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Many believe that viral marketing is wrong because
1) it steals peoples secrets.
2) hired people pretend to be members of a chat group.
3) it puts innocent comments on the internet.
Viral advertising and viral marketing are rapidly becoming the most popular methods of bringing new products to the attention of potential buyers. Health products, chocolate and even football teams have all been promoted this way. The viral approach is popular with some advertisers because it focuses on the most likely groups of potential buyers. It also has the feel of making innocent suggestions (rather than “hard sell” advertising) and most importantly, for advertisers, it is cheap: Certainly the costs are small compared to traditional advertising on TV, radio or posters.
But what is viral advertising and does it really work? More to the point is there a sinister side to this new phenomenon? Viral Advertising is basically the practice of placing sales messages into social network sites on the internet. These are internet sites used by teenagers for “chatting”, special groups with hobbies or shared interests and even relationship/ dating sites. The idea is that these messages “infect” (as in a medical virus) a user by persuading that person to buy something. The plan is that the buyer, who is connected to other people on the networking site, then “infects” other people by letting them know what was purchased and how good or useful or tasty it is!. These “infected” people (who are just buyers) then “infect” others until finally there is an “epidemic” — with tens of thousands of people buying something because it was apparently suggested by an internet friend.
Some advertisers love this approach because internet groups, chat rooms and forums tend to be made up of people with similar interests. If advertisers “drop” their messages in the right place — before long, it is at least possible that huge numbers of people will know about their products. That is the theory at least.
However some people believe viral marketing is wrong. In other words some companies apparently use their own people or “actors” to join chat rooms on the pretext of genuine involvement with that particular group. The reality however is that they are like spies (or worse) as they spread commercial messages by making apparently innocent comments. They also, some believe, are collecting marketing information under false pretences.
Other observers have complained about “astroturfing”. This is the same process used for political purposes where people send messages giving the impression of being members of the public. In other words they attempt to manipulate and create a “grass roots” movement (the “turf” in “Astroturf” refers to planted grass) where lots of people seem to demand something or other.
Many books and articles have been written about the phenomenon of viral marketing, astroturfing etc. But the reality is that it is difficult to be certain about how much is real opinion and how much is based on planted “fake” messages. My opinion is that if you want advice from a friend, it is far better to do it the old fashioned way — by having real, person to person, conversations.
. The reality however is that they are like spies (or worse) as they spread commercial messages by making apparently innocent comments.