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Open Source Word-of-Mouth Advertising

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the selling-it dept.

Businesses 168

An anonymous reader writes "Plenty of corporations are willing to hire shills to generate buzz for a new product. But what people don't need to be paid to promote? Boston company BzzAgent found that their volunteers promote products simply because it makes them feel good. The NYT Magazine interviews several 'agents'. The volunteers cite the feeling of being 'on the inside', like sharing opinions with others, and enjoy feeling altruistic. Has Madison Avenue figured out what open source developers knew all along?"

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incentive is not always about money (3, Interesting)

iclod (831412) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003515)

i can certainly relate the advantage of word-of-mouth to a game site that i'm working for [iclod.com] . there's a strong community forming and new players are coming from word-of-mouth (or text-of-email) because of existing players' experience in the game.

of course a bit of incentive wouldn't hurts, but it doesn't have to be in monetary term. it can be in the form of being credited or recognized.

the only catch is you need to stay good, because of the old marketing saying - a good mouth told 3, a bad one told 10.

the article mentioned "revealing her (the marketer) identity, she said, would undermine her effectiveness as an agent.".

it's similar to teenagers never listen to their parents about what is good for them, but peers always have a greater influence.

Re:incentive is not always about money (5, Insightful)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003546)

Alternatively, instead of going for word of mouth you could just shamelessly push your product on Slashdot pretty much every post you get, doing your best to sound on topic and/or karma whore in the hopes of getting modded up into visibility. I know I've seen plenty of people trying that strategy around here. Maybe you should give it a go - it might work for you to...


Re:incentive is not always about money (2, Interesting)

Pandora's Vox (231969) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003615)

Almost more important than the /. audience getting to see it is the boost to your Google pagerank that you get for having a post within the first 100 or so that doesn't get modded down. It's a SEO person's wet dream.


Re:incentive is not always about money (3, Interesting)

iethree (666892) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003802)

very true. I know lots of aps and games on the web that are free that people advertise, not for money or a sense of belonging, but becasue they're simply great. Example: Counter-Strike, when it first came out there was no profit involved, it was just good software that spread like wildfire through word of mouth (or keyboard) because it was just plain good. The same thing is happening with things like Firefox and mods like Natural-Selection. They grow and spread through word of mouth "advertising" simply becasue they are great applications and when people find something good they can help but share it.

Re:incentive is not always about money (1)

Lost Dragon (632401) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003837)

That idea is appalling! Mmm.. The smooth rich taste of Laramies.. I applaud your efforts to point out this horrible atrocity.

Re:incentive is not always about money (4, Funny)

Soko (17987) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003842)

True enough.

Whenever I can, I link to my friends book [oreilly.com] - which was featured [slashdot.org] on Slashdot last month. I do keep things on-topic of course - I don't want to shill his book, just point out every instance where it would be helpful - like "Clearing viruses from Windows? It's easy with Knoppix - go get this book to show you how." in respone to a lament about a tough to get rid of infection.

Since I'm advocating a purchase, I am advertising, but moreover trying to be helpful - to my fellow /.ers as well as my friend.


Re:incentive is not always about money (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003906)

Mod parent funny, not insightful. Look what its replying to.

Re:incentive is not always about money (1)

utopianfiat (774016) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003558)

i can certainly relate the advantage of word-of-mouth to a game site that i'm working for. and advertisement via slashdot. :-P

Re:incentive is not always about money (4, Funny)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003569)

This is why I run naked through Starbucks shouting "I LOVE my new HP computer with an Intel processor and Microsoft operating system! I love my X-Box!" It makes me feel like I'm getting the attention I deserve while influencing my peers.

However, exposure (4, Insightful)

utopianfiat (774016) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003519)

exposure may be the thing that hurts many people trying to spread their product. Although linux was held in high regard among many people for a long time, a good majority of the mainstream populace are still unaware of it simply because mainstream people are fed mainstream media.

FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003537)


Can't beat True Believers (4, Insightful)

mordors9 (665662) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003542)

Just look at the evangelism of some of the gentoo users. They are completely dedicated to spreading the word. On some OS or Tech News sites, there are few distro related posts that doesn't have a gentoo disciple posting a follow up about the superiority of their distro. This would be massive free advertising if some commercial product would get that kind of devotion.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (3, Insightful)

Lispy (136512) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003567)

Well, if this was true then everyone would be using Linux since their next door geek keeps telling them "Windows sucks!".

