What is 'Parasitic Advertising'

Parasitic advertising is a type of marketing that promotes one product at the cost of lost sales for another product. Parasitic advertising often occurs when two products are close substitutes for one another. Firms generally attempt to avoid parasitic advertising within their own product offerings because it is not the most effective way of maximizing the return on ad spending. Parasitic advertising may also occur in the context of ambush marketing, which is the co-opting of a competitor's event or venue to promote a similar product or service.

Breaking Down 'Parasitic Advertising'

Parasitic advertising can be a problem for large consumer products firms like Procter and Gamble, which owns many brands. This means that advertising must be coordinated across the firm in order to minimize the degree to which P&G's brands compete with one another. One way to avoid parasitic advertising is to target brands toward different segments of consumers, perhaps by making one a luxury brand while making another a mid-price brand.

Parasitic advertising can also refer to how advertising is delivered. Parasites latch onto a host and benefit from it by hurting it. With parasitic advertising, brands or brand identities co-opt human emotions and passions (love, safety, sense of self, etc.) to sell soap, cars, phones and more.

Parasitic Advertising and Ambush Marketing

Another form of parasitic advertising happens when an advertiser takes advantage of an event to promote their product or service, which may be a direct competitor to the event's official sponsor or partner. This practice may also extend to the practice of taking advantage of a competitor's campaign or event. This kind of activity may also be referred to as "ambush marketing," though not all parasitic marketing is ambush marketing.

Parasitic Advertising and Parasitic Marketing

Parasitic advertising is a subset of parasitic marketing, also known as opportunistic marketing. As its core, parasitic marketing is a product of mass communications. As shown above, parasitic marketing can take on many forms. In the digital context, parasitic marketing can refer to affiliate parasitism, which is when marketing works by injuring an affiliate, most often by stealing commissions. In affiliate parasitism the party engaging in parasitic marketing receives credit (in the form of commissions) for a purchase even though they have had no hand in influencing or provoking the purchase decision. Parasitic marketing techniques work by sneaking a message into normal marketing using questionable tactics. This could be by providing low-quality content that targets popular/trending keywords with the sole aim of monetize it, or scraping another party's web page but replacing their ads.

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