Keeping Up With The Joneses?

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:”

18 thoughts on “Keeping Up With The Joneses?”

    1. Hello Tami – Thanks for stopping by and leaving your kind words. The movie did provoke quite a bit of thought in my mind. It was interesting to read what others’ opinions were.

  1. The Joneses is a great film that shows a perfect family living a perfect life. Like it is said in the text above, the name of the marketing that is “made” in the film is “Undercover marketing”. This is a kind of marketing that people don’t see, but everybody practices, like when a person that has a blog posts there a new product that he/she uses, probably you’ll think that this is good and you’ll buy it.
    The consumers think that this marketing is an involuntary thing, you don’t do this knowing it, you just do it.
    A phrase that is mentioned above that I really liked is: “Spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” (Dave Ramsey). Basically our life is about this, we buy things that are better than the others just to show that you are better but on the other hand you are making many bills just to say “I’m the best!”
    We should think about our lives and make it easier, just buy the things you need, don’t buy things to make the others envy you.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ariele. I’ve been thinking a lot about contentedness lately. Being content is very important for not falling into the trap of trying to impress other people.

  2. I like reading blogs and watching reviews of some products in youtube. .I think that if I ‘m a consumer, I want people to be honest with me and talk about the real quality of the product. If they use it or not, if they recommend or not. However, I am a future businesswoman and I see this type of marketing as very effective. Nowadays I see that the bloggers have a lot of influence on the teen world, they can persuade the girls buy everything they want.
    Sometimes the bloggers lie and make a bad product looks like a good one, like in the movie, a family that is not actually a family seems to be perfect.

    1. Hello Vitória – Reviews have a very important part to play in modern marketing. The important thing to remember about blogger outreach is to have an excellent product or service from the start. I, too, see the influence that some bloggers have. The ones who are very good at sharing their experience with brands also have built an audience and trust over a long period of time. Yes, there are some people who are in for the quick sale, but they usually do not last very long.

  3. Stealth marketing is a different way to promote products and brands. The positive point is that people don’t realize the advertisement and because of that, they tend to believe it. This tactic seems natural, so people understand the promotions as a friendly advice. Despite looking effective for selling products and brands, I think it’s immoral because families, such as the ones on the movie, pretend to be something they aren’t. Furthermore, creating this kind of environment to sell products through lie could end up interfering in relationship and awareness emotional among people.

    1. Hello Carolina, Thank you for visiting. Pretending to be something you are not is the cause of many problems. When I wrote this article, I was quite surprised to find out how many people were looking for information on how to be a “stealth marketer.” I agree that it could cause problems for the “pretend” family.

  4. Stealth Marketing is an efficient method that affects directly the consumer desires, but just as the television, magazines, radio, all kinds of marketing have a problem: most of the times it ‘s not 100% true and the movie proves it.

    This kind of marketing is efficient because it advertises a product to people without them know they are being marketed and The Joneses’ Job was exactly this. They were paid to sell a life style, without directly offering cars, watches, clothes and other stuffs for the neighbors but instead a life example.

    As the movie showed, the purpose of this is not to make the sales increase immediately, but to create a necessity to buy the products, to impress and make the customers believe that their lives will be better. In my opinion its efficient, but it must have a control, because sometimes it can cause jealousy, family fights and other worse things if you can’t afford this way of life.

  5. Stealth marketing is “liar” marketing, for example when a brand pays for a celebrity to use its product and induce the population to buy the product too.
    Where a perfect family, with perfect cars, perfect house, perfect life try to induce other families to buy certain product is another example of stealth marketing. They do this because of envy, they try to cause a maximum feeling of envy in others, with this feeling people seek to have a life like that of others, however the “liar” family is always buying new products, including cloths, cars, objects to sports, food, parties.
    I think that the brand can use a celebrity to benefit a product. However if this is causing problems, it´s necessary to speak clearly that the celebrity is being paid to promote a product, because many people doesn´t know that is possible.

    1. Murilo, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. In the United States, there are very specific rules requiring bloggers to disclose if they have been paid to review a product or to disclose if they received the product for free. I am not aware of any regulations regarding “stealth” marketing such as portrayed in this movie.

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