If you mess with the buzz, you’ll get a visit from the fuzz. Marketing blogs are buzzing about this Ad Age article, which throws a suspicious eye on buzz marketing while reporting that it may even prove to be illegal.

“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.”

An FTC official said while word-of-mouth isn’t something that the agency is looking at, disclosing commercial relationships is crucial to avoid violating the law. “The real question is whether consumers are being misled someway,” said Rich Cleland, an assistant director of advertising practices for the FTC.”

Of course they are! This is deceptive marketing. C’mon folks! Why does the freakin’ FCC have to be involved when discussing a marketing tactic like buzz marketing. A bad and disingenous tactic, one that paradoxically becomes less and less effective as it is being deployed more and more. What has the consumer to look forward to? Should she be thankful that the FCC may get involved in regulating her conversations? Should she cast doubt on all her informal conversations and brand choices?

And doesn’t a marketing tactic that has the potential to be illegal naturally harm the industry as a whole? The proliferation of buzz marketing is certainly a result of the consumer tuning-out and disbelieving marketing messages. And now the consumer has something more to tune out and disbelieve.

So to all of us out there, let’s remember one thing: BUZZ — OR INAUTHENTIC WORD-OF-MOUTH — IS NOT MARKETING. So stay off the buzz, kids. I know it’s addictive. I know it feels good and is cheap to get. But, take my word for it, it will get you busted and you will go to jail.


  1. C’mon, Max. You know it’s not that simple.
    There are plenty of sleazballs out there, and honest marketers need to work together to fight them.
    Disclosure and honesty is essential in buzz marketing. Stealth and deception should be fought at every turn.
    But blanket gerneralization that lump everyone in the bad pile undermine efforts to fight for honesty. We need to work together in the fight for higher standards, pointing out the bad actors, while supporting the early efforts of honest marketers.
    If we fail to do so, we will repeat the unhappy history of email. Reporters started referring to all email marketers as “spammers,” lumping Target, J. Crew and other respected brands with email newsletters in with the pornographers. What happened? Everyone stopped talking about honest ways to use email. Few companies fought for anti-spam laws. And the spammers ran free, unopposed.
    We’re discussing this issure here:

  2. Max Lenderman · · Reply

    Andy, I totally agree. There are a bunch of sleazeballs out there. And that is why it is heartening and important that an organization like WOMMA exists. You guys are spot-on with your thinking, attitude and outreach into the marketing communities.
    My problem isn’t really with the buzz marketing companies per se, although some are sleazy and unpricipled. My concern is with the so-called buzz agents, the folks who do the buzzing. I know that they are told to disclose their intention, much like when my old company did guerrilla marketing and told them to say specific things or acts in specific ways, but more often than not, they won’t. It’s easier for them if they don’t disclose the fact that they are agents of a company.

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