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Should Marketers Make Friends On MySpace?

One dubious buzz marketing tactic is for social networks to develop a faux user profile--someone who repeatedly plugs a brand. That tactic, once discovered, is usually met with firm resistance from legitimate members. And it's been largely frowned upon by organizations like the Word of Mouth Marketing Organization (WOMMA), which set guidelines for so-called "buzz marketing." These poor attempts to dupe younger demos usually end badly for marketers--which is probably why MySpace, the runaway leader in social networking with 100 million users, will only make $180 million this year. Yet buzz marketing on social networks still represents a big opportunity for advertisers, says a new report from eMarketer. MySpace, which sells banners and sponsored search results from Yahoo, is also selling more sponsorship and profile pages to marketers. Some spending is for straight-up marketing campaigns, like Disney's movie page for the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" installment. Other marketing dollars will fund fake user profiles. Wendy's has produced a profile page for a character named "Smart," who likes Angelina Jolie, hip-hop, and Wendy's bacon mushroom melt. In his "about me section," Smart says, "It takes flair to be square. Do a square burger at Wendy's and do what tastes right!" He has more than 80,000 friends--and the majority of them, you would think, know what's going on here. Burger King also has a profile page that contains BK commercials, but it also includes giveaways, like free downloads of Fox shows "24" and "American Dad." Some think the blending of marketing and entertainment is detrimental to kids, especially those under 17. But the question is whether guys like "Smart" are really trying to pass as real, or whether kids know the score--and decide the free giveaways are worth the price of friendship. Getting an answer is tough: It's hard to get a response from 80,000 kids




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