Essence, Viability, Definition, Sense of Buzz and WOM Debated


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.

Surely, there are plenty of times when WOM and buzz are completely natural and free of all influence but we are not talking bout that here. WOM and Buzz marketing exist for one purpose: to move product and make money. After all, it's just another form of advertising. These practices would have no purpose otherwise.

We're at a point where this is so new no one has all the answers. One could argue it's taking all credibility out of human interaction but one could also argue there's nothing wrong with humans becoming walking ads because everything in life is already about influence and manipulation. After all, humans are rarely completely selfless having been saddled with that whole Darwinian survival of the fittest thing.

Buzz and WOM, for the time being, are here to stay. Lines will be drawn. Rules will be made and broken. Discussions like those in the Online Spin forum will rage on endless but in five years we'll all look back on this and wonder what the big deal was all about as either buzz and WOM disappear into the ether or become a permanent item and the marketing toolbox.

Written by Steve Hall    Comments (1)     File: Word of Mouth     Nov-15-05  
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You said about WOM, "One could argue it's taking all credibility out of human interaction but one could also argue there's nothing wrong with humans becoming walking ads because everything in life is already about influence and manipulation."

Everything? Having been in this business for 25 years, I didn't think I could find anyone more cynical, but this comment proves me wrong.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and concede that even family life -- marriage and parenthood, for instance -- are "about influence and manipulation."

But not about transactions. And that's a critical difference.

This reductio ad absurdum line of reasoning reminds me of a copy point that I was to flog in my days as a political ad guy. "Use the line 'Government ought to run like a business,'" my boss would say.

I thought about that line, and figured that inasmuch as governments took in money and dispersed it, they should indeed be run in a businesslike fashion.

But businesses exist solely to provide a return to their owners, whereas government exists for loftier goals: to protect, defend and educate its consitiuents, for instance. Imagine if government issued a release that said, in effect, "After a thorough examination of future trends, we are reallocating our assets and will close our education operations after determining that the future rate of return on these activities no longer justifies our participation. We hope to channel the resources once devoted to schools into more profitable pursuits."

The market is a great way to satisfy consumers' material needs and wants, but humans have other needs and wants that the market cannot address: love, security and trust among them.

These cannot be provided in an atmosphere where "everything in life is already about influence and manipulation."

I do care a bit for money, but money still can't buy me love.

Posted by: John Chacona on November 15, 2005 02:42 PM

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