“Marketing is the price you pay for being unremarkable.” – Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad.
This isn’t black hat. Maybe grey hat. And the things I’m about to share with you are not illegal.
They are aggressive and controversial. They might upset some people. And I don’t necessarily recommend using them.
But I do think they serve an important purpose, in that they can make you think not just outside of the box, but outside the realm of everything you know of as online marketing.
You might view these as a springboard from which you can get your own creative ideas for promoting your business – not at a snail’s pace – but at light speed.
Just one idea like the one’s I’m about to show you can metamorphosize the right business literally overnight.
Before we dive in, I’m going to assume you have identified your target audience and the channels to reach them.
And you also have a value proposition (the benefit of using your product/problem you're solving) and clear differentiation from competitors.
Those are the basics.
And here are three examples of dark side internet marketing:
The Poo Stirrer
Let’s say you’ve got a controversial topic that is being heavily debated by your target audience. For example, the presidential impeachment hearings in the U.S., or Brexit in the U.K. There are strong feelings on both sides. And it just so happens that your target group is within one of the groups in one of these debates.
This is your opportunity.
Go on all those discussion forums, Facebook Groups, Twitter hashtags and blog articles and start posting comments that are contrary to the popular opinion.
Key point here: For this to work, your “opinions” need to be just controversial enough to spark interest and discussion, but not so controversial that people will dismiss you as a troll and ignore you, or worse yet not click your link.
Be polite, not rude and aggressive. But be controversial.
Have a blog post set up with an article providing support and credibility to your argument, that is also…
… and pay attention here…
… packed with ads for your company's product.
Obviously, this article is not going to be on your domain, or even under your own name.
You might even buy a domain for this purpose, such as “UKShouldHaveQuitEUYearsAgo dot whatever” or something along those lines.
Create your post and generate 20-30 comments or discussions to make it appear active and give people the sense they need to join in on the argument.
Every time you engage in a debate on a third party site (or your VA engages in a debate) forward people to the relevant blog where they can see your “evidence”.
Remember to place your ads on the blog. It should look like the ads just happened to be served by an ad network.
The stronger people feel about the topic, the better.
Depending on your product, you might even be able to make the post recommend the product, but again it’s got to look like a third party is doing this.
Create a few more pages on this website to make it all look legit. Place your ads on those pages as well because… why not, right?
See what I mean by darkside marketing?
It’s legal, but is it legit? You decide.
The point isn’t to teach you this trick as much as it is to get your brain cells working. Because when you see something that’s entirely different than what you’re being taught – something that works really well, by the way – it should fire you up to find your own unique ways of doing what you might call ‘guerilla’ promotions.
Create the Story
We’re always told in marketing to have a good story.
And this is excellent, primo, top-of-the-line advice, too.
But what if you’re making the whole thing up?
In 2010, TheChive was fighting for viewers just like every other struggling website. They could have tried traditional marketing or even PR. But what reporter is going to write an article about a site for guy humor stuff?
They wanted eyeballs on their site, and this is how they did it:
In October 2010, Leo and John Resig, the brilliant guys at the Chive, posted a story that had all the characteristics of an internet sensation.
Supposedly, some unnamed person sent them pictures of a gal named “Jenny” who was fed up with her boss’ harassment. She decided to quit her job in a unique and entertaining way, and the headline read, “Girl quits her job on dry erase board, emails entire office” (33 Photos).
The story went viral, most likely because…
- Jenny has a vulnerable girl next door look and she was victimized by a jerk male. This was a winning story for men who want to be a savior to women, as well as women who hate womanizing men.
- Jenny quit her job in a grand way, as many people wish they could. She's now a hero in the readers’ eyes, and people are sharing this story when the boss isn’t looking.
- They started a side discussion by misspelling a term, causing a debate. Yeah, I know that sounds silly, but it can be highly effective. HOPA? HPOA? Which is it? What does it mean? Better jump into the debate and argue with others online about it.
