Good news for the advertising/marketing industry and consumers: The Federal Trade Commission is seriously considering cracking down on the nefarious doings of word-of-mouth, buzz, and blog marketing.
I was tipped off by Peter Himler’s blog, The Flack:
Who'll forget all those "influential" bloggers who received spiffy new Nikon digital SLRs to tool with and talk about. (Come to think of it, I can't recall any of them spilling a negative word about their gifts from the early adopter gadget Gods.)
How long have I been railing about word-of-mouth marketing? Since 2005:
To me, nothing is more dishonest and 'old school' than shills showing up at bars or wherever and pretending to be your friend and offering you gum or lipstick. They remind me of shills used in medicine shows (talk about 'old school'...) And if I start reading blogs that are thinly disguised sales pitches, I'll never read the blog again. (Except, of course, if the reason for the blog is to sell you something, in which case it's really old-fashioned copywriting/advertising. Authorized company blogs, for example.)
And I’ve blogged about this subject ad nauseam:
Advertising/Marketing Article of The Month
Backing up much of what I’ve been saying for years:
Bloggers Be Warned: FTC May Monitor What You Say (subscription)
By Michael Bush
Jim Nail, chief marketing officer of TNS Media Intelligence and a WOMMA board member, said the revisions will bring more credibility to word-of-mouth and social-media marketing. "The thing that makes word-of-mouth marketing powerful is people believing they are getting truthful and honest opinions from real users," Mr. Nail said …
"The FTC is ... putting out guidelines to make it clear to people who are involved in social media and viral marketing that the same rules apply in this context as they do in the more formal context of paid advertising and infomercials." There are no legal implications for social-media sites such as Facebook or marketer sites such as Amazon, where consumers often post product reviews. However, Ms. Jacobs-Meadway said, paid endorsers who post on those sites can be held liable if they do not identify themselves as such.
Similar policies are already in place on the other side of the pond:
Buzz marketing illegal from May
One particular clause in the Regulations will make a number of activities a criminal offence including seeding positive messages about a brand in a blog without making it clear that the message has been created by, or on behalf of, the brand … Also, using “buzz marketing” specialists to communicate with potential consumers in social situations without disclosing that they are acting as brand ambassadors, will be illegal … Seeding viral ads on the internet in a manner that implies you are a simple member of the public, will also be against the law.
Many WOM marketers are thrilled that their industry may be cleaned up:
“We think it is a smart approach,” said Sharon Swendner, president of .Com Marketing, an interactive agency that gets paid to blog. “We would all like to believe that the markets are self regulating, but unfortunately, as we've seen from banking, it doesn't always work that way.”
And excerpts from a few comments on the Ad Age article:
“What's there to complain about--they're just enforcing transparency and truth in advertising.”
“It could bring added credibility to the blogging space …”
“It's a shame that the FTC has to be the one to give the wake-up call but I'm happy that at least someone is.”
“These laws go without saying.”