Is Digital Marketing Misleading the Online Audience

By Sonal Patil

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It has been very difficult to define what Digital Marketing is. Some say it’s the type of marketing that is done through digital mediums via the internet but that’s such an undermining definition. At least right now, Digital Marketing has crossed the boundaries so much so that it’s become an entirely new domain for marketers.

The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Of course, the digital marketing revolution has given rise to so many questions from society. One of the major queries has been this: is digital marketing misleading the online audience?

As it happens, we don’t have a simple answer to this question. On the other hand, we will have to explore the various areas to understand the state of things. One of the major areas in question would be online advertising, which has become so ubiquitous right now, across devices and platforms. Now, it has the capacity to market products, services at a global level.

Before we jump into the deep world of online advertising and the potential misleading part of it, we should have a look at the current digital marketing trends.

Digital Marketing: the Current State and Trends

There is no doubt that the whole world is going digital both figuratively and literally. According to recent surveys, almost 89% of the North American population has an online presence. It means something when we consider the fact that the traditional modes of marketing could not even target half of the said amount. Such a number itself justifies why a lot of brands are going crazy about digital marketing.

Now, let’s have a look at some of the existing trends in Digital Marketing, exploring the different aspects of these trends.

  • Content Marketing

Even a decade before, digital marketing meant, for most people, stuffing a lot of keywords on the website. This was expected to attract search engines and make websites visible. It would be wrong to say that SEO didn’t work. In fact, at least for a few years, this keyword stuffing practice had worked. Everything, however, changed when Google became a bit more intelligent.

Now, the digital marketing era is ruled by something known as Content Marketing. This works by creating an authentic online presence for your company so that the search engine attributes a ‘relevant’ tag for the website.

This ‘relevance’ is then leveraged when it comes to lead generation and conversion. As a result of this trend, many brands are now trying to ‘sound authentic’. The last time we checked, marketing teams are spending more time and effort on creating content that can actually help people, instead of simply attracting clicks.

As far as the usability aspect of the web is concerned, this is a trend that customers should be happy about. Just the fact that users won’t be led to a page that is stuffed with keywords itself is solace for most netizens out there.

  • Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing has been one of the most trending and controversial practices in the whole domain of digital marketing. This trend refers to using a real human being to endorse a particular product, instead of a few banners and praising articles about how good the product/service is. In most cases, brands go for some celebrities in the area. The best example would be Tesla going for Marques Brownlee, who has become the trendsetter in tech reviews. So, it’s very likely that people would believe MKBHD than they tend to believe what the official website of Tesla says.

A lot of money is involved in the influencer marketing technique as well. Probably not in the case of MKBHD, but normal celebrities are paid huge lumps of money for endorsing certain products and services. Now, this poses a problem.

As you can see, in influencer marketing, the fame of the particular person is used to leverage the product. Since money is involved, there’s all the chance that this so-called influencer may promote something not so good. In the long run, the online audience would be at the danger. In several instances, influencers weren’t even using certain products/services despite endorsing the product.

Several celebrities were caught using iPhone devices even when they were publicly endorsing smartphones from companies like Huawei and LG. This not only exposes the overall discrepancy in the trend but also goes onto prove the potential evil side of influencer marketing. At the same time, we cannot ignore thousands of influencers who promote products/services only after a thorough review process and individual testing.

Does it always mislead? No. Can it mislead the online audience? Yes, definitely.

  • Clickbait or Fake News

We are sorry to list this here, but the practice of fake news has become a standard symbol of today’s digital marketing techniques. Clickbait refers to the practice of using attractive headlines in order to compel users to click on it. For instance, an article that’s actually about an event report may have a headline that is related to a least important factor in the event.

Click-baiting has helped many marketers build an audience in the past decade, but it is not going to work from now. Nor is it ethical to employ such a technique, for that matter. Many companies, including Facebook and Google, are working hand in hand to prevent fake news and click-baiting. Posts that contain suspicious headlines are being omitted so that regular people are not misguided.

