Adrants reports that buzz marketing paragon (or pariah, depending on your POV) BzzAgent “has strengthened its stance on transparency.”

While the agency has always asked its bzzagents to disclose their involvement with BzzAgent, the agency now requires all new BzzAgent community registrants to verify that they have read and accepted the company’s Code of Conduct which requires campaign participants to make certain others are aware they have volunteered to be involved in a word-of-mouth campaign.

So that existing bzzagents are also adhering to full disclosure, BzzAgent has added a check box to its reporting template, a section where members describe their interactions as they buzz products, which must be checked off to participate as a member of BzzAgent. BzzAgent is also saying it will require members who do not properly disclose their BzzAgent status to those they interact with to complete an online training course before participating in the company’s future campaigns.”

Well, that’s just great. I commend the company on these important steps. Better than nothing, certainly. There’s a code of conduct. A check box. An online tutorial. What else do you need to get the consumer’s trust back? 😉

Anyone who has managed and deployed street teams (event marketing campaigns, for instance) will tell you that with all the training in the world, people will do that which is easier to do. A couple of training sessions is not going to change habits, perceptions or the preferred ways of approaching consumers. For those agents who find that non-disclosure works best (they don’t get a big fat “buzz off” from intruded consumers), is it realistic that they will now all of a sudden start disclosing their marketing intentions? Habits are hard to break, folks. And I’m not sure how a check box is going to break them.


They probably won’t. That’s why the FCC and Commercial Alert are investigating “large scale deception” on the part of buzz marketers like BzzAgent and others. A JWT analysts estimates that about 85% of the US’s top 1,000 marketing companies are using some sort of buzz marketing.

So I get even more irate when I read articles like this one from Saturday’s Indianapolis Star. In it, Andy Sernovitz, the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), says that the FCC is making a common mistake, lumping reputable buzz marketing (where commercial ties are revealed) with undisclosed marketing which WOMMA calls “stealth” or “guerrilla” marketing.

C’mon Andy! You’ve been to this blog before. You know how I feel about good guerrilla marketing. How can you possibly lump deceptive marketing with guerrilla marketing? Stealth I can understand. But guerrilla? Explain that one to me. Explain how a team of uniformed street samplers are deceiving people the way a paid buzz agent pushes product on people at work, at the gym or on the subway. How does a PR stunt compare with agents coaxing their friends to buy certian brands at a barbecue or cocktail party? I don’t get it. I apologize. Can someone at WOMMA clarify this for me?

Maybe I can learn at WOMMA’s “Word of Mouth Basic Training” conference in January. Care to invite me to speak?

(In all fairness, please read Andy Sernovitz’s presentation on WOM ethics from the 2005 WOMMA Summit:Download womma_summit_sernovitz_ethics.pdf)


  1. Ah, Max. So quick to point fingers!
    Guerilla good.
    Stealth bad.
    Gorrilla good.
    This is a complicated topic and it’s easy to get misquoted or misunderstood in the press or blogs.
    Our list of what is/isn’t good word of mouth:
    Learning about the best of WOM at Word of Mouth Basic Training (the WOMBAT blog):
    Lots of great podcasts, interviews and other good how-to get started.
    And . . . code “maxistheman” will save you $100 at the conference.

  2. I know, I know. I get hysterical.
    Andy, I like the WOMMA Code. And I think the outreach that you and the organization members are doing is truly phenomenal. I really dig your action.
    But bad guerrilla marketing is bad guerrilla marketing. Worse, it is terrorist marketing. Good guerrilla marketing gets results. Good stealth marketing gets results too, but without consent. bad stealth marketing is full-on deception.
    I’m not trying to pick a fight. I just think you have a big hill to climb with this whole buzz marketing thing. There’s the FCC going bonkers. There’s Commercial Alert gunning for you. And now a “fellow” buzz marketing firm called Boldmouth wants to put an end to buzz marketing altogether.
    What gives?
    PS. Thanks for the discount. I will try to come. My wife is due around that date and I am on travel embargo.

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