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The Onion has a spoof on word of mouth marketing that doesn’t bode well for the industry’s credibility.
In “I’d Love This Product Even If I Weren’t A Stealth Marketer,” Kyle Pafrath, pretending to be a teenager going to ridiculous extremes to praise a fictional drink called Mountain Dew True Blue, writes:
“Sure, I may be a stealth marketer employed by a national conglomerate to imperceptibly push the product in public, but this beverage is so unbelievably great, I’d subliminally market it to perfect strangers for free!”
In stealth-marketing parlance, this is what is known as “roach baiting,” but I prefer to call it “the least I can do.”
Sure, the task of registering for nearly 30 different newsgroup accounts using fake names and e-mail addresses just to generate the honest word-of-mouth buzz this product deserves may sound like a lot of work to you, one of the few Americans who hasn’t been bowled over by the no-holds-barred flavor of True Blue.”

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Womnibus newsletter says “We will continue to educate the industry and the public about the difference between honest word of mouth and stealth.”
The problem is really fundamental: if you manufacture a good product that you have tested to be sure it offers consumers what they want, you won’t need to pay people to pretend they like it.
This doesn’t preclude seeding word of mouth. That’s something that’s been done since the days when John the Baptist was Jesus Christ’s advance man. It just means companies have to let consumers know what they’re doing. New products and public opinion often need a nudge, but there’s no reason it can’t be an honest one.
While I have issues with the way they did it, Nokia’s effort to give bloggers their new phones to try, and take the chance that they will write negative things about them, is an honest approach. Nothing less will do today.