Have you ever heard of ‘undercover marketing’?

Posted on 18 September 2010

Imagine that you are walking along an out-of-the-way trail in a national park. A group of young hikers is standing at the side of the trail talking to one another in loud, excited voices. You cannot help but overhear them. “They would be talking about the great backpack they are wearing,” says Jonathon Ressler, CEO of marketing firm Big Fat, “how [with other backpacks] your back hurts after you hike 84,000 miles… [but] with this backpack it has a special da-da-da-da… it’s really comfortable. Boom,” says Ressler, they “have just delivered the message” to you – and you have no idea that you were just pitched a product by a group of professional actors working for Big Fat.

Undercover marketing, the name of this technique, “is happening everywhere,” according to Ressler, the man credited with its invention: “It happens in bars, it happens at soccer games, it happens in shopping malls, it happens in subways, it happens in the movie theater… The beauty part is if [the operatives] are doing it well, you don’t even know it’s happening, so there’s stuff going on all around you all the time – which I know is kind of scary, but is going on all around you all the time.”

In fact, says Ressler, undercover marketing is inescapable. On a typical day, “by the time you go to bed, you’ve probably received eight or nine different undercover messages,” he says.

[…] Undercover marketing, with deception at it core, is another example of how unrestrained corporations – not just Ressler’s Big Fat, but the corporations that hire him as well – can be in their search for profit. More than that, however, undercover marketing demonstrates how deep the commercialization of society now runs.

This revealing – if daunting – excerpt comes from the brilliant The Corporation book by Professor Joel Bakan. A must read. The documentary is worthwhile too. I’ll write more about the book’s thesis in another post. Meanwhile, I’d be curious to know whether you felt, like me, appalled when learning of this new undercover marketing technique?…


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