The truth is, zealots can get annoying...

Re:Can't beat True Believers (4, Insightful)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003578)

Just look at the evangelism of some of the gentoo users.

Though, to be fair, that can be as damaging as it can be helpful. A lot of advertising is about association - you associate a product with a certain lifestyle, or try and break traditional associations about the product. In the case of the Gentoo evangelists they do a fine job of furthering the association of Gentoo with die hard geeks. Unfortunately they also tend to further the association of Gentoo with 1337-speaking h4x0r wannabes who just want to look cool and extra-1337.

Please note, I'm not saying that's what the Gentoo community actually is - just that that's the association that a lot of Gentoo zealots (i.e. the most vocal ones) tend to help promote.

Word of mouth can work as much against you as for you. While the evangelists helped the initial growth of Gentoo, they've also helped box it into a small limited market where it will stay until perceptions change.


Re:Can't beat True Believers (2, Funny)

gonaddespammed.com (550312) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003903)

You meant g3nt00, surely? Gentoo is actually a very good distribution, very well documented. There is a lot of useful information in their forums aswell, just a matter of sifting out the good stuff. Pitty emerge sync's take so long though.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (1)

ozbird (127571) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004038)

Pitty emerge sync's take so long though.

You can speed up sync's by excluding categories that you aren't interested in e.g. games. This was added to a recent, probably "unstable", version of portage - this also has various sync speed-up changes that may help.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (3, Interesting)

bluGill (862) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004109)

Ahh, but if you are in that narrow focused community... In the case of gentoo that is good. I use unix myself and am deep into it, but it doesn't take me much reading about gentoo to realize that it is only for hard-core computer people. Gentoo's word of mouth is actually perfect, it is spread by and to the people who would use it for the most part, in such a way that it turns off people who shouldn't use it anyway.

By contrat, for the average person on the street linux is ready for their comptuer - IF they install Suse, mandrake, or the like. Everything works out of the box and is easy. (easier than Microsoft Windows if you install yourself) However for someone like me who grew up with BSD (back when you were either BSD ot SysV), those two just don't cut it. The do everything for you additude gets in my way. I love FreeBSD, but the experts there have told me that Gentoo (or slackware) are the best linux distributions if you need something that FreeBSD doesn't support as well.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (3, Interesting)

Scott Wunsch (417) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003792)

Remember OS/2? There were a lot of "true believers" trying to spread the word about OS/2 (myself included). Heck, they even formed Team OS/2 [teamos2.org] , all to promote this commercial product made by IBM.

And it worked great, too! That's why everybody uses OS/2 today... er, waitaminute.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003861)

Ubuntu is the new gentoo. If it is possible, I think they are more anoying than the gentoo users.

Re:Can't beat True Believers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004125)

Indeed, but why [APPLE] not [APPLE] an even [APPLE] more [APPLE] to-the-point [APPLE] example? ..Like SuSE or something ;)

But what people don't need to be paid to promote? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003544)


Huh? (5, Interesting)

goofyheadedpunk (807517) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003548)

This is open-source how?

I didn't know that some company had developed a proprietary speech format that just happened to be good at spreading advertisements. I also didn't know that those of us that are in the OSS community developed our own speech format to be used freely by the masses.

I guess I learn something new everyday.

Re:Huh? (4, Interesting)

Eric Giguere (42863) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003805)

Yeah, this kind of "viral marketing" is nothing new. Time Magazine published an article in 2000 about the viral marketing efforts for Christina Aguilera [bebeyond.com] that helped her "make it". Plenty of software companies already have "Team XXXX" or "MVP" programs that reward non-employees who answer questions and help others fix problems, and most of them do it for no payment. Those latter programs usually start as a grassroots, informal kind of thing, though, and these guys are trying to formalize the process to make it more predictable and more controllable.

Tired of MySQL? Develop with ASA for free [ianywhere.com] (that's my viral marketing plug!)

I'd volunteer to say: (0)

mikey573 (137933) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003550)

I love slashdot.

Well, duh?!?! (1, Interesting)

FreeLinux (555387) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003551)

Just look at the fan boys in the Open Source world. Look at what happens when I utter the words:

Wind ows????

