Dark Marketing Creative SubversionDark (or covert) marketing is the concept of brand building and demand-creationthrough largely ‘invisible’ (in terms of tracking spenders) and unregulated media:marketing below the radar.Tobacco marketers are typical suspects of this style of promotion, owing to theirstatus as largely outlawed entities, at least communication-wise. Stereotypicalengagements include such events as the ‘elite’ Lucky Strike parties, or the‘underground’ Camel Urban Wave parties, wherein the brands in question create asense of ‘elitism’ through guest lists and underground and word-of-mouth campaigns,and offer a luxury experience, often involving rare international artists, to attendees.However, as legislation becomes increasingly tighter, and tobacco marketers continueto seek to grow their markets, techniques become ever more creative.With the advent of the impending regulation of alcohol brands’ communication withtheir audiences, there is a clear need to explore this avenue, and further, to developincreasingly innovative brand-building techniques to communicate with their markets.Most importantly brands will need to ensure that they have strong personalities andpositionings before the advent of this type of legislation, lest it be incredibly difficultto communicate clearly with consumers in any shape or form. It is also essential thatthey develop below-the-line communication so that consumers are used to this formof communication when the law is established.1. Social InfiltrationAt the heart of dark marketing is its perceived innocence – it would appear to be likeany other human communication in its manifestation; however, underlying this is thesomewhat subversive intent to promote the interests of the brand. For instance,
Henessy Martini ran a five year campaign in the US to both educate consumers, andbuild distribution, managing ‘street teams’ who would appear in upmarket venues(particularly those without distribution) and would loudly order the product andengage nearby consumers in conversations about it. Similarly Skype in the UK sentpairs of professional actors into the Underground system, who would loudly discusstheir ‘discovery’ of the offering and attempt to draw nearby audiences into theirconversation. Sony ran a campaign promoting the new T68i camera-phone, with anoperation dubbed “Fake Tourist” wherein the brand hired 60 brand operatives to askpassersby to have a photo taken; upon their acceptance, they were regaled with apseudo-product-pitch.However, these techniques are not limited to subversive face-to-face communication.Such brand-building, can take place through any word-of-mouth vehicle: Dr. PeppersRaging Cow campaign paid bloggers in their target market to write up favourablyabout their new Raging Cow milk-based beverages; Ford literally gave some FordFocuses away to employees of celebrities in an attempt to make use of what Gladwellcalls the Tipping Point, seeding product with the appropriate persons who wouldimbue it with value and likely evangelise others on it voluntarily. Political punditArmstrong Williams was paid by the Bush administration to talk up No Child LeftBehind, while Lauren Bacall on the Today show spoke about the drug Visudyne, all inefforts to leverage their celebrity status subversively in order to raise the value of thebrand.2. Unregulated MediaMany brands have infiltrated social media, with varying degrees of success (andethics): some offering free gifts to influential bloggers, others creating product-centred discussions on forums and social networks, and others subverting categorydiscussions to favour their brand. Social media holds enormous promise for brands,especially owing to its highly unregulated nature, and its ability to generate andcontinue relationships with consumers. YouTube enabled tobacco manufacturers toupload videos of stars smoking in movies, and popularising other content thatglamorises the use of tobacco, and in particular their brand.
In a concept known as “Advergaming” Toyota and other car manufacturers pay fortheir cars to appear in Sonys Grand Turismo game, thus embedding the brand into theworld of the target audience and imbuing it with value – it is rumoured that sometweens, when questioned on car choice, responded that the ‘best’ car is a SubaruImpreza, former top car in Grand Turismo.The human skin is even a possible medium, where the brands might make use ofsocial momentum, offering a stamp at the door to certain venues, which if presentedwould avail its holder of specific drinks specials, etc.3. Direct LinkingIn the event that the brand’s actual logo and explicit communication is outlawed, thebrand may resort to linking specific sub-elements of the brand and communicatingthem such that they link directly to the brand without being explicit.The most obvious example of this would be to use the logo or symbol that belongs tothe brand. This is more easily achievable if the logo is distinctive and recognisable, assuch being most suitable for such iconic and defined brands as Smirnoff, JohnnyWalker, Bacardi, Savanna, Brutal Fruit, and Sarita, wherein the brand would be ableto leverage a part of their name and/or identity. In France, where alcohol advertisingis largely illegal Heineken endorsed a rugby union tournament under the name the “HCup”; one can almost envision Savanna mobile brand spaces, appearing as islands ofrelaxation, desert, beach and summer making use of only the Savanna ‘tree’ icon.Beyond this, the brand might attempt to own a specific look and feel, as well as aspecific tone: these would necessarily be very distinctly connected to the brand in theminds of the target audience. For instance the iconic Jack Daniels’ black and white,with its distinct art-direction, which is clearly distinct from the also recognisablePeroni black and white. The iconography of a brand can also be leveraged, forinstance, Richelieu with its peculiar French iconography – however, this maypotentially require a sharper focus owing to the ubiquity of brands attempting to own
French iconography and glamour. The brand may even connect itself to a season ordistinctive moment, such as sundowners, (which might be connected with Savanna),celebrations and happenings in a peculiar style, (for instance the very distinctKlipdrift scenario); or even a way of living and engaging with the world (Le Roux –“le good life”). Even the shape of the bottle can be used to leverage the brand,provided it is a particularly well-recognised and iconic shape – and here we notespecifically those iconic brands as Savanna and Absolut Vodka.Finally, even the more abstract aspects of a brand can be leveraged in this way,including the stories associated with the brand, and into which the brand is woven.For instance, Smirnoff, which embodies a strong link with history of the brand and theprestige of its national heritage, could clearly claim the classical and sophisticatedRussian story.4. Pseudo-BrandingAt times the brand may find it useful to create a pseudo-brand for public purposes, soas to draw public interest towards the brand indirectly, and once consumers haveengaged in the pseudo-brand, the true brand can begin to engage with them: forinstance, Camel, which runs the Urban Wave brand took on the development of adistinctive and alternative symbol and brand that is utilised as an intermediarybetween the consumer and the actual brand, facilitating targeted and profitablelegitimate relationships.The brand may even substitution their own brand name, with copy or imagery thatleverages their pre-existing look and feel: Benson & Hedges for instance sponsoredthe Jordan Formula One Grand Prix Team and in restricted environments substituted“Bites & Hisses” for the “Benson & Hedges” logo (in reference to the serpentineimage of the Jaguar vehicles).
