Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Campus Ambassador Programs, Buzz Marketing, and Disclosure

I was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the Boston Globe yesterday about the use of campus ambassador programs on university campuses. The author, Sarah Schweitzer, writes about how major companies like Microsoft, JetBlue Airways, The Cartoon Network, and Victoria's Secret are attemtpting to reach the "elusive" college market through such word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer programs.

With such programs, Schweitzer writes, niche firms recruit students from a particular university so that they can market products and services on behalf of the company (and sometimes companies may directly recuit and train students themselves). An example she mentions in the article concerns Microsoft's OneNote software program.

The issue of disclosure of affiliation came up again (see my two prior posts, Part 1 and Part 2). The students Schweitzer mentioned said they didn't disclose their identities, but they were wearing "logo-bearing t-shirts," in the case of Microsoft. She also writes that...

"Campus ambassadors generally are not required to state their corporate affiliation, but most companies instruct them not to try to obscure it."

The article went on to say...
"Students they approached said, in interviews after listening to the pitch, they did not understand the students' relationship with Microsoft, but that it mattered little."

In my own class discussions I find that a lot of students view this type of P2P and WOM marketing as acceptable and just "the way things are done now." Some argue the way things "have to be done now." A much smaller number criticize the practice or see it as invasive.

It's an interesting article that's worth checking out. One critique I have is that Schweitzer writes that buzz marketing is when "people talk up a product to friends and family without necessarily revealing corporate affiliation." Should people who write and talk about buzz marketing be encouraged to use the term "undercover marketing" instead when the corporate affiliation isn't disclosed? Or "shill" marketing when they received monetary compensation for their activities?


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