Friendvertising: the new pay-day loans?

Pass the word on would you – Friendvertising is the new thing and it’s really bad. So says Peter Ormerod in The Guardian anyway. In case you didn’t know, or have kind of worked it out but aren’t 100% sure what this new phenomena is, Friendvertising is using friends as ‘influential brand enthusiasts’. In other words, he’s talking about selling stuff through using social networks, online social networks that is.

Social networks

The problem according to Ormerod is that this is an abuse of our trust (a fundamental principle), more particularly our trust in our mates. As he puts it, “Relationships that we’ve built up over decades suddenly become conduits for a remote corporation’s message.” He then goes on to list a few examples of this frightful practise, including Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, a Christmas video from the WestJet airline, and a Coke ad from Spain. You might find yourself stamping your foot in indignation, if you aren’t nodding at how clever the ads are.

As far as marketing neologisms go ‘Friendvertising’ is admittedly pretty clunky. You could even say it is unnecessary and ugly, however that doesn’t mean it’s like Fozzie Bear being puppeted by Daniel Plainview (the maniac capitalist in There Will Be Blood). If she didn’t coin the term, Dr Tracy Tuten at least uses and endorses the term in her book Advertising 2.0: Social Media Marketing in a Web 2.0 World. In case you were thinking of dreaming up a new marketing term yourself, Dr Tuten is Professor of Marketing at East Carolina University, so she can do that sort of thing.

The point she makes in her book is that the web has changed advertising irrevocably: a) marketers have to talk to forget the idea of the ‘mass media’ and engage with numerous, highly responsive online channels. b) advertising no longer has to be paid communications c) advertising is not a one-way communication, but a conversation between brands. She concludes that “Online, advertising becomes more about conversations, connections, and shared control and less about passive consumption of packaged content.” This is undeniably true, and also not the dodgy deal that Ormerod suggests.

I would say that Friendvertising has been around for a long long time, it is basically WOMM or Word of Mouth Marketing (yes, I realise this is an absurd marketing acronym). This may have been fine tuned in business schools over the last fifty years, but it telling our friends about products, services and businesses we like and trust is old as humanity, or at least commerce, itself. Further, credibility and trust are key to WOMM. This makes them difficult to get right for marketers, and hence so important when they actually work.

People are inherently cautious, especially when it comes to commercial messages. But if they ring true, rather than setting off alarm bells, we are generally happy to share the good news. When it comes to the examples Ormerod gives, one begins to wonder what the fuss is all about. Sharing the videos on Social Media or by email, or Friendvertising if you like, is hardly an abuse of friendship or trust. Plus, as Dr Tuten says, it’s all about conversations and less about passive consumption. Customers are savvy and deserve our respect, if we want to get our message seen by as many people as possible all we have to do is remember this and offer them quality stuff. They will pass it on if it’s any good.

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