Sunday, January 15, 2006

BzzAgent Gets Bucks, Scoring Victory for Word-of-Mouth Marketing

On Friday, BzzAgent announced an impressive $13.75 million B round from General Catalyst and IDG Ventures Boston. This is the smack up side the head for me that paid operatives for Word-of-Mouth marketing work, even if the whole notion makes me a bit squeamish.

I'm in total agreeement with many of the thought-provoking quotes on the site:

"The ongoing myth is that brands get built by advertising. Actually, the evidence is exactly the opposite. Brands get reinforced by advertising, but they get built by grassroots adoption and word of mouth." --Marc Andreessen, quoted in Fast Company, 2001

BzzAgent recruits individuals at its website to promote the marketing campaigns of company clients, which include heavyweights like Anheuser Busch, Cadbury Schweppes, Energizer Batteries, Ralph Lauren, and Levi's Dockers. The recruits are directed to perform various activities to generate word-of-mouth marketing.

The company has taken pains to stress honesty on the part of its agents; you can read the code of conduct here.

For a bit more background, here's an interesting read from Wharton, with a tutorial as well as an explanation of the ethical issues, summarized by this quote:

Wharton marketing professor Lisa Bolton is one of the hard-liners in the buzz marketing ethics debate. "I realize not all buzz marketing is subversive. Sometimes it's just a case of getting people on the street and getting the word out. But stealth marketing, where you don't know that something's part of a marketing campaign because people don't identify themselves as such? I thinks it's wrong. It's unethical. Over the long term, when people find out, they will feel deceived and betrayed. Ultimately, it will damage a company's brand equity."

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