me something.

I saw part of a documentary on the last nation in the world to get television. You could watch people become hypnotized by "the box" and spend less time with each other, it took weeks. Kids started wanting toy guys.

Television - all the programming exists to sell you something. Every sitcom exists ONLY to get you to watch the commercials. Why do you think the cast of Friends can demand over $1 million per episode? Advertisers are willing to pay it.

You know when I watch television interviews, Barbara Walters interviewing Angelina Jolie or that butler of Princess Diana, under the surface I think... What are you selling me? Are you selling me an image of Angelina Jolie, a persona? During the first interview I noticed that Angelina's eyes were moving back and forth rapidly. I mimiced that behaviour for a few seconds and I felt... disconnected. Perhaps more able to lie. I wondered if Angelina's turnaround was designed to mirror Madonna's, and contrived by the same publicists.

The butler insisted he had altruistic motives for writing this book and revealing these facts, but one has to wonder... He got on 20/20 because he had a manager. He had a manager because he was publicizing his book. He was publicizing his book to make money.

ICQ is a good example. ICQ has a setting where you can find random people to chat with. Well, I was contacted the other day buy a guy who was at work, bored. "I don't know how my company makes money, but they pay me, so I don't care.... Check it out it's at www.....etc"

It was a little more subtle than that, but still transparent, at least to cynical me. A few days later I was contacted by a woman from Turkey, a musician looking to contact other musicians who found me through my website. I don't think she was selling me anything, but that thought was in the back of my mind. I still don't know if she was trying to get another listener, some word of mouth advertising, maybe if she's lucky an industry contact, or just wanted to talk.

This is the ultimate cost we pay when advertisers take advertising to the next level.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, October 27, 2003

"I'd better be getting more than my beverage horizons widened"

You mean she's marketing other things as well?


Monday, October 27, 2003

Microsoft was criticized for faking a grassroots campaign against Apple.
http://www.technologyfront.com/journalism/2002/10/15.html

Maybe it was just some hyperactive ad guy, but the blowback was sadly to reinforce the idea that Microsoft specialized in efficiently producing cheap knockoffs.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Monday, October 27, 2003

You know TV commercials are lying to you. 

You don't necessarily know when someone you think is being honest is deceiving you.  Whether it's the guy at the bar, or a famous blogger.


Monday, October 27, 2003

Jack of all, no it's not like marketing such as your web site. When we go to a web site, or see an ad, we know we're getting a message intended to influence us or tell us something.

(For this reason, by the way, the media refuse to run ads that pretend to be genuine news stories AND mimic genuine reports too closely. This is because that would devalue the real news. )

.
Monday, October 27, 2003

I think the main point here is that it is deceptive because you don't know that the people pretending to be tourists in New York asking you to take a picture of them with their new digital camera are only actors getting paid to do so.

There simply is no way around it.  You can't call it anything but deception.  To do so is to deem yourself ignorant. 

Do you people honestly think that no harm can come from deception?  I'm all for a good argument, but commmon sense would suggest that this no like to be lied to.  Once you get away with lieing, you can't stop. 

So Philo and gang, you don't mind being decieved?  That's a yes/no question and I think you know the answer.

JJ
Monday, October 27, 2003

I do personally find it offensive, simply because it is deceptive.  Some people obviously do not mind being marketed to like this and that is ok.

I'm just trying to think of ways that the software industry uses or could use this technique.

Dave B.
Monday, October 27, 2003

To me it seems like a rather inefficient use of money.  How many bars are there in the world?  Are they going to put actors in each one?  Can you really reach more people per dollar this way than through a TV commercial or an ad on the side of a bus?

Kyralessa
Monday, October 27, 2003

----"when she logged in to her Yahoo account, guess what kinds of ads they showed her? Doubleclick is good at what they do."----

Rather depressing if true; all I get ads for are septic tanks and viagra!

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 27, 2003

Do doubleclick still exist? As far as I am concerned all their domains dropped off the net years ago, along with a load of other advertisers.


Monday, October 27, 2003

> To me it seems like a rather inefficient use of money. ... Can you really reach more people per dollar this way than through a TV commercial or an ad on the side of a bus?

Typically they target places that will have a high impact, such as locations where journalists or other opinion leaders hang out. I actually know of examples where it was very effective.

> Rather depressing if true; all I get ads for are septic tanks and viagra!

Again, the targeting of ads by click history also occurs and, while a bit broad, does follow some causative lines. Somtimes it's quite funny to see the mistakes that, say, Amazon makes in trying to interpret different apparent interests.

.
Monday, October 27, 2003

"I think the main point here is that it is deceptive because you don't know that the people pretending to be tourists in New York asking you to take a picture of them with their new digital camera are only actors getting paid to do so."

And once again - if you're going to drop $500 on a digital camera just because two strangers said they liked it, you've got other issues. ;-)

But I think "undercover advertising" is more about exposure than persuasion. It's not "you should buy this camera (cigarette, beer, book), because it's really great" - it's "try this product," giving you a chance to DECIDE FOR YOURSELF if it's something you want to spend your own money on.

I have no problems with exposure advertising in any form (provided it's not obnoxiously intrusive) - in fact I'm generally grateful to be shown products I may not have been aware of. I think persuasive advertising is a waste of money and generally just laughable.

IMHO there are far more obscene corporate practices to worry about than this.

Philo

Philo
Monday, October 27, 2003

It is sad though, this complete disolving of the boundaries between the commercial space and, well, all others.
Like I realy dislike even things like product placement on television or in the theater. Just as an example relevant to this crowd: Does it never bother you that in the virtual world of the little people living inside your TV, Apple has a 95% market share?

