Word of Mouth Marketing: To Tell Or Not To Tell
While test market pilots proved Procter & Gamble's word of mouth arm, Vocalpoint, is a success and increases sales, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and Gary Ruskin's Commercial Alert are not pleased with Vocalpoint's army of 600,000 moms who spread buzz about P&G products and others because Vocalpoint does not require its "connectors" to disclose who they work for, a key tennet in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Code of Ethics.
While disclosure certainly appears to be the ethical thing to do, the debate as to whether it affects success can be debated until Paris Hilton can remember the name of the product she's hawking. Vocalpoint CEO Steve Knox says the company takes what he calls the "high road" adding, "We have a deeply held belief you don't tell the consumer what to say." Ruskin calls Vocalpoint and other word of mouth marketing efforts hinder trust and are causing a "commercialization of human relations." WOMMA Founding Member, Nielsen BuzzMetrics CMO and former P&G Brand Manager Pete Blackshaw adds, "There are a lot of word-of-mouth programs in play now, many of which are unsavory. As the leader in the industry, P&G has a higher obligation to set the right standard."
We have mixed feelings. We're pretty convinced better results for a brand will be achieved without disclosure. However, we believe non-disclosure just isn't right, isn't ethical and amounts to lying for monetary gain. It's a very fine line and one which is and will be very difficult to define. If disclosure does become a mandate - as it already is in WOMMA guidelines - through thre FTC or other legal entity, when should disclore take place? Should it be the first thing out of the buzzer's mouth? Should it occur only if the buzzer is asked? Should it offered even if the person being buzzed doesn't ask?
With the vastly changing media landscape, it's entirely conceivable that the majority of marketing could begin to occur through controlled word of mouth marketing. The rise of social networking makes this a no-brainer and with people gaining increased control over the creation and flow of content and commercial messaging, it becomes a natural channel for commercial communication. But do we continually want to wonder if our friend is giving us is an honest opinion or one that is influenced by a third party with a lot of money? Like we said, this can be debated until Paris Hilton gets a brain.