Just Because You Get Others To Do Your Deceptive Advertising For You, It Doesn't Change That It's Deceptive

from the so-sayeth-the-FTC dept

As the WOMMA Summit went on today, a lot of people were talking about the FTC's ruling on word of mouth marketing efforts. The FTC came out with a report noting that word of mouth marketing efforts could represent deceptive advertising if the person doing the advertising doesn't make it clear that they've been paid to endorse a product. As they note, this isn't really new: deceptive advertising is deceptive advertising -- but they wanted to make it more clear in these circumstances. This is especially important, given that too many companies seem to think that official word of mouth marketing campaigns give them some sort of free reign to pull all sorts of stunts on people.

Much of the discussion around this statement from the FTC has bloggers pointing to controversial advertising firm PayPerPost, who pays people to post reviews of products -- but doesn't require disclosure and often requires only positive things being said about it. PayPerPost doesn't really care about the actual reviews, as they're simply an elaborate search engine spamming system, designed to drive up the search engine rankings for their customers, but it's actually not at all clear that they're really the ones at risk here. The question, really, is whether it should be the person doing the word of mouth marketing who's being considered deceptive, or the firm that has given them the incentives to be deceptive. In some cases, where a firm has directly hired people for the purpose of being deceptive, you could make an argument that they are complicit. However, if they're just enabling the tools for people to spread the word about a product, and one of those people does something deceptive, the situation gets pretty cloudy pretty fast.

In the meantime, in chatting with some of the folks at the Summit, one thing has become clear. Beyond the quixotic quest for better metrics, too many companies that are embracing the concept of "word of mouth marketing" seem to be missing the point. They focus on "WoM" campaigns -- as if they were the same thing as an advertising campaign. True word of mouth efforts don't come about as the result of any specific campaign, but rather an effort to make a good product or service that people believe in which they'd want to talk about, and making it easier for them to do so. In other words, focus on the product and then get the hell out of the way. If you're trying to program the message as part of a campaign, it's no longer word of mouth marketing.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    ICouldntHaveSaidItBetterMyself, Dec 12th, 2006 @ 9:52pm

    Hear hear!

    > True word of mouth efforts don't come about as the result of any specific campaign

    No matter how many times I repeat that to people they still don't get it. Word of mouth can only be understood if it is seen as a natural process and not a method.

     

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    Jim Kukral, Dec 12th, 2006 @ 10:29pm

    If it don't feel right...

    Don't do it. Simple as that. This is actually scary for the PPP folks as I can't imagine advertisers wanting to associate with them and therefore possibly getting a giant red target painted on them in the future. However, I don't see this as being enforceable, but, you never know...

     

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    dorpus, Dec 13th, 2006 @ 2:18am

    The next evolutionary step

    A new eyewear shop in Akihabara is making waves by hiring young girls to stand on the street and offer to clean the glasses of passers-by. The girls say that men with glasses look sharp, and it makes them want to rub and rub and rub and rub their glasses.

    (Link, with picture, censored.)

     

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    Sanguine Dream, Dec 13th, 2006 @ 6:10am

    That's the coporate mentality

    Find something that is popular/effective and then absorb it into the corporate collective. Its a fact that word of mouth works (hell I heard about this site through word of mouth from coworkers) and execs only see the $$$ in it. They assimilate the word of mouth process with the sole purpose of figuring out how to get as much money as possible out of it by any means (legal or otherwise) they can get away with.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2006 @ 10:17am

    I admit that I don't really know how these systems work, but wouldn't advertising firms like PayPerPost require some sort of proof that a message was actually posted before they paid someone for it? Such as a copy of the post itself or a link to it?

    If so, then in my opinion the advertising firms should be required to review each message that they pay for, accept responsibility for its contents, and be prohibited from paying for any message that doesn't clearly state that it is a paid-for message. Violations should be prosecuted as fraud.

     

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    vmunster, Dec 13th, 2006 @ 12:40pm

    Half-assing it

    ICouldn'tHaveSaidItBetterMyself - I agree

    Although I feel that there are certain techniques that can be used to push WOM marketing to make the probability of something becoming more viral, I do not believe that WOM can be forced.

    Things like having a strong network of "important" people that surround your business, or having a great product and an exceptionally well-versed marketing message can all help to trigger WOM marketing, but there is no sure fire way to make WOM happen.

    So for those who are using deception to try to create a viral message, you're only hindering your business in the end. One of the main topics I've been researching at my company is customer service and how trust is vital to a company's success. Anytime deception is used in any way shape or form, regardless of whether it's directly harming the customer, it WILL harm the business sooner or later....

    Just worry about making your product the best it can be and don't try to take shortcuts along the way. It will only promote half-ass work and your customers will be ablel to see it.

     

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    David Binkowski, Dec 13th, 2006 @ 5:30pm

    Hey Mike,
    It was great meeting you and doing the blogger relations panel this morning at the conference. I want to restate what we talked about here, since the WOMMA conference summit blog didn't, which is that it's going to take a lot of education and time to get everyone on board with ethical WoM - from the CMO to the college student.

    IMHO there's a a difference between a short-term WoM campaign, like a product launch, and an ongoing program that appreciates and embraces the customer (see: enthusiast and insider sites). Remember, the objective of word of mouth is to get people talking - not positively, not shilling, not negatively, but talking. Both accomplish their objectives, and I'm sure you'll agree that great advertising (is there such a thing?), PR, word of mouth, et al can't polish a turd.

    I mentioned it this morning - if someone is telling everyone they come in contact with how great a bad product is then they've lost their credibility.

     

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    Eileen Trainor, Dec 15th, 2006 @ 3:41pm

    What is the problem?

    Starting at the end of October, PayPerPost actually paid bloggers to generate a disclosure policy and post it on their blog.

    Here is what the PayPerPost opportunity said:

    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    Create Your Disclosure Policy
    Support transparency in the blogoshpere!
    Offer Amount: $10.00
    Opportunity Description Please visit http://www.disclosurepolicy.org/. Tell us what you think of the concept. Generate a disclosure policy for your website. Post this policy on your blog.

    You must provide a link in the sidebar or footer of your blog with the term "Disclosure Policy" linking to your policy on your blog. You are not required to post a badge but we would love your support.

    Disclosure Policies are important to the future of PayPerPost and can help you retain your reputation with your readers.

    Post Type Opinion
    Minimum Words 50
    Tone Neutral
    Photo Required? No
    Optional Photo(s)


    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    I discussed disclosure on my blog, generated a disclosure statement and posted "I Disclose" banner on my blog. I also have adopted the WOMMA blog ethics and have posted them as well, because I did not think the disclosure went far enough.

    I am an Internet Marketer. Why would you want to take away the one opportunity that happens to be paying at the moment?

    I harm no one. I do not lie. I try the products and visit the websites for the posts I write. To me, this is no different than posting a "hey, found this cool blog about alternative energy."

    Y'all must have a lot more spare time than I do.

    Peace and PPP!

     

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