Leveraging Misinformation: The Dark Side of Marketing on the Web


This week is focusing on the “dark side” of the web – can this also be applied to marketing?

Marketers deem misinformation as a subject derived from consumer perception of a message through a medium (Russo et al, 1981), potentially affected by consumer intelligence, interpretation, understanding, vulnerability, evaluation standards and methods (Bernacchi, 1976). In contrast, a deliberate attempt to misinform a consumer through a medium is deemed as deceptive or false advertising (Bernacchi, 1976; LaTour & LaTour, 2009). Even so, these terms seem to be used interchangeably (Mintz, 2002) and exist on a continuum determined by the mediums’ effectiveness (Rycyna et al, 2009) and the technology in question (Mintz, 2002).

It is evident that the Web has increased the scale, impact and reach of the dissemination of corporate information (Mintz, 2002). With this, misinformation is spread in much the same way, using the Web to facilitate the rapid, global reach of the message (Mintz, 2002). Further to this, as we have seen in the rapid growth of spam and ‘get-rich-quick’ adverts, users are empowered to forge their own marketing media to misinform and mislead others (Kanich et al, 2009), using the Web as a distribution platform (Mintz, 2002). Nevertheless, measures, such as naming non-compliants (ASA, 2013), have been taken to curb the launch of misinforming, misleading or deceptive advertising over the Web.

However monitoring the sheer level of information distributed through the Web appears to be an endless task and an inevitable drain on governmental resources (Vedder, 2001), and so, misinformation continues to spread. In addition, such misinforming, misleading or deceptive media are used as direct marketing tools to leverage revenue, conversions and website traffic from consumer vulnerability and lack of understanding (Karson et al, 2006). This constitutes an attractive, ‘quick-and-easy’ way for many users on the Web to perform such deceptive techniques. Moreover, knowledge and information of successful misleading marketing tactics are spread over the Web to encourage others, producing a ‘snowballing effect’. Thus, the Web facilitates the spread of information regarding how to produce effective misinformation, to obtain revenue, traffic and/or conversions.

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