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New Wrinkle for Word-of-Mouth Advertising: Pay for It!


There's an old axiom in business. Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats word-of-mouth recommendations of your product or service. Nothing is better than having satisfied customers rave about you to their friends. Those people will trust that recommendation far more than glowing statements they see or hear in advertisements. They are quite likely to check you out and become your next customer. And it didn't cost you a thing.

But if you want to know just how much goodwill is being spread on your behalf, you can simply hire people to do it. You pay them to pretend to be one of your satisfied customers and go around singing your praises. And that's exactly what some American companies have been doing. There's even a name for it. It's called "word-of-mouth marketing."

Promotion by paid agents can take many forms. They include planting positive mentions in book scripts, screenplays, and Internet Web logs, or blogs. One company even hired fake tourists who asked other visitors to take their photographs with a certain camera-phone. Then the phony tourists gushed about the camera and the images it produced.

But the government's consumer watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission, is not pleased about this kind of deceptive marketing. It has issued an order requiring those who promote a product for money to disclose that they're getting paid.

Of course, that will negate the very reason word-of-mouth recommendations are so effective. Just how am I supposed to tell you that Joe's Repair Shop does fabulous work, and oh, by the way, Joe paid me to say so? And once I do, will you ever trust me, or Joe, again?