Basically ramming a dagger in the back of buzz marketing firm BuzzAgent, word of mouth marketing firm BoldMouth has launched with a ferociously negative view of buzz marketing practices. Mincing no words, the companies press release reads, in part, "Real word-of-mouth marketing is about sharing advice as well as product and service recommendations. These informal and typically person-to-person dialogs should not to be confused with 'buzz marketing' that is nothing more than an attempt to artificially engineer a referral by offering incentives so that "agents" make recommendations on behalf of an organization." Ouch. Dave Balter might have a bit to say about that back stab.
As if gleeful in his attack, BoldMouth Founder Todd Tweedy said, "Word of mouth is an operational principle that organizations can pursue and model to increase loyalty and ultimately revenue that creates a customer-centric approach to marketing. Disguising a commercial as a person and having these 'agents' share commercial messages on an unsuspecting audience with misleading 'buzz' tactics simply creates more ad clutter and puts brands in unnecessary danger. It's time to put an end to buzz marketing."
Somehow this all seems very counter productive to the growth of a nascent advertising practice but the verbal warfare that will undoubtedly follow this release will be charmingly amusing to watch.
Boston-based buzz marketing firm BzzAgent has strengthened its stance on transparency. While the agency has always asked its bzzagents to disclose their involvement with BzzAgent, the agency now requires all new BzzAgent community registrants to verify that they have read and accepted the company's Code of Conduct which requires campaign participants to make certain others are aware they have volunteered to be involved in a word-of-mouth campaign.
So that existing bzzagents are also adhering to full disclosure, BzzAgent has added a check box to its reporting template, a section where members describe their interactions as they buzz products, which must be checked off to participate as a member of BzzAgent. BzzAgent is also saying it will require members who do not properly disclose their BzzAgent status to those they interact with to complete an online training course before participating in the company's future campaigns.
In support of its upcoming Word of Mouth Basic Training conference in Orlando January 19-20. the Word of Mouth Marketing Association has launched a blog called WOMBAT or Word of Mouth Basic Training. The blog includes a newsletter and podcast as well. In its first week, Ketchum's Paul Rand and Intelliseek's Pete Blackshaw shared tips and advice on word of mouth issues while author Jackie Huba launched the site's podcast series.
After reading Tom Hespos' MediaPost Online Spin entitled Buzz Marketing Makes No Sense and browsing through the 55 or so responses to the article, it's clear that, in essence, word of mouth and buzz marketing are no different than "normal" advertising in that both involve bias, whether paid or unpaid. There is an influence present as in all advertising which, itself, is inherently bias. It is not free-form human interaction but is the "commercialization of human interaction" as one poster in the replies said.
What WOM and Buzz do is place the advertising message in the mouths of people rather than the mouths of marketers. We can argue endlessly as to whether that is a good thing or a bad thing but I think we can all agree that there is a non-natural bias interjected into human interaction when WOM and Buzz are present. Whether full disclosure is present or not, in WOM and Buzz an element other than pure opinion is present. The fact that the bias is disclosed may, for some, make the interaction palatable. For others, anything introducing bias is unacceptable.
While word of mouth has been around since humans could open their mouths and it has been the most highly trusted source of information for most anything in most any category, it is now becoming a marketing practice. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has been set up to foster and guide marketers who are endeavoring to listen and participate in the growing number of conversations taking place on blogs, chat rooms, forums, IM and good ol' face to face spoken word.
eMarketer, in association with WOMMA, today, released a study called "Word of Mouth, The Stats, Surveys and Substance Behind the Buzz which is jam packed with facts and figures about the segment such as the enabling influence the Internet has had on fostering word of mouth, the confirmation that friends and family have been and always will be the greatest influencers, the power word of mouth has in 9 business segments, the demographic makeup of those most likely to become influencers and engage in word of mouth, how blogs and blog readers can influence the flow of word of mouth, seven tips for a successful word of mouth marketing campaign and ten reasons why WOMMA and eMarketer think word of mouth will become an important and integral component of any marketing program.
Not to be accused of simply dumping facts on the industry and running, WOMMA has launched a weblog called Word of Mouth Basic Training which will contain "how to" articles and is tied to the organization's upcoming training event in Orlando which promises to educate attendees on how to best use word of mouth as a viable marketing element.
