Five questionable marketing practices (and why they never worked)

Questionable marketing practices

We’ve all encountered some dodgy sales tactics in our time. Eventually, you learn to recognise the signs of a less than honest sales strategy. Unfortunately, the field of marketing is also home to some questionable practices that are likely to annoy or even alienate consumers – and they’re not even that effective. You certainly won’t see Opportunity Marketing suggesting any of these marketing practices when we work with you to assemble your marketing strategy!

Pop-up adverts

Online advertising certainly has its uses: it’s great for reaching out to specific segments of your target market even when you don’t have much budget to spare. However, not all types of digital advertising are useful – we’re looking at you, pop-up ads. Pop-up adverts are annoying, pushy and get in the way of whatever we’re trying to look at online. During their heyday, brands used them because it was an effective way of getting noticed online. In the early days of the internet, many of us naively believed that we really were the millionth visitor to websites and were entitled to our prize, but we’ve become hardened to this less than honest marketing practice since. Thankfully, many of today’s browsers block pop-ups so we don’t have to deal with this annoying spam. When a type of marketing is more likely to aggravate your audience than intrigue them, it’s not working.

Painful product placement and in-show adverts

In the age of Sky+ and Netflix, ad breaks are becoming far less effective ways of reaching your audience. Advertisers have now switched emphasis to product placement and blatant in-show adverts. We believe that product placement is only effective when its subtle – if you start drawing attention to the product needlessly or outright state how amazing a product is, the program loses credibility and so does your brand for initiating such a deal.

Subliminal advertising

The jury’s out on the effectiveness of subliminal advertising. Anyway, subliminal messaging has been banned in advertising in the UK, so even if you want to use this questionable marketing practice, you’d just end up in trouble with the law.


Astroturfing is a relatively new term for an old marketing practice – creating the impression that there’s strong grassroots support for a brand, product or cause, whereas in reality the support doesn’t exist to the same extent. In practice, this means that representatives from a company (or an agency they work with) write and publish messages showing support for a product or brand without disclosing that they receive money from them. We’re all getting much better at spotting astroturfing, and this approach has always been inconsistent at best.

Buying social media followers

Many brands indirectly buy social media followers by paying for adverts on Facebook or promoted posts on Twitter – this isn’t the practice we’re criticising. The direct purchase of followers on Twitter or Facebook is a far more questionable practice, simply because the followers that you gain aren’t likely to be truly interested in and engaged with your brand – they won’t share your posts and may not even see them. In fact, the majority of them probably aren’t even real people. Building your social media followers organically is a far better way of improving your online presence.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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