Federal Trade Commission Diagnoses Viral Marketing


Viral marketing, the act of increasing interest in a product by introducing it into a social network, has become increasingly popular lately. This word-of-mouth marketing is being used in quite a few industries, not the least of which is video game and computer entertainment. They can range from investigative web games like Bungie’s ilovebees.com to Sony’s latest attempt, the recently busted alliwantforxmasisapsp.com.

They’re becoming so popular, in fact, that, according to Next Generation, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is now investigating viral marketing campaigns and making sure that the marketers have disclosed their relationship with the companies they represent. In 2005, Commercial Alert, a watchdog group that specializes in marketing and advertising, petitioned the FTC to investigate possible deceptions in the realm of viral marketing.

Mary K. Engle, the FTC Associate Director of Advertising Practices, had this to say to the Washington Post:

“The petition to us did raise a question about compliance with the FTC act. We wanted to make clear . . . if you’re being paid, you should disclose that.”

Well, that just complicates everything. Now how am I going to tell if I’m ignoring a salesman or just a regular, over-exuberant fan? I guess I’ll just have to ignore them both.

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