An Ethicist’s Look At Buzz

Thanks to Spike Jones at Brains On Fire for pointing us to this Miami Herald article on buzz marketing by Edward Wasserman, professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University.

Advocates do rhapsodize about all this with the fervor of real conviction, as the height of authenticity, a way to empower the lowly grassroots of the buying public. It brings a lump to the throat. The website of makes the whole push sound like some proud insurgency. ”We don’t think like normal advertising, marketing, and PR people. We defy convention” Word of mouth is ”the oldest, most effective form of marketing on earth,” which raises the question of what convention it could be defying.
One could be honesty. Commercial Alert, a commercialization watchdog, complained to the Federal Trade Commission in October about Procter & Gamble’s Tremor campaign. That’s a four-year-old program that, USA Today says, uses 250,000 teenagers to talk to friends about new things that P&G sends them. Tremor also purportedly rents out these teens to such pals as Toyota, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, and the watchdog group wondered whether the entire undertaking might not be fundamentally deceitful.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.