The Washington Post has hijacked the definition of “word of mouth marketing” right in the lead:
“The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, [ital. ed.] must disclose those relationships.
This is a blanket definition that takes the Pay-Per-Post, Pay-to-Digg world of sleazily paying for mentions and use it cover the organic reality of customers telling other customers about their likes and dislikes. A marketer can influence that natural effect without engaging in pay-to-play. That influence, in my opinion, is the core of online brand management, and has to be earned, not purchased.
“In a staff opinion issued yesterday, the consumer protection agency weighed in for the first time on the practice. Though no accurate figures exist on how much money advertisers spend on such marketing, it is quickly becoming a preferred method for reaching consumers who are skeptical of other forms of advertising.
“Word-of-mouth marketing can take any form of peer-to-peer communication, such as a post on a Web blog, a MySpace.com page for a movie character, or the comments of a stranger on a bus.”As the practice has taken hold over the past several years, however, some advocacy groups have questioned whether marketers are using such tactics to dupe consumers into believing they are getting unbiased information.
I’ll pledge right now to never pay for positive mentions.