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  • Tanushree vaish

The Scope of Dark Marketing and Where to Set Boundaries

The term DARK MARKETING sounds like something very scandalous, and a highly secretive operation.

However, what if we say that this is a common practice followed by many brands starting right from the top companies on the Forbes list to some sprouting startups. Once we understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, we will better understand how this piece fits into the puzzle, and what it can achieve for brands.

Dark marketing is a new-age revolution that’s changing the contemporary digital marketing ecosystem and switching it to hyper-customized, targeted marketing. One of dark marketing’s important complements is the use of technology. If we look into the reason, it’s the flexibility that’s caused dark marketing to skyrocket in popularity in recent years. It doesn’t have any strict rules or guidelines, and therefore, has a room for creativity.

It's the method of collecting ample information that people openly share on the internet on public domains and social media, and segregating it to deliver suitable advertisements to targeted audiences and the interested audiences only.

This information consists of statistics, interests of users, and that information is used to create a custom online crowd and run messages that are unique to the individual's online experience.

How exactly are these dark marketing strategies implemented?

These marketing campaigns are more focused on taking over the digital media. As we look around us, we see ads. Campaigns are launched on nearly all popular platforms, including Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and much more. In fact, 90% of Twitter ads, 85% of Facebook ads, and 60% of YouTube ads are "dark", allowing them to create a sizable blind spot for competitive brands and marketers. All the leading companies expose only a portion of the overall strategy of their marketing campaign. So, this means it's highly impossible to catch each campaign done by a particular company as one should spend time on each platform during all times of the day, which is not feasible.

On Facebook, the following data will be available depending on the privacy settings that one sets, like Information you added to the About section of your timeline, like relationships, work, education, where you live, and more. Other specifics like date of birth, current city, followers, friends, gender, groups, last location, etc. are used by Facebook for segmentation and are clearly mentioned in the privacy policies.

Breaking it into pieces or segmentation

A technique where marketers can break down their crowd is based on a variety of factors, which can be that of age, gender, interests, geographic location and many more. Though this is an old ritual, dark marketing has given this method a new life. On Instagram, for instance, you would only see targeted posts if you are a part of the campaign’s target audience. This is also known as psychographic targeting. It's also highly possible to ‘deselect’ people from other demographics to ensure they don’t see the advertising.

Let’s deduce it into a simpler version. If you are a young traveler who often searches for different options with respect to exploring places around you, you are more likely to get advertisements from tour websites, hotels, and trip advisors as your information from different search engines is gathered in favor of marketers.


Have you seen an alcohol company or a tobacco company directly advertising their product? As promotion of these products in some countries is forbidden, they use marketing techniques such as dark marketing by showing just a logo, a slogan, or a different kind of reminder of the brand. It doesn’t have to directly relate to the brand. For instance, many companies usually pick a slogan that doesn’t say anything about the product itself, but they pick a slogan that reminds them of their product(like night, elixir, celebration). Some use alternate product names like soda, club glasses, which indirectly lead to their product.

When it comes to tobacco companies, they publicly endorse their brand with different product names (which sound similar or remind us of their product) and even with top celebrities as their ambassadors.


This is one of the other ways that companies implement dark marketing. They do endorsements by collaborating with other brands or businesses. When companies collaborate, they usually come up with a common theme that reminds consumers of both companies. There are different kinds of collabs, like photoshoots, using each other’s products in videos. For instance, some food bloggers and restaurants collaborate and sponsor bloggers for better reviews and publicity of their brand. Some chefs endorse particular brands of food products in their cooking videos. Hence, collaterally planting the brand image on the audience.

The influencer market

From putting up huge hoardings to collaborating with different companies to host events, marketing strategies have changed with time and trend. To add up the advantages of dark marketing, influencers have played a large role.

