When a friend or co-worker tells you about a product she likes, as women do, and you then bought it too, how would you feel if you found out afterwards that she’d been paid to tell you?
Most private product talk among women is not commercial. Among men, either. Think TIVO, iPod, movies or restaurants – people refer those to each other because they love them, not because they get paid to do it.
If they did get compensated somehow, and you found out later, would you be as trusting of their next referral?
People telling each other about products they like, like TIVO, iPods, or other products has been referred to in the past as word of mouth advertising or word of mouth marketing.
The trust that the recommendation is not secretly motivated in anyway by compensation from a third party is what makes it a recommendation accepted at face value from people who know and trust each other. That’s what makes it so valuable to product manufacturers and marketers. Some of them, like Apple, try to make products remarkable enough that people will WANT to tell others about them.
Others pay to manufacture that word of mouth. They use people who are members of a group, like Moms, or Teens, and pay them to do so-called word of mouth.
Often, these newly created word-of-mouthers don’t tell the others that they’re being compensated, and that’s where the question arises: Would you feel manipulated if you gave your trust to a friend’s recommendation, bought the product, and then later found out that the friend got paid to talk it up to you?
You no doubt know that marketers are not a very credible bunch these days. One of the most popular business books today is entitled, “All Marketers are Liars.”
So now, must we add “All Friends are Liars”?
Proctor & Gamble Co. has quietly come out with an advertising program, Vocalpoint, that is such a manufactured word of mouth campaign. It was developed to “pitch its own and other companies’ products.”
P&G has recruited 600,000 women into their new advertising army over the past year or two. All moms. All on the take. Here’s how the company is using them:
“By crafting product messages mothers will want to share, along with giving them samples, coupons, and a chance to share their own opinions with P&G, the Cincinnati consumer-product giant is using personal endorsements to cut through advertising clutter.”
And, says the company,
“We know that the most powerful form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend,” says Steve Knox, Vocalpoint’s CEO.
Right. So let’s exploit that, he says. They’re not his friends to lose. They’re yours.
Ask yourself one question and you will know if you like this: Would you give your trust as freely to the recommendations of someone you know, if you can’t be sure up front if they’re on the take or not, for whatever product they’re talking about?
Aside from the possible loss of trust between friends,
“…Vocalpoint also raises a serious ethical issue: Should the person spreading the product message disclose her affiliation?”
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association Code of Ethics requires “connectors” like these moms to disclose who they work for. But P&G does not require these women to do that. And many don’t.
Ethics and morals aside, ask yourself: Do you want to be able to trust a friend’s recommendation to be motivated by nothing other than the interest she has in telling about something she thought you’d like to know about?
If you found out later that she DID get paid, in money or free product, would you weigh her recommendation differently next time?
If you, like me, would take any future recommendations from this person with a giant grain of salt, then we all know this gal has lost something she once had – my freely given, no strings attached, trust. This is not a good thing.
The FTC is looking into it…
P.S. Telling your connection up front is always good policy. And that’s of course why I suggest that when you are introducing your product to others, you let them know right up front that you are marketing it and why – because it’s helped you, say – and now you’ve decided to make a business marketing it – so you can do good AND make some income. (That’s all laid out in the If My Product’s So Great, How Come I Can’t Sell It?” book and CD program.)