Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DuPont's Endorsement of WOMMA's Ethics Code

I just finished the WOMMA-sponsored teleconference on word-of-mouth ethics (recap). I don't know the actual count of how many people participated but there were a lot of *beeps* as people joined the call. The podcast should be available on the WOMMA website in the coming weeks (disclosure: WOMMA Advisory Board member).

I enjoyed hearing my co-panelist, Gary Spangler from DuPont, speak about the latest news in WOM marketing ethics. DuPont is the first Fortune 100 company to fully endorse the WOMMA Ethics Code in all of their marketing and communication practices. Gary talked about his involvement in helping DuPont integrate the Code into his company's policy: he acted as an "internal champion," he helped to create knowledge and educate others about what WOM marketing is and what forms of WOM marketing are unethical, and talked about the importance of getting the key decision-makers involved. Apparently DuPont's existing corporate values were already consistent with the spirit of the Code so there was nothing to prevent them from officially endorsing it. Gary feels that the governance issue regarding ethics rests on the "client side of the equation," meaning that it is incumbent on clients not to work with firms that engage in deceptive deceptive marketing practices.

Andy Sernovitz actually began the call with an overview of ethical issues facing the WOM marketing industry (PDF), followed by Gary, and then me talking about my "To Tell Or Not To Tell?" study on the role of disclosure in organized word-of-mouth marketing programs. One ethical issue that wasn't addressed in the call was the societal effects of word-of-mouth marketing and peer-to-peer influence programs (I only mentioned it as one other ethical concern that has been expressed, in addition to the role of disclosure, and the role of minors).

We all fielded questions from the audience which included: best practices for companies to ensure the agencies they are working with are engaging in ethical practices, whether or not to run a WOM marketing campaign if you know you have an inferior product, and how, if at all, a company should participate in online consumer-to-consumer discussions about its own brand.

Finally, stay tuned for some ethics initiatives coming out from WOMMA in the near future that will help companies ensure their involvement with word-of-mouth marketing programs is consistent with the WOMMA Ethics Code.