This July Only: Save 30% on PRO with code SUMMER30 »

Real-World Education for Modern Marketers

Join Over 615,000 Marketing Professionals

Start here!
N E X T
Text:  A A

Can Word of Mouth Marketing Get Me in Trouble?

by   |    |  7 views

Intro: The U.K. is introducing a new bill that states that some stealth marketing practices are illegal. Honest word of marketers already oppose those particular practices, but it's time for a review.


1. Word of mouth marketing is safe and legal.
Honest word of mouth marketing is when you inspire your fans to talk about you. It is about earning their respect and recommendation. It always requires full disclosure and total openness, as defined by the WOMMA Ethics Code.
It is always safe and legal ... and more honest that most forms of traditional marketing. Why? Because if you can't earn a recommendation with a great product or service, the word of mouth stops. Traditional advertising runs as long as you pay for it, even if the message is less than true. Real word of mouth depends on honest customer love.
2. WOM marketing without disclosure is illegal.
Any form of deceptive word of mouth campaigns are illegal. This include any program where you are:


  1. Asking buzzers to recommend your product without disclosing that they are part of a campaign or received and incentive.

  2. Falsely representing your employees/agents as consumers.

  3. Asking buzzers to claim they like your product when they don't, or never tried it.


The FTC in the US has made this very clear. The UK's new directive agrees.
3. What should we watch out for?
Any campaign or agency that proposes:

  • PayPerPost or any similar program that induces people to post false recommendations without requiring that each post is properly disclosed.

  • Sending employees or agencies to post anonymous comments (see MGM).

  • Intentionally telling fans to hide their involvement with a campaign (see Target/Drill Team).

  • Agent programs that send out armies of non-customer buzzers but can't enforce disclosure.

  • Posting fake reviews.


4. The WOMMA Ethics Code will keep you safe.
WOMMA's Ethics Code is simple and effective. Read the entire document here. The key idea is the Honesty ROI:

  • Honesty of Relationship: You say who you're speaking for

  • Honesty of Opinion: You say what you believe

  • Honesty of Identity: You never obscure your identity


If you have any questions at all about the the ethics of your campaign (or one being run or pitched by an agency), use these 20 questions to identify any trouble spots.
5. Will I get caught?
Every time. And when you do, your brand will be forever damaged. The backlash against a company that lies is swift and severe in the age of empowered and connected consumers.
Why would you risk a priceless brand by sending out untrained buzzers to speak for you? Why would you risk your valued name by letting a 20-something post false comments for you? Why would you do this when you have vast hordes of happy customers who would gladly recommend you -- if you only asked.
6. What's new
Nothing at all. It has always been illegal for marketers to lie to consumers. It has always been illegal to use false testimonials. Somehow, companies and agencies have used social media as an excuse for new forms of deception. That's disgusting when we have an opportunity to use these tools to promote truth, transparency, and accountability.
The truth is that word of mouth is based on truth, that liars will always be exposed, and honest companies will be richly rewarded by adoring fans.
Disclosure: I am a private citizen, speaking for myself. I do not represent WOMMA nor do I work there any more. I am not a lawyer.
P.S If you are angry at this post, I bet you have some sleaze to hide.


Join over 615,000 marketing professionals, and gain access to thousands of marketing resources! Don't worry ... it's FREE!

WANT TO READ MORE?
SIGN UP TODAY ... IT'S FREE!

We will never sell or rent your email address to anyone. We value your privacy. (We hate spam as much as you do.) See our privacy policy.

Sign in with one of your preferred accounts below:

Loading...

Andy Sernovitz is the author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking and CEO of GasPedal, a company that teaches word of mouth marketing to brands of all sizes. His blog is called Damn, I Wish I'd Though of That.

Rate this  

Overall rating

  • Not rated yet.

Add a Comment

Comments

  • by Lewis Green Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    Andy, Excellent post! Thank you for sharing. Every one of us should have our own code of ethics which is at a minimum at least as strong and as honest WOMMA Ethics Code. Cheating, lying, and unethical behavior at any level is unacceptable and should be rejected by all of us. We know right from wrong, and should practice right. No BS. No excuses. And no cover ups.

