Commentary

Buzz Marketing Makes No Sense

If there's something more to this notion of "buzz marketing" that what I've already heard, someone needs to spell it out for me. It sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.

The pitch, as far as I know, is that people sign up to be paid to push products and services to others, in effect becoming agents for a marketer. Umm, excuse me, but I thought the industry was moving toward more transparency and not less.

According to guidelines established by the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association, agents are supposed to disclose their relationship with the companies whose products they push. Can someone explain that one to me? I understand the importance of disclosure, but doesn't this represent a huge catch-22?

Let's say that my friend Gus walks up to me one day holding a ball peen hammer and tells me that Acme brand hammers are the best in the industry. He immediately follows up this comment with the disclosure that he is working for Acme. The following two thoughts then go through my mind:


1) Acme hammers are probably pieces of crap, because Acme has to pay Gus off to get him to believe that they're any good.


2) With all the other things Acme could do to market its products, it decides to pay people off? Doesn't sound like a company I want to do business with.

On the other hand, if Gus chooses not to disclose his relationship with Acme and tells me they're the best hammers in the industry, I might buy an Acme hammer. (Hey, Gus knows his tools.) But I've just entered into a relationship on false pretenses. If one day I find out that Gus was less than honest with me about Acme, I might despise Acme for it. If I swing the hammer and the handle breaks, I'm probably going to go back to Gus and say something along the lines of "Whadja tell me to buy that hammer for? It was a piece of garbage!"

In either case, buzz marketing gets Acme into a situation where there's a huge potential for brand backlash and for Acme to be blacklisted by people. If agents disclose their relationship, the marketer looks bad. If they don't disclose, it's a major ethical slip and the marketer has the potential to look really bad. So where's the appeal?

If, on the other hand, the marketer invests what it might put into a buzz marketing campaign into an online program, where paid employees of the company could monitor and participate in online conversations with potential customers, wouldn't that result in better relationships?

If there's something to this buzz marketing concept that I'm missing, I'd love for you to come to the Spin Board and tell us all about it. Otherwise, buzzing seems more trouble than it's worth.

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