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One Way to Get People Raving about You: Pay for It!

Recently we told you about something called viral marketing, in which advertisers create campaigns that are so cute and clever that customers love them, associate them with a company's product, and buy more of that product.

The marketers know that there is no better publicity than word-of-mouth recommendations by satisfied customers. People trust those recommendations far more than even the most glowing statements they see or hear in advertisements or broadcast commercials.

So potent is word-of-mouth advertising that some companies have HIRED people to create a positive buzz. They pay them to pretend to be one of their satisfied customers and go around singing a product's praises.

Promotion by paid agents takes many forms, including planting positive mentions in books, screenplays, and Internet 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 quality of the images it produced.

But the government's consumer watchdog — the Federal Trade Commission — is not pleased with 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?

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.