It’s almost impossible to scroll through social media without seeing some influencer who nimbly shows products that they allegedly use. Everywhere you look, influencers are showing off their latest snacks, clothes, makeup brands, or candles, and that’s just the beginning. They are people who have a large number of followers that create and nudge branded content to their fans. Any topic can make an influencer’s account engaging, from travel to fashion to food to gadgets. In recent years, influencers have been emerging from all kinds of social media accounts, the most popular ones being YouTube and Instagram. Influencers have trustworthy followers and high engagement rates on their posts, stories, and videos. They can promote products directly or indirectly.

Influencer marketing is climbing the charts right now, but it’s not just a trend that’s going to lose the limelight. In fact, it’s nowhere near done growing. It will continue to become more and more popular over the coming years, so now is the best time to learn about it and prepare to incorporate it into your own strategies.

How will this help someone other than direct


These dark, or non-public ads create a case history where a brand's full campaign strategy is no longer visible to everyone and essentially hidden from public view. Also, because of the features like pliancy and personalization of dark marketing, it usually appears on a consumer’s laptop at a particular time and, in most cases, it is not detectable by other people or companies. Therefore, only that specific individual sees the ad. Competitors have no idea who gets what ad and when. It is an advantage as competitors can’t get a lot of information about a company’s marketing strategy.

However, this technique is tricky because companies can’t just look at their competitors’ websites to see what they’re up to. Hence, done right, dark marketing immediately brings in profits without affirming to the rest of the industry how they were made.

Imagine a massive campaign that covers millions of people. Then, imagine that only the targeted consumers know the campaign is happening. Closing the curtain on your competitors,that’s the power of dark marketing.

As you can see, dark marketing is fruitful for both advertisers and consumers, and the advantages are a handful. Marketers benefit from more economical use of their advertising budget, while the consumer benefits from advertisements that show them products and services they are genuinely interested in. But while dark marketing isn’t inherently bad, there is a dormant chance for it to be used in ways that are not said to be honest. It’s high time and also crucial that digital advertisers should keep in mind how cautious they have to be when building their own campaigns, to ensure they remain above board.

Where to set boundaries for dark marketing?

Everything has two sides. Currently, dark marketing is dominated by the combination of Google AdWords and Facebook, which together pull in 50% of the global digital advertising spend, with an ever-increasing market share. Since marketing campaigns are so deeply fragmented and segmented, it is impossible to see the entirety of a marketing campaign. We can only see bits and pieces that are designed for us and the rest of the campaign is in the dark.

This is not just with Facebook or Google, but almost all social media platforms can sort data and target specific demographics from their billion users. These companies have been collecting data in the shade of unavoidable privacy policies that users are forced to agree with. It collects a humongous amount of personal data, all of it contributing to clues as to each user’s interests, opinions, and beliefs.

For advertisers, it’s a boon, but there’s a darker side to dark marketing. It is creating an undeniably huge problem that only more technology can solve by changing the digital marketing environment.

Understanding what your competitors are doing is vital to your survival. To conduct their jobs effectively, contemporary marketers must be able to get a glimpse behind the screens of their customers. This is all going to happen using sophisticated technology only. Using that, then the marketers can capture and illuminate their competitors' dark marketing campaigns. However,all these practices will, in the end, lead to too many privacy breaches and cause security issues for users on social media platforms.

There’s no doubt that dark marketing can be exploited to create campaigns with questionable ethical credibility. While a few of these may lead to a high return on investment in the short-term, if these stratagems are exposed, then the damage to the brand and its reputation could be serious and might be permanent. So, it is very important to remember that dark marketing can also be icing on the cake by offering free content and services to customers, or can at least drive clear of dirty tactics that could likely estrange the brand’s target audience. It is also a knack that can be fairly incorporated into a campaign alongside more traditional marketing means.

As long as dark marketing campaigns are derived from the brand’s strong identity, moral focus, market positioning, and include a carefully considered long-term strategy, there is no reason why dark marketing can not play an important role in any company’s future advertising endeavors.


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