What panelists at the National Advertising Review Council's NAD Annual Conference argued--in one form or another--is that although the Web is protean, the law isn't. And that if one follows the letter of the law, which might be called "truth in blogging," there's a decent chance one will also avoid blowing up one's brand.
Mark Serrianne, CEO of brand consultancy Northlich, was one of four speakers at the NAD annual conference Tuesday, as part of Advertising Week in New York. He said the broader issue was the lack of companies' ability to control information, and the temptation companies have to try nonetheless.
He set the stage with a couple of personal anecdotes: first, the day he walked into his office and found that his secretary--with whom he shared an interest in politics--had learned, online, not only that he'd given money to a certain candidate, but how much, to the dollar, through a link on Huffington Post.
The other enlightening moment was at a local gas station, where he saw several teens talking--not to each other, but into different digital devices. "I don't want to belabor the obvious, but we have been talking about the news media, because we have to navigate regulation and self-regulation with that backdrop," he said, recalling how easy it was to be a PR guy for the Army in Saigon during the Vietnam War, at least as far as controlling certain elements of the news.
"Fast forward: now we have real-time feedback and absolutely no room for error. Consider the current demonstrations in Burma," he said. "The media was banned from covering the event, but it was all over the TV, because of people taking photos and videos and putting them on the Web.
"Today, the appetite is never-ending. The appetite for programming is huge. And the news is being shaped in real-time. Not just delivered, but shaped. So in that environment, think recalls, Vioxx, product tampering. Think about the challenging situation toy manufacturing must have now getting ready for Christmas.
"We live in a constant state of catch-up. Newsrooms are called information centers, and viewers and readers are experts; journalists have their own blogs; they want information to come back. And," he went on, "the term 'credibility' has changed. Trustworthiness is now the inclusion of multiple viewpoints."
Thus, he added, the advent of terms like "crowd sourcing" and of groups like the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. "We have an emergence of all sorts of new, non-paid activities that we, as regulators, must understand--like street theatre, buzz marketing, and influencer marketing."