Re:Well, duh?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004606)

Obligatory Family Guy:

Yankees suck. Mets suck. Knicks suck.


Krypton sucks.

SpreadFirefox (4, Insightful)

ewithrow (409712) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003562)

Firefox has been a 100% grass-roots effort to date. SpreadFirefox.com, the site devoted to informing people about Firefox's benefits over IE, has 35,000 members, basically volunteers that provide free advertising.

Everything is not well though. They are being a little too secretive about the status of the NYT ad, which garnered $250,000 from the community. Threads have begun to pop up about what exactly happened to the ad, and some people are starting to whisper "refund":

http://www.spreadfirefox.com/?q=node/view/4700 [spreadfirefox.com]

http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=1721 76 [mozillazine.org]

Re:SpreadFirefox (1, Insightful)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003696)

The problem with the NYT ad was that it was going to be some full page Leftist diatribe promoting Open Source as the solution to the worlds problems, and of course the savior that will fight the Evil Microsoft. What they should have done was hire a sharp ad agency AND PROMOTE FIREFOX without the ax grinding.

Anyway, an ad in the NYT is hardly "word of mouth".

Re:SpreadFirefox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003712)

So you've seen the ad then?
I think not. Stop making stupid claims you know nothing about jackass.

Re:SpreadFirefox (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003729)

Actually, when the ad was proposed, Mr. Coward , there was quite a bit of talk from those "in the know" about what it would contain. Do you, Mr. Coward , know something different?

Re:SpreadFirefox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003873)

oh ya, I know those guys.. the guys "in the know". Right.
When you can backup your claims I'll listen, otherwise don't presume that the Mozilla people are so stupid as to make a one page rant about open source and Microsoft. I'm sure they will get their point across and do it in good fasion while promoting their product.

Re:SpreadFirefox (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003698)

Maybe they accidently left the money in a newspaper that they gave to Mr. Potter.
Then an angel will come and let Firefox know it's still rich as long as it has friends.

Personally, I thought it was strange how quickly they got that much money. Perhaps some of it was pledges from wealthy people who now are trying to back out?

Re:SpreadFirefox (1)

isny (681711) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003942)

Is it just me, or does spreadfirefox just give a blank page in firefox? It works ok in Internet Explorer.
Maybe this is by design, but seems kind of weird to me. BTW, I'm using the MOOX compile.

Re:SpreadFirefox (1)

Spoing (152917) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003985)

  1. Is it just me, or does spreadfirefox just give a blank page in firefox?

Works fine for me (Firefox 1.0, Fedora Core 2).

  1. It works ok in Internet Explorer. Maybe this is by design, but seems kind of weird to me. BTW, I'm using the MOOX compile.

Not familiar with that build.

Re:SpreadFirefox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004141)

Note that it has the substring "ad" in the hostname. If you've got some sort of misguided filter on that (overzealous AdBlock settings, perhaps?), that could explain not getting anything from the site.

Re: SpreadFirefox (5, Insightful)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003949)

Everything is not well though.

You got that right. Have been a long time Firefox user now, and very happy with it. But shameless call on Mozilla developers and project managers here: get your act together on issues like localization. Take the Dutch translation for example:

A lot of tam-tam was done around nov.9, when Firefox hit final 1.0 release. Parties were organised worldwide, and local Dutch media reported the release.

But in the Netherlands, you'd want a Dutch translation, right? Turns out older 0.9 releases had bad or incomplete translation (so lots of translation work had to be re-done), and catching up for 1.0 wasn't done during 1.0 pre-release period, but mostly started *after* 1.0 final release (sorry, but I think that's braindead project management style). As a result, it took some 3 weeks (!) after 1.0 release, until a quality, 'officially approved' Dutch translation was available (around dec.2). And when it finally was, very little mention of it in local media. But there's more:

As a Dutch user, you'd try some URL's: Firefox.nl [firefox.nl] (used by some unknown party), Mozilla.nl [mozilla.nl] (fake, nothing to see here) or http://nl.mozilla.org [mozilla.org] (says "host not found" here). There DO exist several Dutch Mozilla-related sites, like MozBrowser.nl [mozbrowser.nl] , but no link to be found anywhere on Mozilla.org. Also, it's possible to install English language version, locale-switcher extension and a language pack, to obtain non-English Firefox. But no mention, or links to this, on Mozilla.org site either (or damn near impossible to find).

