Monday, October 24, 2005

On Affiliation with a Buzz Marketing Agency, Disclosure, and Shopping in a Supermarket -- Part 2

This post picks up with the second part of Matt Galloway's comment to my earlier post regarding what policies buzz marketing agencies should have regarding the issue of disclosure:

What we can (and should) expect is for Tremors NOT to discourage disclosure - either directly or indirectly. Since everyone working in the area of WOMM says you can't control the message, I think it is an unrealistic for us to expect agecies to be able to when it comes to disclosure.

So, "You never tell a panelist what to say." is not a cop out AS LONG AS "You ALSO never tell a panelist what NOT to say."

Well said, and I wonder if we're also focusing too much on the actions of the panelist in our discussion.

That is, what if the guiding principle was less on what the panelist does or does not do, and more on the sense-making of the "conversational partner"? The key criterion would be to make sure that the people with whom the panelist is talking do not feel misled, deceived, or manipulated, at the moment of the WOM episode or afterwards. I add the last part "at the moment of the WOM episode or afterwards" because conversational partners might not feel misled if they don't know about the institutional affiliation, but may feel "tricked" after learning about it (see the 60 Minutes episode on "Undercover Marketing" for examples of some people feeling deceived after being "shilled").

Of course, the conversational participant would have to be aware that the person is participating in a buzz marketing campaign; explicit, verbal disclosure is just one way of doing this.

But one might counter: "If you can't control what a panelist will or won't say, how can an agency control what a conversational partner will think or feel?" Yep, that's right, but since you can't control either one (you can seek to influence both), you might as well aim for which is the most important, and I would argue it's how the conversational partner walks away from the WOM episode. The agency's responsibility in all this might be, for example, to host discussions among its panelists/agents/etc. and allow them to come up with ways to ensure that the conversational participants walk away from the episode engaged but without being misled. I think any principled buzz marketing agency would want to adopt the same criterion.


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