"Stealth marketing" latest way for businesses to reach young consumers, says UNT professor "Snakes on A Plane" buzz latest example

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When the movie "Snakes on A Plane" slithered to a $15.3 million opening box-office weekend, it did so using the latest way to generate a "buzz" about a product or service - "viral marketing." The chairman of the University of North Texas Department of Marketing says it's an effective, low-cost way for companies to pitch their products to certain age groups.

Dr. David Strutton says "viral marketing" uses existing social networks to generate interest in a particular product or service. He describes it as "word of mouth marketing on steroids," and points out the campaigns are typically directed to people under the age of 30 - and in some cases, even more narrowly to teenagers and people in their early 20s.

"Today's young people are so connected. They are a cynical, yet worldly, group. It's a hard group to market to using traditional methods because they are likely to push back and reject a specific message," he says.

"Viral marketing" can include everything from blogs to websites that seem to be amateur productions, but are actually stealth marketing campaigns.

In the case of "Snakes on A Plane," the "viral marketing" extended into the title of the film and suggested dialogue for its star, Samuel L. Jackson. Strutton says this use of "viral marketing" poses an interesting dilemma for business.

"This is new territory. Is the marketing shaping the product, or is the marketplace dictating to manufacturers the final shape of a product?" he says.

"Viral marketing" campaigns can also be cheaper to execute than typical marketing tactics. But Strutton cautions that the typical target market for stealth advertising is media savvy, and as quickly as they have embraced it, they can also reject it.

"I don't think that viral marketing will work for all products or all target audiences," he says. "Plus, there is the potential for backlash. If viral marketing becomes too hot and effective, teens and 20-somethings will be turned off by it."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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