It depends on who you ask.
It’s either a clever technique or program used to gain advantage over a competitor; or it’s an underhanded practice to undermine a competitor. Is there a difference? Questionable, but it may be in the execution rather than the intent.
Marketing ploys are typically short term and designed to serve a specific purpose. It is an attempt to gain attention for your business through something unusual or startling. It may seek to create a market for a product or it may seek to undermine competition.
Budweiser Marketing Ploy
Budweiser recently changed the name of its signature product to America Beer. Since beer making in this part of the world is not the unique province of Budweiser, one could say it’s a ploy. Whether more people will purchase a beer named after a continent remains to be seen. It does fulfill one basic tenet of a ploy: The change adds no value to the product, it merely attempts to call attention to it. Much like Coca Cola putting people’s names on its cans. I’m told the adolescent set is bent on collecting the cans so perhaps they are choosing Coke over competitors brands – or possibly over healthier drinks.
Marketing Ploys – Diamonds and Chocolates
Just as the modern Valentine’s Day is beloved – and promoted – by candy manufacturers to sell more sweets, diamond engagement rings were effectively created by De Beers, and many common recipes were developed by food companies to sell their products. None of these are conventional marketing but all could be considered ploys which result in increased sales. Does DeBeers alone benefit from the sale of engagement rings? No, of course not. But the popularizing of diamonds at a time the price was depressed has guaranteed a healthy market for 150 years.
A ploy may be something to attract attention and amuse: a restaurant with notoriously uncomfortable chairs buys new ones then stages a game in which the losers take home one of the original chairs. A theater of my acquaintance auctioned off roles in a single performance of a musical. It brought in dollars, sold tickets to new potential audience members, and resulted in publicity. Celebrities are a fairly common ploy: get a local or national celebrity to acknowledge your brand, shop at your store or otherwise endorse your products and it gains some attention.
Other Marketing Ploys
Ploys may also include more devious methods such as placing news articles which undermine a competitor (Smith’s Grocery receives “C” from Health Department), or creating a larger market by distorting news stories (“Study proves link between low cancer rates and acai juice”).
Some companies have responded to local disasters with what may appear to be marketing ploys. People may be grateful to have bottled water and forgive the company’s name emblazoned on it. They may be less amused if the company spends dollars to fly in a celebrity for photo ops.
Jumping on popular bandwagons may garner attention for adherents of a particular path: A business may seek to take advantage of today’s popularizing of “sustainably sourced” food, but if it gets out you are buying your blueberries from Chile in July the backlash may do more harm in the long run.
In summary, be careful how you design marketing ploys and consider all the potential outcomes to ensure they garner the kind of positive attention you want and don’t backfire.