Okay, I know Mozilla is a large project, but how hard is it for instance, to make <countrycode>.Mozilla.org domains work, point those to country/language-specific sites, and provide some basic info on options, status and downloads for translations there? Mozilla organisation could improve a lot here. For Dutch translation alone: Netherlands have some 16 million people, computer use & broadband is very common here, so huge potential for localized Mozilla builds.

"You think that is air you're breathing?"

Love - Hate (3, Interesting)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003571)

So, do we love the new volunteer advertizers, or hate them for being advertizers? Myself, I think I will go on the side of hating them -- I mean, it is still advertizing.

On the other hand, these people (I think) all belive in what they are saying, so I might actually listen to what they are saying.

Re:Love - Hate (3, Interesting)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003767)

Well I don't mind volunteer advertizers because, unlike other advertizers, they actually believe in the product. Also they tend to know a good deal about it and are very informed. Even if you dont switch to what they are advertizing you can at least learn about it through them, and I would never turn down information. My only quibble here is that this tends to promote the big projects and crowd out the small ones. As an admin of a small open source project I would love if I could at least have more people check us out ... but until more people check us out then we won't get any word of mouth press ... sigh.

Re:Love - Hate (3, Interesting)

RGRistroph (86936) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003918)

If a foolish crowd-following chump believes in something, that isn't much of a recommendation.

And these people sound stupid. You say "I would never turn down information" but these people don't sound like the kind of people who would filter out mis-information before passing it on, especially if it made them feel important to be passing it on.

They have the kinds of personalities that would have been a trouble making town gossip a hundred years ago in some small village. In today's societies, they similarly cause trouble by spread a generalized distrust, as you have to figure out if each stranger you meet is trying to manipulate you in some way.

Ultimately, if you follow their recommendations, you end up doing other people's (unetheically unlabeled) advertising for free.

Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (5, Insightful)

Nomihn0 (739701) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003580)

Anonymity is crucial to any Bzz campaign. If the word gets out that one member of a community is covertly foisting products on the rest, a general sentiment of deceit smites the social atmosphere. I feel that, although this is a perfectly legal, dare I say brilliant, marketing system, I would make it a point to rout out and publicly humiliate any Bzzers I discover.

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (1)

computerme (655703) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003633)

amen brother. see my post below.

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003681)

I agree, and I'd go to the extent that it is ultimately destructive to a community to astroturf in this manner.

That's the thing that makes me nervous about Amway, Tupperware, Mary Kay, etc., you'd end up selling either to your friends or want to be your friends, and ultimately breaking any friendship there.

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003831)

Friends? Slashdotters don't have any friend, you insensitive clod!

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (2, Insightful)

Lost Race (681080) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003992)

Huh? They're not being paid for this "advertising". They're promoting products they actually like to their friends. I tell my friends about stuff I like all the time, and they do the same for me. Why shouldn't we? Why should we distrust each other for doing so? Where is the deceit?

They're being handed the items (4, Insightful)

Nomihn0 (739701) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004131)

The Bzzers don't even need to like the items they market . . . and more often than not, they don't. For example, on the Bzz site they have a testimonial from a Bzzer who was trying to promote 20Q (a great website, but a lowly toy) to other mothers at a bus stop. She mentioned that the toy was making a lot of noise because it was getting "Torah" wrong, repeatedly. Others asked where to buy it, though. So, even though it is clearly an inferior toy, she tricked them into finding it appealing. She even described her methods online.

Obviously, it was not $10 well spent for those mothers. I can't imagine that the peer pressure on the mothers, with all of their kids flocking to the little blipping, flashing, toy helped.

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (2, Interesting)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004152)

I think it is based on whose interests you are primarily serving, or priorities. If you are providing recommendations because it will be in the best interests of the friend/relative/acquantance, I think it is fine, but if you are doing it to help the business, especially because of a vested interest, then I think that conflict of interest is fundementally dishonest unless declared.

What you describe really doesn't need Bzzz, because as you say, it already happens. If something works well or poorly, word of mouth already spreads by default, no need for an astroturfing organization.

