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Vocal point focused on recruiting mothers with extensive social networks, participants known internally by the some what awkward term connectors.

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The Spitzer Group76 Irving Silberstein, marketing director for the Spitzer Group, a growing regional marketing and corporate communications firm, was hard at work on an exciting project. He was designing Spitzer’s first word-of-mouth campaign for an important client, a manufacturer of beauty products. In a matter of just a few years, word-of-mouth advertising campaigns morphed from a small fringe specialty to a mainstream marketing technique embraced by no less than consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G). The basic idea was simple, really. You harnessed the power o...

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The Spitzer Group76 Irving Silberstein, marketing director for the Spitzer Group, a growing regional marketing and corporate communications firm, was hard at work on an exciting project. He was designing Spitzer’s first word-of-mouth campaign for an important client, a manufacturer of beauty products. In a matter of just a few years, word-of-mouth advertising campaigns morphed from a small fringe specialty to a mainstream marketing technique embraced by no less than consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G). The basic idea was simple, really. You harnessed the power of existing social networks to sell your products and services. The place to start, Irving knew, was to take a close look at how P&G’s in-house unit, Vocalpoint, conducted its highly successful campaigns, both for its own products and those of its clients. Because women were key purchasers of P&G consumer products, Vocalpoint focused on recruiting mothers with extensive social networks, participants known internally by the somewhat awkward term connectors. The Vocalpoint Web page took care to emphasize that participants were members of an “exclusive” community of moms who exerted significant influence on P&G and other major companies. Vocalpoint not only sent the women new product samples and solicited their opinions, but it also carefully tailored its pitch to the group’s interests and preoccupations so the women would want to tell their friends about a product. For example, it described a new dishwashing foam that was so much fun to use, kids would actually volunteer to clean up the kitchen (music to any mother’s ears). P&G then furnished the mothers with coupons to hand out if they wished. It was all voluntary, P&G pointed out. According to a company press release issued shortly before Vocalpoint went national in early 2006, members “are never obligated to do or say anything.” One of the things Vocalpoint members weren’t obligated to say, Irving knew, was that the women were essentially unpaid participants in a P&G-sponsored marketing program. When asked about the policy, Vocalpoint CEO Steve Reed replied, “We have a deeply held belief you don’t tell the consumer what to say.” However, skeptical observers speculated that what the company really feared was that the women’s credibility might be affected adversely if their Vocalpoint affiliation were known. Nondisclosure really amounted to lying for financial gain, Vocalpoint’s critics argued, and furthermore, the whole campaign shamelessly exploited personal relationships for commercial purposes. Others thought the critics were making mountains out of molehills. P&G wasn’t forbidding participants from disclosing their ties to Vocalpoint and P&G. And the fact that they weren’t paid meant the women had no vested interest in endorsing the products. So, as Irving designs the word-of-mouth campaign for his agency’s client, just how far should he emulate the company that even its detractors acknowledge is a master of the technique? What Would You Do? 1. Don’t require Spitzer “connectors” to reveal their affiliation with the corporate word-of-mouth marketing campaign. They don’t have to recommend a product they don’t believe in. 2. Require that Spitzer participants reveal their ties to the corporate marketing program right up front before they make a recommendation. 3. Instruct Spitzer participants to reveal their participation in the corporate marketing program only if directly asked by the person they are talking to about the client’s products.

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In the case of S participants that are unpaid in the marketing affiliation, it should not be required to reveal their participation in the marketing program unless asked

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