  • Targeted Advertising

User-targeted advertising is surely one of the characteristics of today’s digital marketing practices. This trend has helped both the customers and brands in some way, but it also raises several questions regarding aspects of privacy and security. When we are talking about whether digital marketing is misleading people, this part cannot be ignored.

Targeted advertising means that a particular advertisement would be shown to a selected set of the population instead of global visibility. For instance, if you have a product that is related to automotive, the ads can be shown to people who have previously shown interested in the world of vehicles. Similarly, brands can now have control over what is shown to whom.

Obviously, this has given rise to questions regarding the users’ privacy. As you can see, user-profiles will be created based on the previous activity on the web. Networks like Google Ads, owned by the internet giant Google, is known to have sneaked into user-data for profiling users for the advertising needs. It’s also clear, now, that the ads are delivered based on these profiles.

On one hand, this can be viewed as something positive. Suppose you are looking forward to buying a new phone online. Isn’t it awesome if you can see the related products in advertisements, instead of seeing something that is quite irrelevant? On the other hand, however, the negative aspect seems to be looming. It’s a matter of concern that companies possess digital profiles of our online behaviour.

In short, targeted advertising can be a double-edged sword.

Now that you have seen some of the common trends of digital advertising in town, shall we address the elephant in the room?

Misleading Advertising or Misleading Marketing

Almost all the techniques of digital marketing were made so that the overall results can be improved. In the course of time, however, many have managed to transcend this ‘ethical’ sphere. One of the major ones here would be advertising itself. And, what we now have is something called Misleading advertising. Let’s have a look at how misleading advertising is destroying the soul of digital marketing.

  • What is Misleading Advertising?

Misleading advertising refers to the practice of using advertisements that contain inaccurate information. It is represented in such a manner that the audience would be compelled to click on the advertisement in the instant of a second. Misleading ads were present in advertising networks for a long period of time. It was in 2016 that Google removed a huge number of ads from the network since they contained misleading info.

  • Types of Misleading Advertising

A number of techniques are used by marketers to create misleading advertisements.

One of the common techniques is to scare the user. For instance, the advertisement will say that the user’s computer has been hacked and that they have to install antivirus software in order to stay secure. In fact, however, the advertisement will be leading the user into another website probably something dangerous or illegal.

Bonuses and Warnings are also used by the advertisers to attract more users into the deal. The audience would be shown that they have won a huge amount of money and that they have to install this app to proceed. It should be noted that even some of the reputed services were found using these advertising techniques for improving the click rate.

In addition to these, the unlawful use of celebrities’ photographs, mimicking of browser operations and the use of illegal materials etc. come under the category of misleading advertising.

  • Does it Help?

Not really. At least with people who understand a thing or two about digital marketing.

When you attract people into your website/app by showing something else, you are actually breaking the first law of trust. And, although it may increase clicks, it won’t lead to conversions (no pun intended). And, let’s say goodbye to targeted advertising the moment you decide to employ misleading ads.

How on earth are you going to know whether a person is interested in your service when you actually force them to click using a misleading message.

  • A Word about Misleading Marketing

Misleading Marketing is a bigger term in that it goes a bit beyond the advertising domain. For instance, we’ve talked about influencer marketing before. So, if a brand is using the fame of the celebrity to promote certain products/services in a wrong way, that can be called misleading advertising. And, that’s something you will not practice if the brand wants to build an authentic online presence.

Of course, these too can increase the number of clicks or potential buyers. However, don’t think that you’ll get a lot of conversions using these techniques.

The Bottom Line

Is Digital Marketing Misleading the Online Audience?

Not really. However, there are elements in digital marketing that can be used. A crooked influencer campaign or a set of misleading advertisements can be an example of this practice. This, however, doesn’t mean that you can completely blame digital marketing.

Like everything else, there’s good and bad. Nevertheless, if you are a marketer who wants to enhance the overall authenticity and credibility of a brand, it’s best not to mislead the audience. As it was proven many times before, it may increase the number of clicks, but conversions would stay the same.

About the author: Sonal Patil is a business analyst at Marketresearch.biz, a market research report providing firm in the industry. She is passionate to analyze and work on market data which helps marketers for strategy Planning.

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