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (1)

Lost Race (681080) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004329)

I admit I didn't read the entire article; after one long, boring page the prospect of eight more just like it made me give up. So maybe my question is answered somewhere in the last 88% of the article: Why would they promote the products, if they aren't paid and don't believe in them? By "paid" I mean any kind of compensation at all -- coupons, "bonuses", pat on the head, shares of the company, whatever.

My apparently incomplete understanding is that bzzz is attempting to organize and control the natural propagation of product and brand awareness through friend networks -- an ambitions, and probably hopeless, project. Is there more (or less) to it? Are they really just insinuating hired shills into friend networks? Do they somehow program (or otherwise induce) people to promote products inappropriately?

Re:Yes, let's breed distrust among our friends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004240)

With incentives (monetary, karma, respect, influence, what have you) thrown in the mix, gradually there will be introduced a small--but ever-increasing ...bias. A glossing-over-of-problems, a canned-pitchness, an 'agenda', etc.--to make the "sale" (a new registration, a commission, kick-backs, royalties, whatever).

Trust gets gutted slowly but surely (look at how "traditional" advertising has fared--trustworthy, isn't it). Greed's a powerful motherfucker.

Are you crazy??? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003588)

You posted a nine page NYT article on Slashdot?!?!?!

Do you really think that ANYONE is going to RTFA??

People are just too jaded and cynical these days (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003592)

> Has Madison Avenue figured out what open source developers knew all along?

This is only going to work well if there's no company getting rich off their altruistic efforts.

I don't even bother to report bugs to Microsoft, because I know that my efforts, ultimately, would just make Bill Gates richer.

I think it's important for people to know that their volunteer efforts are going to enrich the community as a whole, not just a few guys. That's why people get upset when they find out that charities they contribute to take a large cut for the management.

Madison Avenue can dream about volunteer marketing, but I can't see it becoming a significant cultural force. People are just to jaded and cynical now.

Ten pages?! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003594)

My compatriot said that this article was ten pages long. I wouldn't read any of it, because the New York Times is liberally biased and not committed to Information Liberation.

Could someone please write this as an article on Wikinews [wikinews.org] ?

If people actually believe in the product (4, Insightful)

KalvinB (205500) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003598)

then they'll advertise it for free depending on their means. Otherwise it's going to take a paycheck. If I don't like a product enough I'll negatively advertise it.

If there is a cost involved with advertising the product then of course someone is going to consider whether they will demand a fee or not depending on how much they like or dislike the product.

If a rich person really likes or dislikes product A then they may spend a million bucks advertising it because they want to. This happens in politics often. A local millionaire spent a lot of money campaigning against a recent proposition. Other rich people campaigned for it. If a modestly wealthy person likes product A then they may seek cheaper avenues to advertise such as basic word of mouth or print ads.

This isn't late breaking news or anything that has to do with Open Source. This has been public knowledge since forever. Word of mouth is the cheapest and best advertising and you can only get it from people who like your product enough to talk about it.

Every company seeks to get word of mouth. This is why they have occasionally steeply discounted or free samples of their product. A limited number of people buy it because of the price point and then advertise to friends and family who then may pay a higher price for it after the sale ends.

Re:If people actually believe in the product (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004389)


That's why I choose Microsoft. With 20 years of unbelievable[1] quality, Microsoft stands in a class all it's own[2]. I cannot say enough good things about Microsoft[3]. It's a world leader in providing solutions[4]. No-one ever got fired for buying Microsoft products[5]. With new DRM technologies, you can be sure that your computer will be taken care of[6]. And with Microsoft's shared source, you can be part of the exiting future Microsoft has laid out for us all[7]. God bless Microsoft[8].

[1] It's hard to believe that they have quality
[2] No-one wants to stand near them.
[3] I can't say anything good at all.
[4] To problems no-one needs to solve.
[5] They get fired for installing them.
[6] By the RIAA and BSA.
[7] For the small price of your soul.
[8] 'Cause no one else will

re (4, Insightful)

computerme (655703) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003609)

This is not open source "advertising".

Its about a corporation using people's time and effort to further its bottom line.

(ooops. that does sound like open source)

Read the article. The main reason people are doing seems to be as quoted in the story, not that they ARE trendsetters....but they would LIKE to be trendsetters.

So people trying to be cool are being used by Corps to hock their STUFF in a most unseemly way to me (IMO).

