Last week, Jen and I watched “The Joneses” on Netflix. It was billed as a comedy; and, while there were some very funny moments in the film, I found it to be mostly serious. It was entertaining enough, but what really got me was the marketing angle of the plot.
The Joneses are the “perfect” family moving into the “perfect” house in the “perfect” neighborhood. While their neighbors struggle with the normal, ordinary problems of suburban life, the Joneses seem absolutely perfect with their designer clothes, expensive cars and fancy toys.
Only, the Joneses aren’t the perfect family at all. Rather, they are sales people hired by a marketing company and planted in a “rich” neighborhood in order to show off their clients’ products in an effort to influence the people in the area to buy those brands. In the movie, it works because the culture of that area influences the people to want more “stuff” to show off their affluence. While the marketing is a huge success, the addiction to “stuff” leads to some unfortunate consequences.
As Dave Ramsey points out, many of us “… spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
While the movie may portray an exaggeration, there is some truth to it. “Stealth Marketing” or “Buzz Marketing” or “Undercover Marketing” is a very real tactic used by some brands to promote their products. While I’m all for creating a buzz about products, especially good ones which can help people solve a problem, I’m not for being sneaky about it.
This type of thing is what prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pass rules so that paid endorsements on blogs would be identified as such.
Certainly, if you approach someone and tell them you want to pitch a product you will be turned down more often than not. I wonder how many hundreds pass by those time share sales people in Las Vegas casinos before someone goes to watch their pitch and collect the free whatever they are giving away. It must work, though, or they wouldn’t do it. I may not appreciate the interruption to my conversation, but at least they’re honest about their intent.
I remember a few years ago, Chris Brogan took a lot of heat for doing a sponsored post for Kmart. While some took umbrage because they felt he “sold out,” I thought the piece was balanced and fair. Kmart was trying to overcome a perception issue and offered influential bloggers gift cards to come try them out and write about their experiences. Chris was totally up front that it was a paid post, and this was before the FTC insisted that it be done that way. I considered it a model of how to do paid posts right.
Go out there, create buzz. Give away products or services for review. Sponsor conferences and offer to talk about what you make or do. All of these things are great. If you’re lucky enough that one of your ideas goes beyond your immediate sphere of influence, all the better. But, be honest about what’s going on. I believe stealth will come back to bite you when you least expect it.
What say you? What do you think about “stealth” marketing? Please feel free to share in the comments.
Here are some others’ perspectives on “The Joneses:”
- Stealth marketing and bland brands: Lessons from The Joneses from JWT Intelligence
- What The Joneses Really Needed Was Social Media from BrandBiz Blog
- A Marketing Enthusiast’s Review of The Joneses from marketing for the fun of it