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
    vmunster, 13 Dec 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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