Why unseemly? I'll give you a example. Let's say I am throwing a party, its a pot luck and everyone is supposed to bring over a casserole or other dish.

If a bzzz agent brought over "Lenner's Sausages" and starts to extol the virtues of said meat links... i WOULD THROW HER ASS out of my party.

I invited my guests over to relax and forget about the world NOT TO BE SOLD TO.

Isn't it enough with billboards on roads and product placement in TV shows?

Now they want guest and friends to sell me shit?*

*And no, i don't care if they really believe in the shit they are selling, there is a fine line between a friends reccomendation and a sales pitch. These people cross it.

Oh and can we stop apply the ever-so hip "Open source" to everything?

BzzAgent sounds wrong. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003692)

Lets call them buzzards. I think that's a better name. Tar and feathers for the lot of them, I say!

Re:re (5, Informative)

saitoh (589746) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003776)

what you've described and given examples of, is very very similar to what marketing classes call "undercover marketing" (Guerilla and Buzz have both been used for the same concept). The catch with undercover marketing is that you unknowingly are marketed to. Keyword there being unknowingly. If you can pick it up, either you have studied this, or its being done really poorly. There really isnt much if any middle ground there, and the reason is this:

If someone with a thick spanish accent stopped you on the street, and asked you to take a picture of him and his girlfriend. You have never seen this camera, and he shows you how it works so you can take their picture. Its a sweet camera. You take the picture, and your off on your way.

They just pimped a new Sony camera that you'll see next month, yet you were being nice. To pick up on this, either one, you see the example beforehand and wear a tinfoil hat, or two, you dont see it and it doesnt seem like advertising, but just being nice and touristy. That is until you sit across the street in the cafe and watch the preceedings for an hour. This is the classic example I've seen in my classes, and its really hard to pick out without wearing a tinfoil hat and beleaving that everyone is out to get you with advertising.

Personally, that doesnt bother me, cause it doesnt feel like advertising. Thats part of what many people dont like, is that feeling of being sold to. If you can hype a product (which is all this does, if the product sucks, you dont have nearly as much to stand on as tv advertising does), and it is discovered that it was artificial hype, then it goes down in flames faster then the hindenburg, and everyone remembers the bitter taste in their mouths of that betrail, and its *extremely* hard to recover from that. I've seen it go both ways.

Re:re (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003893)

"If someone with a thick spanish accent stopped you on the street, and asked you to take a picture of him and his girlfriend. You have never seen this camera, and he shows you how it works so you can take their picture. Its a sweet camera. You take the picture, and your off on your way."

Then you find out later that your wallet is gone. Sorry buddy, that was not undercover marketing, you just have been mugged.

Re: re (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004369)

"If someone (..) stopped you on the street, and asked you to take a picture of him and his girlfriend."

Duhh... any seasoned city slicker would know how to proceed:

Sure, why not take their picture? With cam, take a couple of steps back, say "just trying the optical zoom now" (taking another couple of steps back), smile, ask the guy & his girlfriend to kiss each other, and when they're distracted doing that... run!

Bingo.. brand new cam, batteries & flash card included. Drop it with your usual buyer, stop by at dealer's place, get your shot of dope, and you're done for the day. Lovely folks, them tourists!

Re:re (1)

McDutchie (151611) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003965)

Oh and can we stop apply the ever-so hip "Open source" to everything?

Jon Katz may have gone, but he's clearly still with us in spirit.

Mistrust of advertising (2, Insightful)

spencerogden (49254) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003624)

I was thinking just earlier today that my experience with Open Source has made me mistrustful of advertising.

I expect to hear about good products from other people. If I see an ad for something I haven't heard of my initial reaction is "Why haven't I herad of this, is it no good?" If a product is good, word gets around. I'm hesitant to buy any tech product without hearing other's experience with it on sites like Slashdot.

Microsoft Usability Studies (2, Informative)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003645)

In a way, this is what Microsoft is doing with their usability studies. I've done quite a few, mainly to get the free software to resell on Ebay (recently got Project (msrp: $400 - $599), sold it the next day for $280 cash).

But other people do these studies because it makes them feel "a part" of such a great software company, and I'm sure they tell all their friends.

Re:Microsoft Usability Studies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003851)

So how much beta testing did you really do in one day ?

