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Hidden advertising: how does selling without sales work?

Updated: Feb 8

Ilona from VF

Author: Ilona Milostnaja

Date of Publication: 25/06/2023

Hidden advertising is a format for informing the end consumer about a product in a not quite-noticeable way using wide-reaching tools. For example, this can be done by using films, books, and influencers. A feature of such advertising is that the product is not in the spotlight and at the time of content consumption, a person focuses their attention on something else. As a result, sales in the usual sense do not occur at all. So why do advertisers use hidden advertising and what effect does it have?

How hidden advertising works

Our psyche gets tired of an overabundance of offers, and obsession frightens it. For this reason, so-called "banner blindness" has been observed in recent years. People simply stopped responding to standard advertising on the Internet. In fact, they seem not to notice the offer and treat creatives as elements of website design. If they click, it is purely out of curiosity, just to see what is there.

Sale without sale

Hidden advertising takes a completely different approach. In particular, it doesn’t enter the human mind at all. This means it doesn’t irritate or provoke defensive reactions, forcing us to turn on critical thinking. Moreover, such advertising doesn’t put the consumer in front of a choice, because they aren’t offered anything. In other words, it means that the psyche is not faced with the task of evaluating and analyzing the product.

Purpose of hidden advertising

All these together give an amazing effect. Hidden advertising is aimed at one single mental process - memory. Neither thinking nor attention reacts to what is happening, simply because there is no need for it. A person is focused on something else, on a movie or watching a popular artist. Everything else is white noise, just a background that does not enter consciousness at all.

By passing all barriers, information flies straight into memory. So, everything that we saw somewhere, heard somewhere is stored there. It seems to be completely useless rubbish, but at the moment of making a decision, our psyche turns to memory! It extracts from it all the information available on the topic and, based on it, makes a choice.

For example, of the ten sneaker brands, you will choose exactly those that you already know something about. This is because everything foreign and unknown causes concern. So we tend to the proven and familiar. Therefore, the only purpose of hidden advertising is to reach the audience. The product should simply be seen by millions of people. No sale will take place here and now, but in the near future all this mass of people will become customers of the brand.

Hidden advertising: how does selling without sales work?

Examples of hidden advertising

Perhaps the most memorable advertising campaign was the moment at the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Back then, PUMA sneaker marketers paid Pele $25,000 for one curious move. The TV-famous football player demonstratively long tied his boot laces, drawing everyone's attention.

As a result, everyone saw the logo. The operators themselves unknowingly took part in a large-scale advertising campaign. They aimed to spotlight the world football star, immensely loved by fans, for as long as feasible. For a minute, the whole world was looking at PUMA sneakers.

Lies, deceit, manipulation?

Hidden advertising is part of the media. It's just that the integration format is slightly different. No lies exist here. The consumer isn’t informed of any product characteristics, not prompted to make a purchase, and no product is imposed upon them. So, the main goal is coverage.

Psychologists are aware of the algorithm of this notification method. Hidden advertising bypasses consciousness, falling immediately into the subconscious and gaining a foothold in memory.But can this be considered manipulation? Every minute we consume dozens of external signals, including non-provocative ones. We see signs with brand logos, we hear stories of friends and acquaintances about buying cars of some brands and sneakers of some manufacturers. Even when we walk around the city, we notice people in cool jackets and cars passing by. They don't just put badges on them.

We know for sure that this particular sneaker is Adidas.

All this has only one drawback - low coverage. But the film will definitely be watched by millions of eyes. The stories of a popular star will be seen by millions of fans. If a specific shampoo suddenly appears in the frame, then nothing bad will happen to a person. But they will remember what they saw and most likely in the future they will definitely try the advertised product. At least they will trust them a little more.


In a nutshell, hidden advertising represents a powerful and evolving strategy that allows businesses to sell without overtly selling. Brands can influence consumer behavior and establish trust by subtly embedding promotional messages into our daily lives. However, maintaining consumer connection and long-term success in marketing require ethics and transparency.


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