5. Value-Added CommunicationBrands may offer (and thus obtain) maximum value by entering into (or becoming!)the content their audiences seek: Mercedes-Benz created a fictional movie trailer as acommercial; while BMW created a series of short films within which it starred.Rapper Jay-Z was paid to mention Motorola in his music to lend his value to thebrand; and Apple laptops ad depth and value to the experience of a number of popularmovies. Much viral content available online are mutations of the Value-AddedCommunication concept, offering consumers genuinely valuable experiences andstories (relevant to their worldviews, such as Smirnoff’s “Tea Partay” viral video, orBacardi’s cocktail recipes and Salsa dancing site), and even products or services, inexchange for an underlying recognition of the brand’s involvement and associationwith the content.The events and parties hosted by the various tobacco brands might also be construedas value-added communication in one sense, in that the medium in and of itself offersthe audience value.In another twist, Benson and Hedges, leveraging their iconic ‘Ampersand’ symbolcreated a seven by nine foot working mechanical sculpture as an art attraction,drawing crowds to its viewing and clearly lending the brand an air of chicsophistication.6. Current Consumer CatalysationBrands that are purchased on a regular basis have a unique opportunity in leveragingtheir pre-existing consumer base as a vehicle for marketing, by offering them valueand incentivising them to both purchase increased amounts of product (and be moreloyal) as well as to share the brand and its message with their social circles.
Brands might engage in this practice by creating forms of collectable ephemeraincluded with product; Archer’s Aqua might create large format posters of the“Archer’s Aqua Guys”, while Russian Bear might make itself ‘rumourable’ bydrawing or temporary tattooing brand-related humour onto purchasers, entitling themto slightly discounted future purchases and a conversation starter.ImplementationDespite the clear segregation of the traits and relevant techniques applicable to DarkMarketing in this document, in reality these techniques do not exist in isolation –rather, they co-exist simultaneously in various ‘quantities’ and in variousimplementations in each unique project. Many of these examples are of campaignswhose ethical credibility is questionable; if discovered the harm caused to the brandcould be substantial, despite the apparent high return on investment in the short-term.As such, we suggest that brands make use of promotions that derive from theirauthentic, deep identity (an identity that goes beyond the mere sale of products) andpositioning. This is not just good morals, it is – equally importantly – good business.When the brand’s promotion is not one hundred percent coherent with the brand’sidentity and positioning there is a tendency for waste and misunderstanding(especially in relation to that which is perceived by the consumer whether that is theintended identity or not – it is crucial to “pace and lead” consumers: that is, to comefrom their positions of understanding and to resonate with them there, and thensubverting that drawing them into the reality of the brand). Objectives are cruciallyimportant: a campaign without clarity in its objectives will tend to deliverinappropriate awareness material or persuasion material too early in the interaction.Slapping a symbol onto an event won’t cut it – it must be derived first and foremostfrom the brand’s identity.However, these need not be hard and fast rules: by understanding their targetaudiences on a deep level, brands are able to develop content they are likely to seekout – this content can be vastly unrelated to the realm of the brand, but if it isappealing and the brand is able to fabricate a link and a story within the content, the
brand stands to benefit (for instance the Gauloise cigarette brand might generatepopular content relating to the story and culture of the people of France, with itselfembedded there, and with no clear indication of linkage to the brand).Two key elements would seems to be common to all successful Dark Marketingendeavours: 1) A strong and recognisable symbol or idea 2) Deep-seated resonance in a story likely to “tip” in the target marketBrands must seek to own (through the above two elements) language, characters,‘being spaces’, ideas and symbolism in the discourses of specific niche markets theydeem likely to spread the concept into a more mainstream audience. It is highlyrecommended that brands begin to recognise what these are, and who these niche‘spreaders’ are, and thus strategise the spread of the brand into their larger targetmarkets in the long-term (particularly with the impending legislation, but evenregardless), by dominating these niche markets in the short to medium-term,leveraging the advantages of the present scenario wherein traditional media can stillbe utilised.
APPENDIX: Potential Brand IconsThis appendix covers only the rudimentary aspect of the brand icons that might beleveraged by a number of various alcohol brands.Brand Name:SavannaSmirnoffJohnny WalkerBacardiBrutal Fruit
SaritaJack Daniels – black and whiteAbsolut Vodka – bottle shapeSavanna – bottle shape