“Stealth Marketing” – or “Buzz Marketing” as it’s also called – is an unconventional, below radar method of promoting a brand, product, or personality – often without you knowing it’s even happening.
It flies in the face of all those Marketing 101 lessons you may have been taught in school that emphasized the value of keeping your brand big and bold, and in neon lights. Jay Hoker, one of my early radio bosses, often preached the need for radio ads to be more “Big and Boraxy” in the spirt of traditional consumer product brands.
And if you’ve ever been part of a TV commercial shoot for radio – yes, back in the day when radio stations routinely ran television campaigns – you very likely participated in a call letter debate.
Undoubtedly, someone in the production suite argued for “more call letters,” concerned the activity in the commercial would overpower or obscure the audience’s ability to remember the station. That’s when logo bugs started routinely appearing in the bottom righthand corner of the screen – MTV style – for the entire length of the commercial.
We’ve come a long way since then. In fact, McDonald’s – one of the most mass appeal consumer brands on the planet – has launched a very unconventional TV and social media campaign that smacks of “Stealth Marketing.” In fact, there is not a single mention of the name McDonald’s, no sign of Ronald, and not a sighting of their always ubiquitous golden arches.
Instead, the commercials features star actress Mindy Kaling. Along with her cred among young consumers, the campaign integrates savvy ad partnerships with Google and Coca-Cola.
The spots all sport the familiar color scheme, but beyond that and a lot of inside joking, you won’t hear the name McDonald’s in these McDonald’s spots.
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So why is this campaign worth talking about? And how could a radio station pull off its own “inside” marketing campaign?
- It’s different – In a sea of marketing sameness, these spots stand out. You have to believe the other fast food CMOs aren’t happy McDonald’s came up with a campaign that stands out and is buzzworthy. In radio world, it’s not difficult to stand out from the pack, but it does require time, thought, and attention.
- It’s clever – It may go part and parcel with #1, but in order for advertising to truly stand out and capture attention in 2017, there has to be something about it that slyly goes against the grain. For radio, this means sharpening the pencil and working harder to come up with a twist.
- It’s “inside” – In an in-your-face world, the McDonald’s campaign makes you stop and think. What’s going on in this spot and where’s the punch line? Fans of Kaling, McDonald’s, and Coke are already in on the joke, and everyone else has to connect a few easy dots. That’s what creates the buzz.
- Collaborations can work – In this case, McDonald’s came up with some pretty famous conspirators in both Google and Coca-Cola. But there’s no reason why a radio station couldn’t pool its financial and creative resources with strong local brands to build a campaign that exudes some of these same principals.
- Social is the rocket fuel – Kaling is a huge factor on social networks, yet another great connection for this campaign. Mixing the reach of TV with the connectedness of social media is another reason why this campaign has wonderful tentacles.
- It takes personality – Kaling is a powerful celebrity in circles that are important to McDonald’s, making this campaign even more intriguing. Radio stations with a strong personality can leverage that relationship with the audience to make a stealth campaign like this one work.
- It’s a good deal – Whether you get the joke, love the joke, or even care about the joke, the bottom line is that all sizes of soft drinks at McDonald’s are just $1. It’s always great to have something in it for the audience.
Like all good things, a smart, effective “Stealth Marketing” effort requires more thought and energy than simply showing albums in space or a couple of jocks in the studio with money raining down from the ceiling.
But with creativity, time, and a little luck, a clever “Stealth Marketing” effort could be wildly successful…for radio.
Here’s another spot in this series:
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.