What is Undercover Marketing? Definition, Types, Examples and Advantages

Undercover or stealth marketing is the new face of advertising!

The marketing world is constantly changing, and new tactics are brewing every day. What worked a decade ago isn’t effective now at all. There was a time when ads during TV breaks were very effective. But people have become more conscious and realize that every actor or celebrity will say anything because they’re being paid to. So brands have come up with a new strategy to advertise without really advertising at all. And this is undercover marketing!

What Is Undercover Marketing?

Undercover marketing is an advertising strategy where companies market their products in a very subtle way. It’s also known as Stealth Marketing. The general public doesn’t realize that they’ve been a part of this marketing ploy until it’s had its full effect. It is most effective when people least expect it, and so is a subset of guerrilla marketing. 

One of the most common examples of undercover marketing is product placement. We’ve all seen a scene in movies where the lead makes himself a cup of instant coffee. He won’t promote the coffee brand itself since it doesn’t fit in with the script of the movie. But the name of the brand is quite visible, and your eye instantly catches it. You won’t think much of it, then. But the next time you’re out grocery shopping, you’ll see the same instant coffee on the shelf and will try it out. This is how undercover marketing works and nudges consumers in a certain direction in an unassuming way. 

Types of Undercover Marketing

There are several types of undercover marketing strategies companies use to promote their products and services. Some of them are:

Ad Spies: As the name suggests, these are hidden advertisements. Companies sometimes pay influencers to promote their products in their content. This sounds too similar to influencer marketing, right? But the difference here is that they don’t tell their followers that they were paid to advertise. 

Product Placement: In this strategy, brands feature their products in movies, TV shows and other mass media. We’ve already talked about a good example above. But another very common example is an actor walking up in the morning and using Colgate to brush their teeth. It’s a very subtle tactic since watchers wouldn’t suspect it’s a ploy. 

Buzz Marketing: This is a special type of undercover marketing that also falls under viral marketing. This strategy aims to enhance the message of a marketing ploy through WoM. Making people talk about the marketing strategy creates a buzz around it and makes people more receptive to the product. 

Leaners: This might be one of the most subtle undercover marketing strategies ever. Companies hire paid actors to talk to people about their products. These leaners speak to random strangers and promote products very subtly. They usually have a script they go along with. You’ll find a lot of leaners in supermarkets talking to shoppers. 

Examples of Undercover Marketing


Back in 2010, BackBerry hired several women to talk and flirt with men on the streets and bars. These women were leaners who went around talking to men and asking for their numbers, promising to call them back. Only to never actually call them back. They all had BlackBerry phones in their hands and gave them to men to enter their numbers. This was a very sleek and subtle technique. Nobody suspected these women to be paid actors hired for BlackBerry’s undercover marketing. 


Game of Thrones is the most viewed show in history. It only makes sense that brands would want to promote their products in the show. But product placement was near impossible here since the show is set in a prehistoric fantasy world. One where modern brands and technology didn’t exist. But Starbucks still found a way. In a viral behind-the-scenes picture, Kit Harrington was seen sitting next to a Starbucks cup. The fake blooper quickly became viral, and millions worldwide saw and shared the picture. 

Kong: Skull Island

Weeks before the movie Kong: Skull Island’s release, giant footprints appeared around the Los Angeles area and beaches. Onlookers took pictures and shared them on social media. Within hours, hundreds of people gathered to see the phenomenon themselves. There was no promotional content to link the footprints with the movie but people figured it out. This was a clear example of buzz marketing and used WoM to advertise the upcoming film. 

Advantages of Undercover Marketing

Boosts Reach: A large segment of consumers are conscious of marketing ploys and tend to see them negatively. But they’re much more likely to buy when they don’t recognize a marketing ploy. Undercover marketing helps reach out to consumers that are wary of traditional marketing tactics – a challenge for brands. 

Creates Buzz: By creating buzz around a product that isn’t released yet is a very effective way to increase initial sales. Most people would simply buy the product or watch a movie just because everyone is talking about it. The more buzz you create through undercover marketing, the higher your initial sales will be. 

Cost Effective: Undercover marketing doesn’t require too much investment. The most challenging part of this type of marketing is the planning phase. The implementation phase is easy and straightforward. Since there’s not too much tech or labor involved, it’s very cheap. 

Identifies Qualified Leads: The leads you identify through undercover marketing are highly qualified. These are people interested in your product or service without being subjected to intentional marketing. You can nudge this audience to buy with a simple push. 

Want to Go Undercover?

Undercover marketing involves exposing products to consumers in a way that doesn’t seem intentional or too sales-y. It’s a great technique that has been very successful in movies, shows and mass media. Starbucks and Blackberry have used this marketing ploy to generate buzz around their products and get people to talk about them. 

Did we miss anything? Got your undercover marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments below!

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