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, October 27, 2003

At what point does this degrade trust in the referral network. How many the of the reviews on eopinions, amazon, or whatever have been placed there by people paid to promote a product. The next time someone says to go see a movie, do you believe them.  If you are chatting with someone and they start to talk favorably about some product, at what point do you tune them out. When word-of-mouth becomes just another marketing tool (positive or negative), why believe anybody.

This whole idea is to manufacture 'buzz' about a product so even if you do not come in contact with one of these undercover advertisers, the 'buzz' created will eventually reach you if they are successful.

What about the reverse, paying someone to use a product  wrong to spread a negative buzz.

What what point does any kind of basic trust disappear?

hjm
Monday, October 27, 2003

"At what point does this degrade trust in the referral network"

I don't think that really becomes an issue.  I'm not going to blindly trust the option of someone in a bar, just like I wouldn't just truct some product review on the web.  Everybody filters and classifies the opinions they hear based on the source.  If a friend recommends a movie, and I believe us to be of similar tastes, I'll go see it.  Now if that person is a paid advertiser who spent months ingratiating himself and working his way into my life just to influence my spending habits, I can't imagine that's making effective use of your  advertising budget.

Ken
Monday, October 27, 2003

"And once again - if you're going to drop $500 on a digital camera just because two strangers said they liked it, you've got other issues. ;-)"

Advertising is about gentle nudges, not drastic conversions.

Kyralessa
Monday, October 27, 2003

When I look for referrals, I go to people I know and whose opinions on the matter I respect. I don't ask random strangers on the street which email client they use.

Philo

Philo
Monday, October 27, 2003

My brother works in viral marketing and he and his team swoop into a town, locate the alpha males and females in the clubs and get as many on their payroll as they can. For 5K a month all they have to do is party at the clubs, all expenses paid, and drink brand X beer and smoke brand Y cigarettes... no selling or acting required.

YOUR SO-CALLED FRIENDS ARE PROBABLY JUST CORPORATE SHILLS...WHY BOTHER.

Cubist
Monday, October 27, 2003

"Rather depressing if true; all I get ads for are septic tanks and viagra!"

You need to start surfing lots of pregnancy web sites.

The Wall Street Journal had a great article last year about people trying to convince their Tivo's that they were not gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).

http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/living/4662397.htm

Jim Rankin
Monday, October 27, 2003

Cubtist,

Ask your brother if they're hiring. I am good at partying, drinking, smoking and doing all sorts of fun things.

PS I also have MCSE + I

Microsoft all time fan, yeah right!
Monday, October 27, 2003

Wow cool, nobody replied to anything in my last extremely long post :D

I guess I'm not an opinion leader. There go my hopes of being a corporate shill.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, October 27, 2003

You have to be one of the terminally hip trendsetters in your town's bar scene... if women usually just point at you and laugh, maybe pursue that IT job instead.

Cubist
Monday, October 27, 2003

No. I am a hip and cool like Elmo in Sesame street. People love to hangout with me all the time. I should also mention that I am very exotic looking, perhaps it's my biggest selling point beside my MCSE + I

Microsoft all time fan, yeah right!
Monday, October 27, 2003

It should read

I am a hip and cool person ...

Microsoft all time fan, yeah right!
Monday, October 27, 2003

Marttaw.com:

I gotta say, I loved your comment. You got so much going on upstairs.

O'my
Monday, October 27, 2003

I'd just be happy if I didn't get so many "Somebody wants to go on a date with you" spam come-ons.

I'm like happily married and stuff.  Kinda gets on my nerves.

Anyways, more than once, I've gotten geek envy when somebody had a cool new gadget or an app for an existing gadget, even if it's not somebody I know.  So I can see that undercover advertising would provide them with a little mindshare that they wouldn't have one already.  Heck, I don't even have to get paid myself to pimp things I find cool to folks.

Camera phones were a good idea.  Just wait untill somebody begins a major undercover advertising campaign for something that's not a good idea and we'll know if it's got much of a future. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, October 27, 2003

Marktaw,

You should impersonate someone and argue with yourself.

pdq
Monday, October 27, 2003

Mark Taw

I even thought about printing out your long article.
Veeeery good, indeed.

char* full_name()
Monday, October 27, 2003

Flamebait Sr:

I think you got some issues that should be dealt with clinically.

O'my
Monday, October 27, 2003

Already taken care of, O'my.

The one thing that made me snicker was when one of the diet companies paid off a signifigant number of the DJs to hype this one "nutritional" weight loss program.  It was even cross-radio-conglomerate.  It was blatantly obvious that they were trying to build underground appeal for their product and it was blatantly obvious that the DJs were being paid off.

Fast forward a few months.  Said company goes bankrupt under massive FDA pressure because the FDA does occasionally manage to shut down snake-oil salesmen.

I think the big thing here is that every form of advertisement ends up being abused, and once it reaches the abuse point, it's completely gone.

Look at telemarketing.  One or two folks calling once in a blue moon with a well targeted advert wouldn't have gotten the practice banned and probably worked.  Caller after caller after caller, each selling something that's poorly targeted, a percentage of them criminal, etc. and nobody will deal with *any* telemarketer.

So MarkTaw's future will happen.  Right now, my friends could potentially soft-sell me on something, like a new gadget.  Multi-level marketers already get my dander up, so I already consider a hard-sell like that a violation of a friend relationship.  If undercover advertising catches on, everybody's acquantences and friends will be forced to not adopt even a mild appearence of soft-selling, lest they become instant enemies.

Which is going to really suck given that we *already*, despite the presence of "social software" live in an isolating age.

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

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