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The Dark Side of Content Marketing

Published on Apr 15, 2024

The Dark Side of Content Marketing
Anastasia Dyakovskaya
Anastasia Dyakovskaya studioID

Everything has a dark side, and content marketing is no different. Lately, it seems like for every well-intended, mission-driven campaign, there’s a campaign with questionable practices to match. And while technological innovations have made way for an incredible array of new kinds of content and capabilities, they’ve also enabled a slew of predatory tactics that any marketing leader should steer clear of — for the sake of their company and the good of society at large.

So, what’s a marketer to do? And what’s to be avoided at all costs? Take a look at four of the most concerning issues facing our industry today.

The New Frontier: AI Lies, Cheats, and Goes Too Far

Artificial intelligence has revolutionized content creation, personalization, customer service, and all kinds of marketing processes. Unfortunately, it’s also made misinformation more rampant than ever. 

A recent Forbes Advisor survey found that 76% of consumers are concerned with misinformation from AI tools such as Google Bard, ChatGPT, and Bing Chat.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As we’ve seen this year with falsified calls from a mock President Biden and unsavory AI-generated videos of Taylor Swift, deepfake technology can create disturbingly convincing visuals and voice clips of everyday people and public figures saying or doing things they never would in real life. For Swift, it happened twice in one month; besides the sexually explicit scandal, hackers used her voice and visage in a fake Facebook ad for beloved cookware brand Le Creuset, taking advantage of unsuspecting users

Beyond the stuff of marketing nightmares, these developments have the potential to wreak havoc on individuals, families, and trust. In this election year, for instance, the biggest threat AI poses is to world politics, leading Hillary Clinton last week to say:

Anybody who’s not worried is not paying attention. 

SEO Heists & Fiction as Fact

Industry insiders should stay especially wary of AI-driven SEO heists and so-called hallucinations — blatantly false information presented as fact — which further complicate the integrity of digital information.

A “lying” chatbot might have cost Air Canada just $812.02 in one passenger’s damages and court fees, but the implications for other companies may be much more costly. And when the mass production of low-quality SEO-targeted articles gets to Jake Ward levels, hijacking search engine results and directing traffic away from legitimate sources, user experience and brand credibility plummet even further down as marketers are forced to prioritize quantity over quality in the race for visibility.

⌛ Related Reading: Is the End of Content Marketing Near?

Uninvited Guests: Rise of the Planet of the Bots

Demonstrating marketing ROI is a hurdle that marketers face both in content marketing and demand generation. And to make matters worse, there lurks a shadowy presence that can inflate success metrics: bots. Designed to mimic human behavior, bots have swarmed digital platforms and infiltrated marketing campaigns.

🖱️ Related Reading: Misleading Metrics: What Your CTR Isn’t Telling You

Bots have become disturbingly adept at artificially inflating key metrics such as website traffic, click-through rates, and conversions. By generating fake interactions, they create the illusion of engagement and effectiveness, leading marketers to believe their strategies are more successful than they truly are. 

Akrose Labs, a fraud control platform, reports that bad bots account for 73% of all internet traffic. 

Perhaps the tinfoil hat-donning believers of ‘The Dead Internet Theory’ — a concept that suggests a majority of posts, traffic, and users on the Internet today are in fact bots and not real people — aren’t so off base after all.

Bots have also found their way into marketing lists, surveys, and other data collection mechanisms, posing a dual threat to marketers. These contacts contaminate databases with false information, forcing marketers to identify and weed them out.

Even worse, they skew the results of market research and audience analysis, leading to misguided strategies and wasted investments in nurturing bot-generated leads.

In studioID’s 2024 Content Marketing and Demand Generation Predictions survey demand generation marketers reported that their biggest challenge is competing priorities and limited bandwidth.

Bots work against this challenge by forcing marketers, especially those in demand gen, to spend valuable time and resources removing unwanted bots and diverting their attention away from genuine marketing efforts.

As technology continues to advance, the challenge of combating bot-driven traffic will only grow. This may involve investing in analytics tools capable of distinguishing between genuine and fake interactions and implementing data validation processes to safeguard against bots.

📊 Related Reading: Content Marketing Measurement, Demystified: How to Demonstrate ROI from Brand to Demand

Growing Concerns: Weak Data Privacy and Unauthorized Data Usage

One of the most unsettling aspects of modern marketing is the widespread, predatory seizure and misuse of personal information. In a breach of privacy as well as user trust, the undisclosed collection and selling of data to third parties without user consent is an obvious “no” to serious marketers. But bad actors keep at it. 

In 2015, a man posing as a private investigator was sentenced to 13 years in prison for selling personal information — including an individual’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, bank account number, and bank routing number — to over a thousand cybercriminals worldwide.

And just last month, Vans’ parent company VF Group (which also owns brands like Timberland, The North Face, and Dickies) reported a data breach that left 35.5 million customers exposed to risks of fraud and identity theft. 

Now imagine all the data that’s been leaked in the near-decade between these two incidents. For us normal folks, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice,

criminals buy and sell stolen identity information because they see it as a low-risk, high-reward proposition.

“Identifying and prosecuting cybercriminals…is one of the ways we’re working to change that cost-benefit analysis.” Enhanced privacy legislation like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the phasing out of third-party cookies also aim to tackle these issues, but the battle for data privacy rages on. 

Privacy-centric browsing experiences and increasing public awareness around data rights demand a shift in how businesses approach user info. For marketers, that means we need to remain on our toes, constantly vigilant and ready to adapt to new developments in personalization tactics and audience targeting that ensure respect for consumer preferences and legal requirements.

📉 Related Reading: A Cookieless World: 7 Ways to Get First-Party Data for Targeting and Personalization 

Ethical Implications: Overmarketing to Younger Generations

Social media platforms like TikTok target underage kids to turn them into loyal consumers as early as they possibly can. And according to a recent report from the New York Times, Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) routinely documented and collected data from children under the age of 13 in glaring disregard of their own guidelines and promise to users.

These companies know very well about children’s privacy laws and the negative psychological effects that social media poses on teenagers and kids, yet still they continue their efforts to get more and more underage users signed up and scrolling. Gen Alpha, the generation born entirely in the 21st century, is particularly at risk, but The New York Times reports that,

it may be easier…to pursue Meta for children’s privacy violations than to prove that the company encouraged compulsive social media use.

When the line between content and advertising is as blurred as it is on social media, aggressive marketing tactics do nothing but exploit these vulnerable and highly impressionable young minds. Because it’s not just about fostering potentially harmful consumer habits; it’s about privacy, mental health, and even the development of critical thinking skills in young individuals. 

To play it safe and stay on the right side of the law and morality, marketers targeting these demographics need to consider the long-term impact of their campaigns. Balancing commercial objectives with ethical standards is more important than ever, but even more so is your audience’s well-being.