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.