Sunday, July 25, 2004


I saw a show repeated last night on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" that dealt with guerrilla marketing.  You know what this is.  You hire cool 20-somethings and send them into bars or onto the streets to promote drinks or cigarettes or something else without ever telling anyone they are in the employ of a company. 

The purveyors of such marketing say young people don't want to know they are being sold, but they appreciate the sales pitch.  Huh, what?  You can sell me as long as you don't tell me you are selling me?  I suppose that could be true, but I don't believe it.  Eventually, someone wises up and then, he or she is irritated and/or suspicious of anyone who tells them anything.  "You're selling me, right?" 

That is why in PR we call for transparency in who we are and what we do.  We believe credibility depends on truthfulness from the outset. From a purely selfish point of view, maintaining credibility with a customer is an essential element in keeping a long-term relationship with that customer.   

There have been and continue to be PR practitioners who masquerade, and they should be condemned.  I dislike especially those who enter chat rooms and talk up movies and other products without revealing who they are. 

It seems to me, however, that one can do this ethically without crossing a line.  For example, one can ask if anyone has seen the movie.  That, it seems to me, is not promotion.  It is trolling, which some find objectionable.  (For those who do not know trolling, it is a technique of asking questions or making statements to elicit comments.)  To me trolling done rightly is OK because one doesn't betray feelings or promote.  One simply raises a question and listens to comments.  One should be prepared to hear cutting remarks about a topic in which he or she is invested.  That's a chance one takes.  And, if one is asked whether he or she is in the employ of a company, the troller should answer truthfully.

But trolling is a niche of guerrilla marketing that for the most part is unethical.  My guess is that if guerrilla marketing grows to any size at all, there will be a legislative move to force marketers to divulge who they are and what they selling in all instances.  Of course, that would end guerrilla marketing as we know it.  As a PR practitioner, I would applaud that.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?