ETHICS OF BUZZ MARKETING

A weighty topic for String.

I’ve been contacted recently by several publishers and manufacturers.  Each has offered advance copies of books or free product samples, with the hope of seeing a review of those items posted here or on wiseNeedle. This to me smacks of buzz marketing.  I have turned them all down.

Buzz marketing is yet another "latest thing."  In buzz marketing a vendor engineers a campaign that seeds mention of their product such that the word seems to come spontaneously from unaffiliated individuals – all talking (or writing) about the product in their own words.  One of the ways to start a buzz campaign is to seed the product out to influential (or prolific) people who know lots of other people interested in new items or ideas.  Prolific bloggers or podcasters are excellent pipelines for getting the word out.  Giving them goodies for free is one low cost way to spread buzz to other leading-edge consumers.  At this point I suppose I should be flattered to be considered either prolific or influential.

So.  What’s the catch?  Why not accept freebies, try them out and then post the results, good or bad? 

Mostly because I am uncomfortable with the ethics of the base idea.  When does accepting free samples begin to color one’s thoughts?  At what point are one’s opinions compromised?  At what point does one become a mouth organ for others rather than oneself?  Yes, I know there are magazines that accept freebies and test samples – even paid ads, then turn around and totally blast bad or defective products, regardless of prior considerations.  Computer Gaming World is known for having dissed the deserving on the page opposite an ad for the product being criticized.  But there are far more specialty coverage venues that avoid any semblance of criticism of advertisers  or sample providers. 

Plus, once this practice becomes widely known the whole issue of trust surfaces.  Paid endorsements are something else again – everyone knows Tiger Woods gets megabucks from Nike.  His integrity isn’t an issue because the link between them is so public.  Formal public endorsements aside – can you trust the opinions of someone who even with the best of intentions may be an unpaid shill?  Isn’t entering into this sort of arrangement both a bit exploitative on the part of the marketer, and duplicitous on the part of the shiller?   I see a slippery slope here.  Accepting freebies to me is the first baby step on a continuum of ethical compromise – the same continuum that in its most egregious manifestations pops up in bribery, kickback, and blackmail scandals.

Where does that leave our little world of knitting and knit blogging?  Good question. 

Is accepting freebies for the purpose of (perhaps) writing something about them an ethical challenge for other people?  Is it any different than wearing a branded item – an Izod shirt, or carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag?  Your thoughts?

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