The Emergence of Dark Marketing


Graphic Design by Rose Lee

The BRB Bottomline: Dark marketing has been a new concept for marketers until recently. Today, it has become an established marketing technique that is growing more popular among all types of companies, from startups to Fortune 500 enterprises.

The world has evolved quickly in the last decade. Many businesses through their marketing arms have tried to keep up with the changing needs of their customers. This article is about a relatively new technique in marketing called dark marketing that is changing our relationships with the brands we thought we already knew.

What Is Dark Marketing

Dark marketing is a relatively new form of marketing that adopts the mantra, “less is more.” Dark marketing advertisements don’t use any information directly from the brand or the company unlike traditional advertising methods. This indirect type of advertising causes the audience to think about the product in a more subtle way.  As such, this type of branding usually doesn’t explicitly involve the name of the company or the brand, instead it involves information related to those. 

Dark marketing is fragmented and pervasive.

An ad campaign that was made using dark marketing can simply have a logo, a slogan, or a different kind of reminder of the brand. It doesn’t have to directly relate to the brand. For instance, an alcohol company can use this marketing technique to promote alcohol in countries where promoting alcohol is forbidden. In cases like these, companies usually pick a slogan that doesn’t explicitly say anything about the product itself (alcohol in this case), but they pick a slogan that reminds them of their product (such as a slogan that includes “night” or “celebration”, which reminds people of drinking alcohol).

Another way companies implement dark marketing is in collaboration with other brands or businesses. These collaborations  could take the form of a photoshoot, a short film, or a dinner event. When companies collaborate, they usually come up with a common theme that reminds consumers of both companies. Going back to the alcohol manufacturer example, a likely collaboration this firm might pursue  is with a bar. In this example, both the alcohol firm and the bar are aiming for a younger target audience for their businesses. Therefore, together they throw a party at the bar exclusively serving that product from the alcohol firm, and get a famous DJ that the target audience enjoys very much. As can be seen from this example, neither the bar nor the alcohol company explicitly tried to sell their product, used their slogan, logo or any other traditional marketing tool. They simply planned an event together where they indirectly promoted their products.

Dark marketing is pervasive. It isn’t disingenuous, but it does force us to question our relationship with the brands that we’ve always trusted.

Integration of Technology in Dark Marketing

Ever since dark marketing has been discovered by major companies such as Facebook in early 2010s, it has been used by their marketers. These new generation marketers have to be in line with the technological advancements around them and use it along with dark marketing.

One of dark marketing’s important complements is the use of technology. A reason why dark marketing has been increasing in popularity in recent years is its flexibility. Dark marketing doesn’t have any strict rules or guidelines, and therefore has much room for creativity. Marketers have the liberty to choose who to show specific ads to when using dark marketing, helping the firm differentiate its relationship with different customers. Using the data provided online by users on various social media platforms, ads are categorized in many ways including but not limited to demographic, attitudinal, behavioral, and need based.

Traditional marketing methods have also leveraged technology; however, reaching out to every customer with a different and personalized ad was very costly and time consuming using traditional methods. Now, with dark marketing this has become very cost effective. A personalized ad is sent to a consumer specific to their interests related to the product. This is a more efficient marketing technique than attempting to find the common shared trait amongst all consumers and developing a marketing plan and ad campaign for it. With dark marketing, the brand communication between the company and the consumer becomes much stronger as the consumer feels more special as a result of a personalized ad. Through dark marketing, companies have stronger bonds with their customers because of individualized ads.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Dark Marketing

Dark marketing has as many advantages as it has disadvantages for companies. The first one being not giving out data to outside sources and competitors. Since dark marketing is personalized and flexible, it usually appears on a consumer’s laptop at a specific instant and in most cases it is not traceable by other people or companies. Therefore, only that specific individual sees the ad. Competitors have no idea who gets what ad and when. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is an advantage as the competitors can’t get a lot of information about a company’s marketing strategy. It is also a disadvantage as once all the companies in an industry start using this technique there will be no transparency within the market, which will cause more problems in the long run. None of the companies will have information about the marketing strategy of other companies in the industry. However, currently there seems to be more advantages than disadvantages. Dark marketing is fast, personalized, free, and more creative than traditional marketing. It is up to companies whether to take advantage of it or not.

For customers, dark marketing has its own advantages and disadvantages. Customers can see a personalized ads for themselves, which makes shopping easier for them. The companies are trying to get customers to buy more, therefore they are putting in their best efforts to match customer’s needs according to many criteria such as their last purchase, likes, dislikes, price range and more. Customers can take advantage of these ads tailored specifically for them by being able to see more products and compare them without having to do much research themselves. On the other hand, dark marketing ads can backfire as most of the internet users don’t like when there are ads popping up everywhere. However, there is a solution to this problem. Some users have ad blockers and don’t see those ads altogether. To sum up, the extent of benefits or drawbacks of personalized ads usually depend on the types of internet users.

The Influencer Market and Dark Marketing

Dark marketing can be as simple as putting up a giant billboard with your brand’s logo and nothing else, or as complicated as collaborating with another company to host an event. In many dark marketing campaigns of late, influencers have played  a large role.

Influencers are people who have a large number of followers that create and push branded content to their fans. Influencers can have accounts related to anything from fashion to traveling. In recent years, influencers have been emerging from all kinds of social media accounts, the most popular ones being Youtube and Instagram. These people have loyal followers and high engagement rates in their posts, stories, and videos. They can promote products directly or indirectly. However, because of the changing privacy and data usage laws in Europe and some other regions, new laws are being enforced about influencers and advertising. Now, especially European influencers have to indicate whether they are promoting a product or not, which makes dark marketing almost impossible with influencers. Before these laws, influencers were attending events hosted by brands and promoting products on their social media accounts. This helps support the fact that dark marketing is still a developing marketing method in the world of business. Although using dark marketing and influencers together is hard at the moment, with this fast-growing market of influencers, this conflict, along with many others regarding dark marketing, will be solved with time.

Take Home Points

To conclude, dark marketing faces  many challenges due to still being new in the industry. Dark marketing is a new form of marketing that will probably become a lot more solid in the upcoming years. However, at present some enterprises are still being cautious about taking advantage of this particular technique. It has its advantages and disadvantages, and marketers should think critically before using dark marketing.

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