Word-of-Mouth Campaigns: Poisoning the Grapevine


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Obsessive Branding Disorder Cover

Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is rapidly becoming big business in the United States and around the world, despite its sometimes questionable ethics. The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) estimates that two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States is influenced by its industry. WOMMA counts among its members such recognized brands as American Express, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, and Sony. According to PQ Media, spending on WOM marketing in 2007 was an estimated $1.4 billion.

By 2011, WOM spending is expected to reach $3.7 billion.

At one time or another, almost everyone has been approached by a friend or relative trying to sell something. Companies that engage in door-to-door direct sales, like Amway, Avon, Tupperware, and Herbalife, have long followed the word-of-mouth model with success, pitching products through personal connections in return for everything from free samples of moisturizer to shiny pink Cadillacs.

According to the Direct Selling Association (the leading industry trade group), worldwide revenues from direct sales topped $89 billion last year. By their count, nearly 14 million people in the United States-about 8 percent of the adult population-are employed in the direct sales industry. Sales have nearly doubled in the past decade.

Diet pills, furniture, vacuum cleaners, encyclopedias, plants, lingerie, pet food-you name it and chances are you've got a neighbor who can get a product for you at a "discount." Eager to reach new customers, name-brand companies are encouraging their most loyal devotees to sell goods in the cozy setting of their living rooms.

In 2001, following the Tupperware conscript-your-customers model, the beauty products retailer The Body Shop launched The Body Shop At Home.

Gordon Shephard
6/27/2008 12:50:23 PM

All very well, but, as might be expected from an organization that relies on selling things, Utne fails to go to the heart of the matter: the capitalist system is, at its root, a power broker, siphoning money from human interaction...any available human interaction...to feed the "needs" of those at the top of the heap. It will not stop until people reject the capitalist paradigm altogether. So, read and weep, but don't expect it to get any better unless you are prepared to give up your stuff.