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.
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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 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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