Chapell & Associates

Friday, January 20, 2006

Disclosure Doesn't Hamper Word of Mouth Marketing

Ad Age - January 19, 2006
As the Word of Mouth Marketing Association kicks off its conference today in Orlando, Fla., one hot topic is sure to be the issue of disclosure: Should the ordinary Joes enlisted to spread buzz about products and services tell others that they're part of a marketing program? The answer is a resounding yes, according to new research, from Northeastern University assistant professor Walter Carl, that culled data from more than 800 word-of-mouth agents and the people to whom they talked up brands.

The Chapell View
Disclosure has been a consistent question for Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) - it was even suggested late last year that a lack of disclosure could make the whole enterprise somewhat illegal (which the Chapell Blog covered then). And there did seem to be serious concerns about consumers being retained by marketing agencies to drum up one product or another - and specifically, if consumers who were acting as "Word of Mouth Agents" were telling other consumers about their relationship with an advertiser (that is, when recommending a product).

On the other hand, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has, since its inception, emphasized the need for disclosure. And this recent report from Northeastern might appear to support WOMMA's position. According to the study, consumers will actually view product suggestions that come from someone associated with a company as positively as those that don't. Thus, disclosure wouldn't necessarily undermine WOM marketing efforts.

I must to say I'm surprised by the report's findings. Intuitively, we like to think of recommendations as just someone liking a product and then telling others about it - "here, try this brand of coffee, I really like it," not "here, try this brand of coffee, the company that makes it tells me it's really good." To be totally honest: I can't see why consumers, having been told that someone has a commercial relationship with an advertiser, wouldn't be more skeptical of that person's recommendation. But if it turns out Professor Carl's findings are accurate, then all the better for WOM - the least troubling approach would seem to be the most effective.

It's worth repeating our warning from October, however. Often what consumers object to in marketing is overexposure as much as a lack of disclosure (too many ads can be just as bad as not knowing why or how these ads are being delivered). There's a lot of attention being paid to WOM right now, and we should hope that part of this attention focuses on avoiding consumer inundation. As with any advertising platform, consumers might start to shy away from advertiser developed "recommendations" if they become just a little too prevalent.span>
posted by Isaac on Friday, January 20, 2006

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