Commercial Alert’s Work on Stealth Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Getting the FTC to Wake Up

Congratulations to the group Commercial Alert for pushing the Federal Trade Commission to act, even timidly, on one of the most egregious marketing ploys. “Word-of-mouth” marketing uses people–including kids–to push products to friends and others. Such product pushers receive all kinds of compensation, including feeling they are among an “in-crowd.” That’s what companies actually say to these kids. It was Commercial Alert’s petition that got the FTC to admit greater disclosure is required. Such marketing tactics are part of the emerging “360” degree field of “engagement” that advertisers and brands are building. Wherever we go, online and off, we will be the targets of marketing (including what is known as WOM). But at least now, as as a result of the Commercial Alert work, stealth product pushers better fess up. Perhaps we will even see some changes in how the companies engaged in such sorry practices, especially using kids/teens, operate. If not, these companies will find themselves on the wrong side of branding.
Gary Ruskin and his colleagues deserve our thanks.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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