Word of mouth marketing - do we need regulation?

Have you heard? from the Chicago Tribune brings up a few worries about word-of-mouth-marketing. (Remember back in the day when it was just called word of mouth, and something marketing set out to achieve?
Now they are calling it a new discipline in itself.) Ads on television and in print are clearly identified as such, but viral marketing is a form of stealth advertising... - wait, is this statement really true?
When Katharine Hepburn's character in "The African Queen" played Boston tea party with the Gordon's Gin and threw it all overboard, did the viewers realize that this was a product placement, that is an ad? And when millions of Hotmail emails were passed between friends carrying that annoying little line at the bottom in the late nineties was that stealthy, or clearly interpreted as the 'ad' you pay for using the stuff for free?

Clearly they're talking about 'virals' like the Beta-7 movie&blog, The rubberburner sites , the new and rather clumsily made 'fake' weblogs such as that flat motorola flat phone thing.
Rick Bruner has kept pretty good track of the faux blogs as he christened them. Mazda recently made fools of themselves setting up a fake blogspot blog, and as soon as people around the web called on it for being utterly uncool and totally fake, they took it off the web.

Or so they thought.

Unfortunately for them, Google still has the cache as their web skills apparently doesn't include writing proper robot.txt files. ;) But they aren't just talking about internet 'virals' and fake-y fake-y blogs, they're also talking about things like Procter&Gambles Tremor troop of young influential teens. "That sums up the latest tactic for selling products: "viral marketing," encouraging people to spread the word to their friends, who then spread the word to more friends." Yeah this tactic is real new guys.

By the way Brownie called, she said you owe her for twenty burping containers you ordered at yesterdays party. Did you hear the one about the Tupperware peddler who hijacked a Botox party ? ;) 

You can buy The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy
by Edward Keller, Jonathan Berry at Barnes and Noble.

Didn't Ed Keller bring this up in "The Influentials" where he tells the story of the people who try new things and influence others to give it a go as well? Like antennas seeking out the good stuff and reporting back to the others? Hang on, I think I basically described cell interactions in that sentence, for a good look on how that applies to us humans and our brains intertwined in this world wide web go fetch Global Brain by Howard Bloom.

Anyway, I digress. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association want to start developing best practices standards as reported by the Mediapost:

"The WOMMA will meet next week to start developing a core set of standards and best practices to help formalize the burgeoning industry. "A reasonably organized industry effort can stamp out potential problems," said Andy Sernovitz, who was hired this week as the association's CEO.
Sernovitz said the word-of-mouth industry needs to get in front of the privacy and disclosure issues that already plague it, to avoid the fate that befell e-mail--the original Internet word-of-mouth vehicle that he said was ruined by spam and murky industry compliance measures."


Sure! This makes sense - and I'm terribly exited that someone has pressreleased their pre-meeting ideas before they set up some kind of standards. Or met even. Also, I think I'm having some sort of 1997 Deja Vu - wasn't everyone calling for, nay demanding, all sorts of rules and regulations in regards to Spam? Weren't organisations back then press releasing their pre-meetings? What the heck happened?

In regard to all those deceptive practices of sneaking in a pitch for a new bottled water at a bar, having actors ask for people to take their picture with a new cameraphone, and trolling online forums with sales messages, may I quote myself? Do we really want to make people stop talking to strangers in 2008 because 'it's probably just a spam-pitch' as well? The industry does have a responsibility - to itself.

Imagine when nearly every hipster you know is one of the GIA troopers, and your future conversations. "Buy this round willya mate?" -"Sure hold on, did I tell you that I just dyed my hair with L'Oreal Flavia® ? ..*ka-ching*..Right, what are you having then mate?" (hang on, this could be fun...)

C'mon folks, none of this is really new, it's all advertising in the end and advertising does have rules and best practices standards - if not laid down by law then certainly set by the consumers advertisers are trying to reach. Did you brush up on your ABC's of advertising that caffeinegoddess wrote about earlier? Do you treat the consumer as your wife? Are you a lying cheating deceiving bastard in your marriage?

There are advertisers and there are used car salesmen.

I'm all for rules and regulations, best business practices and independent organizations. I'm also all for having the industry as a whole, worldwide like this web, recognizing our common responsibility to ourselves - as advertisers and as humans. Insult cheat and flood the target with pitches everywhere and they will all stop listening. Don't scream like a car salesman, don't sneak like a porn-vendor, just talk to your wife. She's not stupid you know.

This is the part where I ask you for input, whats your take? (apologies to used car salesmen everywhere).

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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caffeinegoddess's picture

I concur with you. It's not beneficial for companies to be sneaky with their pitches. Especially with the power of the web, they will get found out. And that will be more detrimental than if they were honest and upfront about it in the first place. If you can entertain or give someone a reason for the target to pay attention to your message, then there's no reason for schemey tactics.
If the target doesn't want to pay attention to your message, then you need to make it better, or perhaps improve your product/service so that they will care about it.

Dabitch's picture

When I comment in this live video, reading out loud from George Parkers latest book that I have compared virals to tupperware parties, this is the post I meant by the way.