"Can brotherhood be sold like soap?"

Thanks to Diva Marketing for the quote from Gerhart Wiebe, which she came across in the book, Robin Hood Marketing, (excellent insights on how to do cause-based non-profit marketing). OK to the subject of the post…

Brotherhood: Alliance. Friendship.

One of the most important things in a brotherhood or friendship is trust. Aggressive and savvy marketers know this, and they’ve found a way to sneak in: just buy the most talkative ones in the groups.

“We know that the most powerful form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend,” says Steve Knox, CEO of a P&G company doing this.

Apparently people aren’t talking their products up enough on their own, so the marketers have thought of a way to speed it up: Pay the friends to talk more – like paid informants.

Now with secretly paid informants, no one else listening has any inkling that there is any hanky pank going on. They take the words at face value. (BTW, major convictions have been thrown out years after the fact because no one knew the key informants had been paid by the police.)

In the case of marketing also, it’s the not telling that makes it so icky, so deceptive. Worse for the gal doing it, because eventually someone in the group will find out. That will likely erode the trust of her friends as they can’t tell anymore which ‘trusted opinion’ is paid for and which not.

Here’s how Widpedia defines normal and transparent word of mouth among friends:

“People are more inclined to believe word of mouth promotion than more formal forms of promotion because the communicator is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (ie.: they are not out to sell you something)…Also people tend to believe people that they know.” (Emphasis added.)

Don’t get me wrong – being a paid informant is not bad.

It’s the not telling that makes it bad. Because it’s misusing the trust of the others who assume you are speaking as a friend, as a member of the brotherhood, with words to be taken at face value. Not as a paid informant.

The losers? The people who do it and are found out by their friends, after.

Is it really worth it to sell our relationshps to them for a buck or a box of free soap?

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Kim – thanks for the shout out and the mention of Robin Hood Marketing. I really like your spin on the quote .. taking it into buzz marketing.

    One wonders if a person is getting paid to chat-up a product and is not transparent about that to friends and relatives, does that person really feel it’s “wrong?” As my mom use to say, why hide something unless you’re not proud of what you’re doing .. or you think it’s wrong?

    I agree with you .. I don’t care if my friends make a few $ marketing about a product .. good for them. But I do care if the perception is I’m being lied to or scammed.

  • Toby –

    Nice point.

    Let’s say someone doesn’t think it wrong not to tell. If someone did that to me, and I got all excited about the new thing and maybe even bought it, if I found out they’d paid her to talk it up I’d feel a little taken in and mad that I had gotten excited, you know, because it wasn’t a real from the heart conversation. Next time she recommended something, I’d ask first if she was being compensated in some way, so I could react to what she says, knowing that bit of information. I wouldn’t want to show the same enthusiasm so easily, you know? After all, she wouldn’t be telling me if she weren’t being compensated, so I wouldn’t want to react as transparently like I normally might have.

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