UK clamps down on WOM... US to follow?
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has expressed support for the principles of new UK legislation that makes non-disclosure in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns an offense, and urges US marketers to maintain equally high ethical standards.
WOMMA suggests that marketers in the US who are conducting word-of-mouth campaigns to follow the UK's example, following a note from the British Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) detailing the new legislation.
False representation The new UK rules say that any commercial message should be immediately identified as such and that marketers "falsely representing themselves as consumers" is illegal.
Indeed, this technique was highlighted as unethical word of mouth marketing in WOMMA's Ethics Code, which was published in 2005 to encourage more ethical conduct.
Honesty is key The new law addresses a key component of WOMMA's Ethics Code: Transparency. One of the core principles of WOMMA's Ethics Code is what the organisation calls "Honesty ROI" (Honesty of Relationship, Opinion, and Identity), which requires full disclosure and total transparency in all word of mouth marketing efforts.
WOMMA is also trying to lead the US word-of-mouth marketing industry's ethical standards, and has since launched a Practical Ethics Toolkit to help marketers evaluate their own WOM marketing practices and establish ethical conduct policies within their organisations, including educating staff about WOM ethics.
"Unethical WOM practices tarnish consumer trust and muddy the marketing waters for everyone involved," explained Paul Rand, WOMMA vice president and CEO for Zocalo Group. "Keeping word of mouth marketing ethical protects both consumers and WOM marketers and ensures that consumers can still trust the most valuable influence on their purchase decision - the honest recommendation of someone they trust."