- One of the dry erase boards referenced TechCrunch, saying the boss spent 5.3 hours a week on the site. Naturally, TechCrunch took notice and immediately did their own story, referencing the original TheChive story, causing even more buzz and traffic. Smart.
And of course, the entire story was created (fabricated) by TheChive.
Mainstream media soon took up the story, linking back to original TheChive article.
Reports say TheChive saw traffic jump dramatically as a result of the story, from 15,000 uniques an hour to 440,000 the next hour. It struck a personal chord, garnering 238K Facebook shares and 31K tweets.
Overall, its estimated that millions of unique visitors were exposed to TheChive as a result of the story.
And TheChive has since grown to be one of the biggest blogs in the space, if not the biggest.
Notice that TheChive was never the story, at least not during the actual hoax. It was simply the platform on which the story took place.
However, once the hoax was revealed, the creation of the hoax became the story and TheChive got plenty of additional press and credibility, twice.
The first time was of course the initial hoax, and the second time was the story of how it happened.
Do you want to fake stories? Maybe not. But can you pull pranks or hoaxes? Of course. Yes, maybe it is semantics, but it does work.
Be the Underdog
Let’s say you’re a small political party or maybe an underdog candidate trying to make it big. You need publicity and attention, but the media is focused on the big boys. What can you do?
I can tell you what others have already done around the world – create yourself an enemy.
For example, post information that your website has been attacked. Plant hostile files on the site to complete the picture.
Say that your database has been hacked into. File public complaints. Make it look like there is vibrant activity going on. People are plotting against you and so forth.
Sure, it sounds a bit silly and provocative but it’s important to understand that every spin of this type increases traffic by hundreds of percentages.
That’s hundreds of percentages at zero cost and almost no logistical effort. These are the rules of the game, whether we like them or not.
How does this translate to your business? If you pitch a reporter a story about your new product, they’re going to yawn in your face. But tell them you’re the victim of some big unknown evil, or even better, a David fighting a Goliath, and the media will love your story.
What happens anytime some organization boycotts a movie? Ticket sales go up. The harder they boycott, the more tickets are sold because of all the free publicity. Plus, people want to SEE the forbidden movie that everyone is now talking about.
Every time the group called “One Million Moms” protests a movie such as Toy Story 4 because two women in the background are dropping off a child at school (I am not making this up) publicity runs swift and ticket sales soar.
In fact, I’ve sometimes wondered if “One Million Moms,” which has approximately 89,775 members (math is not their strong point) isn’t really a ploy to increase sales of certain products.
If you should happen to make a lousy movie, put a scene in it that some group will hate enough to publicly boycott, and I can almost guarantee you’ll make money.
It gets even better if most people don’t like the group doing the boycott. Not only do you get tons of free publicity, but people who normally would never see your movie or buy your product will do so now just to spite that group. I know, I’ve done it myself.
One more quick story…
In a classic David vs. Goliath tale, two young hippies named Ben and Jerry started an ice-cream shop in 1978.
By 1984, they had grown the business to $4 million in sales.
Independent ice cream distributors started selling Ben & Jerry’s in big grocery stores in Boston.
And that’s when the fight started.
Haagen-Dazs, owned at the time by $4 billion corporation Pillsbury, didn’t like the competition.
But rather than compete in an open market, their game plan was to pressure distributors into refusing to carry Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Distributors were told that if they did not obey, there would be serious consequences – sort of reminds you of the mob, doesn’t it?
Ben & Jerry’s was a young company with limited resources. And they were innovative, finding the one thing that would give them a shot: They became the David to Pillsbury’s Goliath.
They launched a grassroots campaign printed on the pints of their ice cream called, “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?”
If a customer sent in $10 they could get a bumper sticker and a t-shirt with the rallying cry: “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?” on the front and “Ben & Jerry’s Legal Defense Fund: Major Contributor” on the back.
The customer-centered approach worked, the lawsuit was settled out of court and the rest is history.
None of these examples is meant to tell you what to do with your products or your company. But hopefully they’ve opened your eyes to a new world of possibilities if you will simply start thinking unconventionally.