Did you know that the largest reward every offered for the return of a dog was $25,000? (according to a 11/8/02 UPI story.) In 1994, the DEA offered $25,000 for the return of an object they couldn't describe! For security reasons they weren't allowed to disclose what the item looked like. (Wilmington Star News, 12/3/94). Did you realize that the IRS awarded over $4.1 million to people who turned in tax cheats in 2003 (Wall Street Journal, 2/12/04)? Rewards! They motivate the funniest behaviors.

For instance, in 1981, Gerald Lydell Voyles, suspected in a 1981 murder, walked into the Polk County Prison in Barlow, Fla. and asked about the $3,000 reward for his capture. He was arrested after giving his real name. (Tampa Tribune, 3/6/95).

There's a pretty controversial issue brewing in the online advertising space regarding rewards. Is it appropriate for a brand to fairly compensate consumers to be an advocate of its product or service? Better yet, is it appropriate to compensate them for the number of references they make for that particular company, digitally through blogs or other means?



For years, we've wavered on this topic and how to reward those most loyal to your brand. Net Promoter Index is still a nice measurement instrument to tell you if consumers would speak highly of your brand, but will they blog about it and will they defend it if others refute it?

Great debates! Anything about pets, politics, nonprofits, green products, or education is a prime target for passionate debates and the strongest advocates. Auto enthusiasts will speak highly of their prized car, and niche groups will form Mazda Miata Clubs and talk up the driving experience and take road trips together. As we use digital media more and more to share opinions and experiences and build communities of like people, are we above being compensated for our advocacy?

I wouldn't write a column if I didn't have an opinion on the subject. In the past, we've been blind to the advocate, aside from the proverbial "Smile Sheet," comment card, or testimonial. Today, we build Web experiences that bridge us through the buying consideration phase, through the selection and comparison process, through the pricing and analysis, through the shopping card or store commerce event. Today, we are spending more and more energy trying to get consumers to be online advocates, and develop a niche association with the product and communities of friends -- or better yet, other enthusiasts associated with the brand.

These communities are how I see the world flowing in the future. It's scary. They will dictate and be critical of new-product evolution and rollouts, and provide a real-time "sniff test" of good and bad products. Marketers will put a super-high premium on these customers, experiences and monitoring advocates' voices.

Remember the days when we would pay people to seed chat groups (essentially, pay someone to go into a chat room and start a positive conversation about a product in hopes it would go viral)? It's still happening! I'm a firm believer that we pay advocates in many ways through rewards. I don't believe buyer satisfaction will be enough to satisfy the marketers of the future, and rewards-based advocates will evolve; they now get compensated through ad impressions on the blogs or niche e-newsletters they write.

I wouldn't be surprised if weight loss companies begin to directly compensate advocates to share their experience, develop communities and help the companies drive business. Pay them $1 or $500, does it change the principle of rewards? I see more and more marketers becoming quite aggressive with this model. Will it be long before I have a video camera shooting a shot of the Nike running shoes in my closet, getting paid per impression directly from the brand -- and paid again every time I reference it in my running blog?

Rewards are the nature of how we operate -- motivation for the good. If we don't embrace the social advocates and the changing tides of how they evolve their view of advocacy, you will miss the boat. Target them, covet them and enable them!

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