BzzAgents bastardizes Seth Godin, but does Godin endorse them? (or My thoughts on the NYT piece on Word of Mouth Marketing)

After reading the New York Times

piece on BzzAgents this past Sunday, I’m convinced more then ever that this company is the analog version of

spam.

According to the Times story their agents lie and deceive folks to get their products out there.

Do we really want to live in a world where our friends are getting paid to pitch us on products all the time?

This is about disclosure, and BzzAgents go around”again, straight from the Times story”and pitch these

products without ever telling their friends (a.k.a. subjects) about the fact that they are earning “BzzPoints” they can

trade in for free products. Many of them, again according the Times story, never tell folks about the

relationship they have with BzzAgent!

Agents in the story said they didn’t think that their marketing efforts would work if they told their friends they

were getting paid (or getting free product, another form of getting paid). Well, duh???!?!

Can you imagine your friend calling you up and saying “Hey David, it’s Jason. I’m working with a great new company

called Uncle Joe’s Pork Sausages… did you know that Uncle Joe’s only uses grade A quality swine in their sausages?”

That could be the end of the relationship, I mean do you want your friends pitching you half the time like

telemarketers? TIVO and HBO are so popular because they let you skip the commercials”are these marketers so desperate

that they want to insert commercials into our daily interactions? At least on TV you know it’s a commercial!

Relationships are built on trust and disclosure, and “word of mouth marketing,” as the have dubed it, is based on

lying and deception. Even if you were to disclose what you’re doing, it’s so “icky” that people wouldn’t want to be

involved with you. The truth is trust and deception can not both exist in the same place at the same time”something has

got to give.

In the Times they say over and over again that their company is based on

Seth Godin’s theories, but BzzAgents have got Seth all

wrong.

seth godin I’ve read all of Seth Godin’s

books.

I first met Seth Godin in 1995 or 1996.

I’ve spent time with Seth Godin.

I wrote about Seth Godin and his compny Yoyodyne for years in Silicon Alley

Reporter.

BzzAgents… * YOU * ARE * NO * SETH * GODIN * !!!

In Seth’s book he talks about great products leading to buzz and organic word of mouth. He specifically tells

companies to not waste their time and energy on creating fake buzz. Godin’s concepts and observations are based on

great companies like Tivo or JetBlue making tons of little innovations that people love, remember, and talk about. No

where does Godin say “hire a company to get people to deceive their friends into thinking your product is

amazing!”

Of course, according to the Times story, Seth Godin’s publisher hired these folks for his last book, and his

book mentions the firm. Hmmmmmmm…. sounds sinister to me. Are we going to find out next that Seth has stock in the

company?

The oddest part is that the Times story goes on to quote Seth himself:

New York Times: Seth Godin, the writer and speaker on marketing whose ideas partly inspired BzzAgent,

agrees that the agents’ honesty is crucial. Paying people to promote products, hiring supermodels to show up in a bar

and request a particular vodka, is ”disingenuous, dishonest and almost unethical,” and it represents a subversion of

honest peer-to-peer communication. And honest peer-to-peer communication, he maintains, is the future of

marketing.

OK, Seth, I get it. You don’t think BzzAgents should be lairs, and you don’t think they should be involved in

deception. Great, I agree!

However, the Times story goes on to question the deception that BzzAgents are doing when promoting books (not

sure if they are referring to the promotion of your book Seth or other books”the Times story doesn’t say, but I wish

the writer of the story, BzzAgents or Seth would let me know):

New York Times: Those suggestions in the Bzz guides to call bookstores and pretend you don’t know the

exact title or author you’re looking for are pretty hard to define as ”honest.” Similarly, it’s most unlikely that

Amazon.com (let alone The Concord Monitor) would consider the reviews of a BzzAgent quite as unbiased and helpful to

readers as a review from someone who hadn’t consulted talking points compiled with input from the publisher. The whole

tone of the Bzz guides ” which read like a cross between a brochure and a training manual ” is a bit difficult to

square with the idea of genuineness.

Seth, now that you know that BzzAgents are using your name and concepts to lie and deceive the public,

are you willing to come out and says that you don’t support these activities? I guess you don’t have to come out and

say this, since you already did in the Times story!

Come on Seth, these guys are basing their company on a bastardized version of your clearly stated beliefs”are you cool

with that? Stand up and call them out on it. Are you going to just sit there and let them convince the world that lying

is ok, and that you by extension edorse their behavior?!

Superman where are you?!?!!? We need you Superman!

When William Gibson wrote about these concepts in his

book it was a WARNING, not something to be strived towards!

As I said when I started, BzzAgents are the new spammers. They use any method to get your attention, and”at least

according to the Times story”they are well-skilled at the art of deception and lying.

Word of mouth marketing companies will wind up in the back alleys of the marketing world, along with the spammers,

spyware folks, and those evil people who print advertisements on the back of fake parking tickets (thanks, I really

need to have all that stress as I walked up to my

car today… now I associate your brand with anxiety and being angry”NICE JOB IDIOTS!!!).

womma logo The most reprehensible thing about all this is

that these slimy companies without ethics are joining forces to create a Word of Mouth Marking Organization

(WOMMA). BzzAgent has the WOMMA logo on their site as if the fact that they are part

of this organization makes their behavior ok.

WOMMA claims they are going to bring ethics to word of mouth marketing. OK, so you want to bring ethics to people

coming up with ways to deceive people right? That will be as as successful as bringing love to prostitution.

Buzz is the smoke from the fire of a great products… make great products, don’t blow smoke.

best,

Jason

PS – I know that there are members of WOMMA who are not involved in deception. To those folks I say either make it a

rule that to be in WOMMA you have to agree to not deceive the public. You guys are all getting grouped into one bucked

when you accept members who use your logo to try and justify deception.

PS #2 – Some people have asked why I care so much about this, and why I write such harsh blog posts. Well, we get to

choose the world we live in and it seems to me that many people are content to sit by and let the marketers do whatever

they want. As a society we get to choose when to draw the line. In the past we have fought to not let marketers take

over classrooms in public schools, and we fought to keep advertisers from taking over public parks. This is a similar

fight, except in this fight we’re dealing with something less atom-based.

Soem people ask me “what is the harm in this?” To be honest, I don’t think in terms of just harm, I try to think in

terms of what is right. I’d like to see whatthe New York Times Magazine columnist Randy Cohen (aka “the Ethicist”)

thinks of BzzAgent, and Seth Godin’s support of the firm. Randy, Randy, we need you! Please come in!

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