Today, Weblogs Inc. blog Joystiq reports receiving a slew of emails last week, apparently from individual readers tipping the site to the appearance of the game Perfect Dark Zero at Wal-Mart's Xbox 360 kiosks over the weekends.
Joystiq tracked all the emails back to the same IP address - a dead giveaway all the emails, even though they came from different names and email addresses, came from the same place. This is standard practice for spoof/spam/sham marketers who haven't yet figured out how to spoof their IP address prior to sending their marketing spam. Would it have been so bad to simply send Joystiq and honest email from Perfect Dark Zero's PR agency or their ad agency telling the editor that, gee, your readers might find it interesting that the product will be demoed at Wal-Mart this weekend? Why bother with all the "tips" when a simple email would have done the trick. Joysiq, knowing its readers interest in this product, would have certainly written about it anyway without having to have been duped.
It's hard to grasp the mindset of some marketers who, facing a media landscape with more enthusiast and niche sites willing to gush at length about particular topics like never before, would stoop to such clandestine stealth methods when these sites are just dying to gush forth endlessly about their area of expertise. Clearly, some marketers remain clueless about weblogs, fan sites, or whatever name you want to slap on this whole new genre of consumer generated media. Wake up and smell the blog, marketers!
After receiving an email from Banu Sen of Publicis Net Paris telling us about a viral teaser trailer created to promote a new online game which would feature car maker Renault and that a fake game company and fake website where created and disseminated to bloggers as part of the promotion, a lengthy email exchange with Ben ensued regarding the buzz phrase of the day, transparency. Transparency is the notion that all marketing, especially that which comes through buzz, viral and word of mouth channels, be fully forthcoming with what brand is behind the campaign.
Clearly, with fake company names and websites, this was not transparent. However, during our discussion, in which, at first, I was quite surprised a major agency like Publicis and a major car maker like Renault would engage in fakery such as this given the recent uproar over buzz and word of mouth marketers and their associations calling for transparency, I realized it's really nothing more than your standard teaser campaign which has been around forever. There's a fine line, though, between a teaser campaign and a misleading campaign. The prior always, at some point reveals its identity which this Renault campaign does. The latter, which uses stealth methods like the recent U.S. Cellular blue man fiasco or an army of 250,000 teenagers who may or may not reveal their association with the large word of mouth company for whom they work.
Publicis and Renault has done nothing wrong here. Not that anyone is saying they did. Though in the face of transparency insanity, the discussion was worth having.
Reacting to a column UnderScore Marketing's Tom Hespos wrote about marketer's fear and laziness to engage in meaningful conversations with consumers, I wrote a piece calling for the creation of a "Conversation Department," a department whose sole responsibility would be to listen to what is being said about a given brand in blog posts, discussion boards, forums and other methods of group conversation, join the ongoing conversations about the brand and make sure the company properly reacts to conversational opinion by addressing concerns immediately. Today, Tom goes a bit further with this and proposes a structure for a conversation department and how it might be staffed.
The more we talk about listening, joining and learning from conversations, while everyone in a company should be doing this, it makes more and more sense for companies and agencies to created a dedicated conversation department.
While this site, fuh2.com, been around since 2003, it's yet another indicator of how social media has allowed people to very publicly say whatever they want about a brand. This site's sole purpose is to crucify the Hummer brand by encouraging people to send in images of them giving the finger to a Hummer. GM can't be too happy. Though they can't be too sad either. The thing still sells well.
Yesterday, Commercial Alert's Gary Ruskin said his organization sent a letter to the FTC asking it to investigate buzz marketers, whom he claims "are perpetrating large-scale deception upon consumers by deploying buzz marketers who fail to disclose that they have been enlisted to promote products. This failure to disclose is fundamentally fraudulent and misleading." He specifically named P&G's 250,000-strong Tremor, a group made up of teenagers who talk up products to their friends.
As pointed out by Word of Mouth Marketing Association President Andy Sernovitz, Ruskin incorrectly lumps together buzz marketing with guerrilla and stealth marketing. Following the Commercial Alert release, WOMMA quickly responded with a clarification of the difference between buzz, stealth, guerilla and word of mouth methods and procided a statement of its position on word of mouth and buzz marketing which, in a nutshell, requires open, honest and full disclosure in all marketing efforts.