Buzz campaign, word of mouth, viral marketing … Whatever the jargon, it all amounts to the same thing—trying to reach customers in spite of their increasing immunity to the many commercial images, messages, and sales pitches they receive every day. The many methods include tactics like social networking, blogging, podcasting, video sharing, product placement, and product integration, and new methods will undoubtedly be added to this list.Consumers have become much more savvy about the techniques used to sell things. Often the most convincing motivation to buy something comes from a friend or colleague. Many marketers now try to encourage customers to communicate with their friends about a new product. They focus their efforts not on marketing to the masses, but on swaying a handful of influential “early adopters” who will then recommend the product to others.On the one hand, this is somewhat insidious—a way of sneaking a commercial pitch into personal interactions that ought to be free of such pandering. On the other hand, who hasn’t discussed a product or service with a friend or colleague in the past week, while shopping together, watching TV, chatting, or just hanging out? The purpose of so-called word-of-mouth or viral marketing is simply to channel in a particular direction those discussions about products that are taking place naturally.Like PR, alternative marketing techniques work best when the audience isn’t overtly aware of them. Marketers who use them rely heavily on “opinion leaders” to spread the word among their circle of acquaintances. They may ply visitors at a party or nightclub with free samples of their product, or give luxury goods to celebrities for them to show off in public. While the marketing purpose of such actions cannot be hidden, it is made to appear incidental, almost natural.Product placement, by which a brand-name item is prominently visible in a movie or television program, is nothing new. Audiences generally realize that when the camera lingers on a logo for a few seconds, it is not by chance—money has changed hands. More recently, this has evolved into what is called product integration: an entire episode or scene is written around the sponsor’s product, with characters discussing it and the plot perhaps being resolved through it. The technique actually dates to the 1940s, when De Beers asked Hollywood screenwriters to portray their leading men buying diamond engagement rings. Diamonds became ingrained in the public mind as a symbol of lasting love, to the enormous benefit of the diamond-trading cartel.A more recent trend is “advergaming,” giving brands a central role in a video game or online interactive environment. Brands like Nissan and American Apparel were among the first to open virtual showrooms and stores in the popular online world Second Life. How these alternative channels become integrated with the rest of the brand relationship remains to be seen.