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Commercializing Social Interaction: The Ethics of Stealth Marketing

Kelly D. Martin

Colorado State University - College of Business

N. Craig Smith


February 2008

INSEAD Business School Research Paper No. 2008/19/ISIC

Firms striving to reach consumers through today's swell of marketing clutter frequently are employing novel marketing practices. Although many nontraditional marketing messages are effective through clever, entertaining, and ultimately benign means, others rely on deception to reach consumers. In particular, one form of covert marketing known as stealth marketing uses surreptitious practices that fail to disclose or reveal the true relationship with the company producing or sponsoring the marketing message. As well as deception, stealth marketing can also involve intrusion and exploitation of social relationships as means of achieving effectiveness. In this paper, we consider the ethical implications using three stealth marketing case studies. We cast our discussion in the context of consumer defense mechanisms by employing the skepticism and persuasion knowledge literatures to help explain the effectiveness of these practices. Having identified the ethical problems inherent to stealth marketing, our analysis concludes with recommendations for marketers and public policymakers.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: ethics, stealth marketing, covert marketing, consumer skepticism, deception

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Date posted: March 26, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Martin, Kelly D. and Smith, N. Craig, Commercializing Social Interaction: The Ethics of Stealth Marketing (February 2008). INSEAD Business School Research Paper No. 2008/19/ISIC. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1111976 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1111976

Contact Information

Kelly D. Martin (Contact Author)
Colorado State University - College of Business ( email )
Fort Collins, CO 80523
United States
N. Craig Smith
INSEAD ( email )
Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex
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