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Arment Dietrich

Disclosing Identity in Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By: Arment Dietrich | December 18, 2006 | 
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I recently was interviewed by Ann Meyer at the Chicago Tribune about word-of-mouth marketing.  I touted this blog and talked about how important it is that we are ethical in all our dealings with new media and word-of-mouth marketing.

 

Ann called me a few days later and called me out on our ethics.  She said she’d been to the Shoes by Marky MySpace page and discovered that some of my team were friends of hers, but it was not clear they work for the PR firm.

 

Clearly, we changed that and now are clear about the fact that Marky is a client and we’re not friends with her just because we like her and her shoes…a lot!

 

But that led us to wonder where the ethical lines are drawn.  My team didn’t feel like they’d done anything wrong.  After all, their employer was listed as part of their descriptions on the site.

 

Last week, the Washington Post ran an article about unmasking word-of-mouth marketing.  It announces that the Federal Trade Commission is involved and that “companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.” 

 

It’s a good thing Ann called us on the MySpace page and we continue to be able to get on our soap box about ethics in PR. 

 

But the bigger reason to be over-the-top ethical, if you don’t believe in the Fight Against Destructive Spin, is you can get in some real trouble with the FTC:

 

The FTC staff said it would go after violators on a case-by-case basis. Consequences could include a cease-and-desist order, fines and civil penalties ranging from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars.

 

Ann Meyer’s article is going to be printed in the Tribune tomorrow.  Positive or negative, check back to see what she said about our ethics.

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