No wonder Microsoft's products are so bad.

Re:Microsoft Usability Studies (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003963)

So how much beta testing did you really do in one day?

I don't know that I would call M$ "Usability Studies" beta testing, exactly, but the sessions last 2 hours. Pretty nifty if you live near Seattle. It's an extra $200 to $500 (after offing the free software) every few months...

Word of Mouth is Difficult Sometimes (2, Informative)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003646)

I've been trying to get my company to take advantage of Open Source solutions but it's not easy. Sometimes it seems that they think if it's free, there must be something wrong with it. I suppose they like the support of paid-for software. My strategy right now is to replace all the non-supported software with open-source ones. Once they feel they can trust open-source software, that when I can seriously push open-source software as an option for our bigger problems and needs.

Re:Word of Mouth is Difficult Sometimes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003969)

It's not that they think there's something wrong if it's free. It's the fact that thousands inexperienced college kids coding in their spare time can't replace a few well trained engineers coding for a living. Now if your company is hiring few inexperienced college kids to code for low wage, that's a whole different story, but you get the idea.

Apple (4, Insightful)

mccalli (323026) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003658)

I was going to add an opinion but really - do I need to say more than "Apple" on this subject?


Re:Apple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004057)

Yeah, but you forgot to mention what apple brand your pray should buy! You failed as an undercover marketer, YOU ARE FIRED!

Oh, and did you see Jonathan apples for sales at all the largest food distributors near you? Choose Jonathan apples, the freshest apples in town, because you know Jonathan apples are really good for pies and applesauce.

Altrusitic, my butt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003676)

The volunteers cite the feeling of being 'on the inside', like sharing opinions with others, and enjoy feeling altruistic.

I suspect #1 (think Jackie Harvey [theonion.com] ) and #2 are the real reasons. As for #3, if they really wanted to be altruistic, they'd volunteer their time and effort for something a little more important than helping a CEO buy one more ivory backscratcher, like volunteering for a charity or other non-profit organization.

OMG... (2, Interesting)

johansalk (818687) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003687)

The whole idea of word-of-mouth is that it has some honesty that's not been tarnished by commercial interests. This word-of-mouth marketting association is one more reason to dislike unashamed capitalism that seeks to milk out everything.

nonsense (0, Flamebait)

Barryke (772876) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003702)

This ought to be the best nonsense article i've read on slashdot ever.
I'd say 'they should not do that' and 'who cares', but then i realized that it is just me - who is visiting the wrong site. Sorry about that.

Makes them feel good? (1)

mattgreen (701203) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003738)

More like it confers a sense of belonging to a larger entity, which makes them feel wanted, and hence good.

Kind of like the OSS religion.

Re:Makes them feel good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11004012)

Or any other religion, for that matter.

If you are a church goer for any length of time, you may notice that there is a certain class of people who will begin attending the church, become overly active, and start trying to recruit others to the church, putting a lot of effort into it. After a certain period of time, they kind of burn out, drop out of sight, and then pop up accross town at a new church doing the same thing. Some of the worst have spectacular arguments are fights each time they leave a place, or plunge into depression and drink when they fail to convert some particular target they have chosen, and then after a period out of sight or on the bottle they reform and pop up at the new place.

These people are not good at spreading the message of your church. Like the guerilla marketeers, they may not appear to have a direct interest in what they are promoting; but they do, because in their illness (and it is an illness) they derive great pleasure from convincing other people of things. Thus, they can convince themselves of the truth of a false message, merely to give themselves the opportunity to promote it.

If you meet such a person, you should explain this to them very clearly, forcing them to look at the black center part of your eyes while you talk, if possible. Don't be agressive about it, if anything be reserved and deferential, but be insistent and don't compromise or agree to any weasel words like "but this product probably really is good."

If you can make them see what they do, they may learn to derive joy from other less abusive activities, and it will be a purer joy than the sickness in which they now live.

"The follow post is a payed..." (1)

skids (119237) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004360)

(--- This post may be a paid, or volunteer, advertisement, and may not truly represent the views of the poster.)

Not the OpenSource stuff. That is just fine with me because it is a worthy cause (--- that's an advertisement right there!).