  • by Paul Barsch Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    Andy, I really liked this quote, "Will I get caught? Every time. And when you do, your brand will be forever damaged." Well said, especially with the Internet where every comment/mistake/or wrongdoing lives in perpetuity.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    Andy -- this is the money quote, "Somehow, companies and agencies have used social media as an excuse for new forms of deception. That's disgusting when we have an opportunity to use these tools to promote truth, transparency, and accountability." Nicely put. For the record, I think PayPayPost is a bad idea even WITH disclosure... but that's a topic for another day....

  • by Search Engine Optimization Journal Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    We agree with the commenters above -- they all pointed out the best quotes you provided within the post. Whether it's word of mouth or online marketing -- if it's deceptive, a brand/comany will inevitably suffer the consequences. It's the name of the game!

  • by Richard Millington Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    Excellent post. I think there's a question that hasn't been asked here. Will it be enforced? Sure you lose credit if you get caught doing it, but will the government actively enforce this? Could make for some interesting times.

  • by Javier von Westphalen Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    I think word of mouth is a self regulating mechanism. The beauty of word of mouth is that as it builds positive momentum leading to purchase trial or conversion through brand advocates and trusted messengers, it could also have the negative effect in a faster speed if messages and experiences are false and not meet expectations. How does the old say go- it takes years to build a reputation, but only days to destroy it. I can imagine that it only will take hours to loose credibility with today's technology. As you mentioned, why a marketer will risk being dishonest when you have brand lovers willing to help spread the word.

  • by Javier von Westphalen Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    WOMMA is doing a great job in implementing and educating industry participants with a code of ethics to abide when implementing word of mouth strategies and tactics. Furthermore, I think word of mouth is a self regulating mechanism that complements the use of code of ethics for best results. The beauty of word of mouth is that as it builds positive momentum leading to purchase trial or conversion through brand advocates and trusted messengers, it could also have the negative effect in a faster speed if messages and experiences are false and not meet expectations. How does the old say go- it takes years to build a reputation, but only days to destroy it. I can imagine that it only will take hours to loose credibility with today's technology. As you mentioned, why a marketer will risk being dishonest when you have brand lovers willing to help spread the word.

  • by john cass Tue Apr 15, 2008 via blog

    great post andy. WOMMA is a leader in this field. Let me echo some of the commentators in making the point about the ability of ordinary people to take a leadership role in highlighting unethical business practices. It is not just a matter of nodding to the words, "oh, everyone does it," but if enough people speak up, then you understand that everyone does not.

  • by CS Thompson Sat Apr 26, 2008 via blog

    Thats some great stuff there. Unfortunately, the people that need to read this probably won't, and the people that don't already do! I'm really glad about the way that online technologies, especially the social media/ web 2.0 platforms have opened up new means to consumer power. As your article highlights however, they also open up room for abuses by sleazy people. The truth will win out always! And, as you say, there usually are plenty of people willing to give honest, positive reviews if you just ask!

  • by MarketingByMouth Wed Mar 4, 2009 via blog

    I don't really think you'll get caught doing any kind of business marketing for yourself. If at all they will just tell you to stop. Good Article! Keep it up!

  • by TimS Tue Oct 13, 2009 via blog

    Thanks Andy, this is a very useful post. It's clear that marketers need to think carefully before starting any form of paid WOM generation without fully disclosing the relationship. We've just finished a summary article on WOM marketing and would be very interested in your comments: http://www.marketing-made-simple.com/articles/word-of-mouth-advertising.htm

  • by Murray Fri Dec 4, 2009 via blog

    Good post Andy. Word of Mouth Marketing only works with disclosure it is the only way to maintain trust.

MarketingProfs uses single
sign-on with Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to make subscribing and signing in easier for you. That's it, and nothing more! Rest assured that MarketingProfs: Your data is secure with MarketingProfs SocialSafe!