Perfect timing – just as I was wondering aloud about the ethics of product placement, out comes an article about the ethics of word of mouth marketing. The Adage headline is “Is Buzz Marketing Illegal?”
As marketers more frequently look to recruit consumers brand agents to spread goodwill for brands, industry attorneys view buzz marketing as a likely area of regulatory involvement, especially around the issue of compensating people to participate in buzz programs when they fail to disclose their connections to marketers and agencies. While there is no legal precedent specific to word-of-mouth marketing, there are Federal Trade Commission guidelines for ads that are likely to apply.
“If the motivation for [an endorser] is to profit from his or her endorsement, that connection probably needs to be disclosed,” said Douglas Wood, chairman of advertising and marketing law at Reed Smith. “But since disclosure undermines the value of buzz marketing, advertisers are in a Catch-22.
Catch 22 is right. Sometimes marketers walk the fine line between wanting to get results, and wanting to do things right.
When it comes to marketing to women – which is more important? Ah…you’ve been paying attention – you’re right – it is doing things right. For one simple reason – don’t do it right, and the negative backlash could kill you.
Are women more ethical than men? I could stir up some serious you-know- what with my answer to that.
What I will say is – look at Time Magazine - Persons of the Year 2002 – three whistle blowers who took on Enron, Worldcom and the FBI - three women.
Martha Stewart – yeah, she got busted for lying about a stock trade, but on the grand scale of ethics, that pales in comparison to the lying, cheating, defrauding and complete vacuum of morals from corporate cowards like Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski. (yeah, I have a few strong opinions about these guys) And there’s another difference – Martha took responsibility...er... eventually, and went to jail and served her time.
As we’ve talked about again and again – women care about values, they care about ethics, they care about taking responsibility. Word of mouth is so powerful for one reason – trust. She trusts the source of information and is much more likely to act on it. The second that source is tainted in any way, the second she senses deception or manipulation, the wave of the positive will be dwarfed by the tsunami of the backlash.
Here’s the bottom line…..Will being upfront about your connection to the advertiser hurt your results? Will she be less likely to act on the recommendation? Probably. But it will increase your credibility. She will respect you for being honest and up front about your motives. If the “word of mouth” deliverer is truly genuine, she will most likely still be receptive to the message. A lot depends on the delivery.
Results or doing what's right.....you decide. Just know if you mess up, that loud screeching whistle isn't coming from the ref at the soccer field.