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Commercialising social interaction: the ethics of stealth marketing

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Firms striving to reach consumers through today's swell of marketing clutter frequently employ novel marketing practices. Although many non-traditional 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 defence mechanisms by employing the scepticism and persuasion knowledge literatures to help explain the effectiveness of these practices. Having identified the ethical problems inherent in stealth marketing, our analysis concludes with recommendations for marketers and public policymakers.

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