Astroturfing – What it is and its Influence in Sports Marketing

Guerrilla Marketing – Astroturfing

Probably everyone knows Astroturf is the grass substitute first utilized in sports stadiums in the 1980s to replace the expense of real turf. In marketing, astroturfing is a type of guerrilla marketing that masquerades as genuine and spontaneous expressions of brand following and support.

Online Astroturfing – Internet Guerilla Marketing

Astroturfing is used mostly online in the form of fake blogs, called flogs. The blog posts are paid for by the same companies selling the product being promoted. Therefore the appearance of natural brand follow and support are false and deceptive. In sports marketing, astroturfing has been concentrated on declarations of apparent support for grass-root marketing because it is harder to detect at that level. This type of astroturfing utilizes the good will generated by grass root sport marketing activities to introduce products, apparently used at grass root sporting activities which never actually took place.

In marketing, astroturfing also is identified as undercover marketing or stealth marketing. When marketers are carried away, the methods used in astroturfing can border on the illegal. Fortunately, sports marketing has not been infected with the type of astroturfing that takes place in the political arena. Ask Herman Caine about political astroturfing. He might have fallen victim to a massive political astroturfing campaign.

The goal of astroturfing is to take advantage of advertising in a way that is not apparently marketing. The danger with astroturfing, for sports marketing and other forms of marketing, is that online marketers are easily anonymous.

Astroturfing done without malice can be amazingly effective. Outside sports marketing, the best examples of astroturfing are the leaks suspected of Apple before the release of a major new item or upgrade of an already viral product. In 2010, an Apple marketing executive left an iPhone in a bar known to be frequented by tech bloggers. The phone was immediately snatched up and the blogs flew with the latest “inside information” on Apples newest, must-have electronic device.

In sports marketing, other than the grass root type mentioned earlier, astroturfing has been suspected of teams starting rumors of new players who may be coming to join certain teams. It has also been suspected of agents of certain players hoping to force trades primarily beneficial for players and their agents.

The relationships of the various components involved in the business of sports, from rights holders to teams, facilities and athletes, is so interconnected that other than grass root sport marketing shams, astroturfing for sport marketing has not proven possible to a great extent.

Rewards and Dangers of Astroturfing

As mentioned, astroturfing, when done well, can be stunningly effective. The risks are also immense. If caught by a prominent authority, such as a well-known blogger or traditional media, the marketing days of the marketing consultant are over. As well, the reputation of the sponsor involved and their brands are in big trouble with the very fans they were trying to attract. It is not likely that astroturfing will ever go away. This is because astroturfing offers the possibility to reap massive profits with limited or little investment of financial resources or time.