Trylon Communications  - March 2005

Word of Mouth

Public relations is designed to get people thinking and talking about your company, product or service. This can be accomplished through articles, interviews, public events, blog mentions and more. Now, however, marketers are attempting to create “buzz” through manufactured word of mouth – a practice falling under increasing scrutiny.

It’s one thing to introduce a new product to “influencers” and hope they recommend it to their friends – or, better yet, to use the product in a public arena. It’s quite different when you hire actors and celebrities to pump the product in public as if they discovered it on their own.

This practice is being criticized as deceptive by many marketing people, and a new association has sprung up to combat it. The Word of Mouth marketing association has 40 members who all subscribe to a code of ethics: people talking up products or services must disclose whom they work for, and marketers must use real consumers, not actors, who discuss what they really believe about a product.

One watchdog eyeing the practice of deceptive word of mouth marketing is Commercial Alert in Portland, Oregon. The group believes that using paid shills in public areas to promote products is “commercializing human relationships.”

Marketers are searching for new ways to promote their companies and products as consumers exert more control over their media consumption. Lines will be crossed and companies who go too far will be called out. As always, companies that keep within ethical boundaries when designing creative marketing and PR strategies will see the best return on their marketing investment.