Word of Mouth Campaigns and Deceptive Advertising

Mike at Techdirt has a great POV on word of mouth advertising, under the headline, “Just Because You Get Others To Do Your Deceptive Advertising For You, It Doesn’t Change That It’s Deceptive.”:

“The FTC came out with a report noting that word of mouth marketing efforts could represent deceptive advertising if the person doing the advertising doesn’t make it clear that they’ve been paid to endorse a product. As they note, this isn’t really new: deceptive advertising is deceptive advertising — but they wanted to make it more clear in these circumstances. This is especially important, given that too many companies seem to think that official word of mouth marketing campaigns give them some sort of free reign to pull all sorts of stunts on people.

“Much of the discussion around this statement from the FTC has bloggers pointing to controversial advertising firm PayPerPost, who pays people to post reviews of products — but doesn’t require disclosure and often requires only positive things being said about it. PayPerPost doesn’t really care about the actual reviews, as they’re simply an elaborate search engine spamming system, designed to drive up the search engine rankings for their customers, but it’s actually not at all clear that they’re really the ones at risk here. The question, really, is whether it should be the person doing the word of mouth marketing who’s being considered deceptive, or the firm that has given them the incentives to be deceptive.”

At the end of the day, legal liability may be less significant than brand liability among your prospective customers. Clearly, when the word gets out that you pay authors to write nice reviews about your product, you raise questions about the actual quality of that product. And if, in fact, PayPerPost (and other scams like it) attracts influential journalists and authors — which is highly, highly unlikely — you’ve just admitted to a bunch of vocal influencers that your product isn’t good enough to garner legitimate positive press.

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