Y’all know that I loathe marketing people with every fiber of my being, right? And why would I do such a thing? Because they’re insulting. They’re rabidly persistent. They’re cunning, calculating, and devious. And now they’re getting extremely sneaky. The term “viral marketing” has been around a while…in fact, it was coined by Douglas Rushkoff, who knows every trick of the trade and used it to great effect before he began writing about how manipulative it is. (Yes, those book links are tied to my Amazon Associates account, so if you buy ’em I might get 50 cents or something someday. Nothing “viral” about that! But seriously, they’re excellent books…especially “Coercion.” It will amaze and outrage you!)
But now it’s getting creepy, and maybe even downright evil. The latest thing to market products is to not openly market them. You recruit a bunch of average people and pay them to casually mention your products in everyday conversation. “Oh hey, speaking of food…have you tried that new sausage? Oh, it’s so good! I think it’s called __________, you oughta try it!” Or they’ll notice someone in a coffee shop or at a Wal-Mart looking at coffee machines and “happen” to mention that they just got a great coffeemaker from so-and-so dot com, and wow it’s sooo great and you oughta check it out. Drink companies will hire people to go into bars and order a particular bottled drink and tell the next person in line how great it is. I’ve even read about teams of people deployed on the streets of big cities with digital cameras…they’ll randomly ask strangers to take their photo, and afterwards they’ll just happen to mention how cool the camera is (they’re hired by a camera company, of course). It’s just the sneakiest, most insidious kind of marketing I’ve ever heard of, and it’s spreading.
Today my brother Patrick told me about some company called BzzAgent which specializes in this sort of bullshit marketing. I had never heard of them, but today the New York Times did a story about them and it’s causing quite a stir. The blogs are practically melting. And it’s no wonder! Just think about what this kind of marketing means: when someone mentions a product to you, are you sure they really like it, or are they being paid to mention it? How can you be sure? Even your best friend might not turn down a few bucks to say he/she likes a certain brand of whatever. I don’t know how the payment system works, and maybe some people get off just on being part of the whole “secret” thing, but it’s still kind of a scary thing. And the weirdest part is that they don’t care whether you like or hate the product, they just want you to talk about it and get it into peoples’ minds so that it might play into their buying decisions down the road.
Anyway, I’m sure you can just Google the keywords “bzz agent” and pull up a lot of fun reading. One interesting thing I noticed on the BzzAgent company website was this “hint” they give to agents: “Real, legitimate, fair companies have nothing to hide. Lifting the veil on how things work, showing your imperfections as well as your strengths works to create trust with customers. Customers want to feel a personal, human connection with business.” Now, what part of this secret marketing scheme has anything to do with “lifting the veil”?? This is good ol’ Prime USDA corn-fed American bullshit at its finest! Apparently BzzAgent is now telling their agents to fess up and admit they’re shilling products, but only after a lot of people have lifted the lid and smelled what was under it.