The Elephant in the Room - Dark Marketing: What it is and how to illuminate the darkness

4 min read
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In this piece, we are going to take a look at a new phenomenon revolutionizing the marketing industry—Dark Marketing

Just uttering the phrase “dark marketing” sends a chill up my spine. It’s secretive, unknown, and scary. We fear what we do not know. In this piece, we are going to explore the new age of dark marketing, explain how it’s transforming the marketing field, and hopefully reduce some of the anxiety by explaining how you can combat it.

What is Dark Marketing?

Dark marketing is a new phenomenon revolutionizing the contemporary digital marketing ecosystem. It consists of highly fragmented, segmented, personalized, and retargeted marketing efforts. Before going any further, let’s define these key features of dark marketing.

Fragmentation – marketing campaigns are taking over the digital landscape; everywhere you look you see ads. Campaigns are launched on nearly all popular platforms including Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Spotify, Pandora, and much more. Since marketing campaigns span their reach over multiple platforms, each site only reveals a fraction of the overall strategy. A single campaign could devote different resources to different platforms simultaneously. This means that the only way to catch each campaign is to view every platform during all times of the day. This is clearly not feasible.

Segmentation –Segmentation techniques allow marketers to break down their audience based on a variety of factors including age, gender, interests, geographic location, etc.…This is nothing new; however, dark marketing has given segmentation new life. On Facebook for instance, you would only see these segmented posts if you are a part of the campaign’s target audience. This has made segmentation one of the biggest manifestations of marketers being left in the dark.

Personalization –While contemporary marketing is segmented, personalization is becoming the new gold standard. Campaigns are getting smarter, they know who to target and how to target them. For example, marketing one product to two different people can look very different. These campaigns are launched with multiple variations to
resonate with as many people as possible. This means that each person will have a distinct marketing campaign designed specifically for them. For example, if you travel to New York often, Facebook knows this based on photos you’ve posted or places where you have “checked in.” Facebook can then sell a travel company like trivago ad space on your newsfeed for New York hotels. Similarly, if your friend frequently travels to Los Angeles, trivago would sponsor posts showing hotels in Los Angeles. Each campaign is targeted for a specific purpose and aimed at a specific individual. 

Retargeting – Campaigns also retarget you for items you previously searched for. These advertisements seem to follow you wherever you go. It’s no coincidence that when you’re searching for a flight to New York, within an hour your newsfeed is crammed with flight options.

Here is an example of a personalized Facebook ad for a middle-aged married person who enjoys travel




How does it work?

Essentially, internet behemoths like Facebook and Google are using your information to provide you with a unique marketing experience. These internet kings have mountains of user-data that they use for targeting. This is information that you willingly share with Facebook, it’s on your profile and shared with your friends. For example, on Facebook, if you’re 22, from Denver, and “like” the Winter Olympics page, Facebook will interpret this as an interest in winter sports and adventure. In turn, they would advise companies like GoPro to sponsor posts on your newsfeed. These techniques are developed in order to enhance the customer experience. They allow users to embark on a specially tailored digital journey each time they go online.

Why is it used?

Dark posts, under the greater umbrella of dark marketing, are quickly emerging as the most effective type of marketing. As I explained in my last piece, ads that are relevant and appeal to you are the most successful. In fact, one study estimated that targeted marketing campaigns are 100% more effective than traditional efforts. Dark marketing offers marketers unprecedented marketing opportunities. In the new age, marketers can precisely target their audience, and users are only seeing relevant ads. It seems like a flawless system; both marketers and users appear better off. However, marketers are beginning to notice problems with the system.

Why is Dark Marketing a Problem?

The problem with dark marketing is the total lack of transparency marketers are facing. 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; the rest of the campaign is in the dark.

These dark posts also create a massive gap in competitor awareness we are stuck trying to decipher. Since the first television advertisement aired in July of 1941, keeping track of the competition was as easy as watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper. You never had to be superhuman to spy on your competitors … until today. The only way to see what an individual sees on a newsfeed is to be that person. For example, a forty-year-old would not see a toy store’s special offers on his newsfeed… but his kids might. No matter how hard brand managers or CMOs try to be their target audience, be it a 56-year-old woman or 17-year-old boy, they simply can’t.

These fragmented, segmented, personalized, and retargeted ads make marketers blind to their competition’s movements. We are conducting business with our eyes shut.
Imagine trying to hike blindfolded, you can trip on a rock or fall into a ditch at any moment. Marketing has never been this complex, the industry has never seen this many individual factors going into a single campaign. Each day dark posts are becoming more prevalent. The BrandTotal data analytics team now estimates that on Facebook alone 92% of sponsored posts are dark posts. In response to this problem, a question was posed-- how could one illuminate the darkness?”

How can you illuminate the darkness?

Dark marketing is transforming the digital marketing ecosystem; this has created a problem that only more technology can solve. Understanding what your competitors are doing is vital to your own survival. To conduct their jobs effectively, contemporary marketers must be able to get a glimpse behind the screens of their customers. By using sophisticated technology, marketers can capture and illuminate their competitor’s dark marketing campaigns. This allows them to essentially “live” “breath” and “feel” like their customers. Once
consolidated, this data can be used to piece together the campaign’s intricate puzzle, putting your brand back in control.


The modern-day marketer must be bionic. Part artist, part software engineer, and part spy. The only possible way to keep up with your competition is to adopt marketing technology; otherwise, you will be left in the dark. Luckily, BrandTotal has a serum that will put you back on top and illuminate the darkness. The anecdote is a revolutionary SaaS (software as a service) able to spot, collect, consolidate, and illuminate dark marketing campaigns in real time. Each day new challenges present themselves. Now more than ever, it is essential to have a flexible strategy. In my next piece, I will delve deeper into this concept of agile marketing.   

Visit the BrandTotal website today to learn more about our solution.