But the fact that people would go around promoting a product just to be "in-the-know" about it is just so perversely consumeristic and representative of what is wrong with the factory-farmed citizen (--- something like that would be a key giveaway that a person is using preformulated vocabulary. I just made that up now, on the spot, though, so it isn't.)

I could see it if it were, say, some sort of environmentally friendly product (--- plug for tree hugging here, which I do fully endorse, but a plug nonetheless) which if made more popular would be a boon.

Personally, if you are going to use the power of the Internet (--- hey, making the Internet sound good is in the best economic interests of my job-seeking ass) for something and you want to be involved in something, there are more worthy recipients.

Plus then you have this content pollution (--- callback to environmentalist meme) problem where quality suffers. Is anything you say really not an advertisement, when you think about it?

(Oh,oh -- here it comes, the inevitable signature link. Luckily the only thing I'm selling is Democracy.)

In action... (2, Funny)

mishmash (585101) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003749)

No one's paying me to post www.subservientchicken.com/ but I do.... it must be a good example of what we're talking about...

I've got five bucks... (2, Insightful)

Jonny 290 (260890) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003762)

to anybody who can either convince me that this BzzMarketing crap is not an MLM, or to actually tell me what the hell it is they do.

Because the latter is not clear, I am assuming that the former is false.

It's just time for Slashdot's daily ads. This is a non-starter. The very fact that I found the phrase:

"Reality Marketing"

on their site immediately disqualifies them from my list of companies to do business with, whatever the fuck it is they're selling.

Re:I've got five bucks... (2, Interesting)

Jonny 290 (260890) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003783)

I hate to reply to myself, but a quick guideline that I often use is that if a Slashdot story is submitted by 'anonymous', it's probably an ad. You'll notice that except for this story, every single story on the front page (at least my front page) has a source listed.

I don't have a problem with Slashdot's masquerading as a news site, I just want to make sure they have the most educated readers possible :)

You are not the consumers of Slashdot. You are the product.

Re:I've got five bucks... (1)

Sein (803257) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004571)

So this you think this story about Buzz Marketing/Astroturfing/shilling is an astroturfing of Slashdot for this company?

Sounds cynical enough to be true.

Re:I've got five bucks... (2, Interesting)

bluGill (862) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004166)

Its not MLM. Someone hires you to advertise a product. As in "five bucks (or some other amount) if you bring our saussages to the next pot luck you go to and tell everyone how much you like them". You are going to the party anyway, and you need to bring something. So it only costs a few words of your time to tell everyone what brand they are. You are not looking for other people who do the same, you are just trying to talk them into a brand.

It works because people trust word of mouth. You wouldn't tell me something is great unless you really liked it. Since you like it, and you are a friend I'll try it too, though I'm free to form my own opinion. It works because I, and most people I know, have tried something new and really liked it enough that we have done this to our friends without getting paid for it.

Several of the participants have said that they only do this for products they like. (that is they try the sassuages first, if they are junk they won't bring them). Though I wonder how much a little money helped them to like something?

I agree with you, about not wanting anything to do with it. However that wasn't your question.

Send my Five Bucks to charity please. If you don't know a good one I reccomend Ducks Unlimited.

There are downsides.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#11003788)

While I am a linux user, it took me a while to try it. Why? Many of the people who tried to convince me to switch did so in the most obnoxious, patronizing ways you could imagine. (Hint: telling somebody they're a retard if they don't switch to Linux might not leave them itching to try it.) Combine fanaticism with the standard package of geek social skills, and you sometimes end up with an awful ad campaign. But thats the problem when your advertisers aren't paid; they're not acountable to anyone, and they may or may not be productive.

Cue porn soundtrack... Now (2, Funny)

CodeWanker (534624) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003817)

Gabriella asked a manager why there was no Al Fresco sausage available.

I got your Al Fresco sausage right here, Gabriella Bay-bee!

The Super Bowl? (1)

dshaw858 (828072) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003823)

I don't think it's this way with all open source products' ads. I seem to recall watching the Super Bowl and seeing a "Linux- The Future is Open" ad... hmm...

- dshaw

MySQL (3, Informative)

ayn0r (771846) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003858)

A few weeks ago I went to a presentation by Michael "Monty" Widenius from MySQL. Among many interesting things he talked about, he mentioned that MySQL really never have had to advertise in a regular fashion, because most of the time their customers had actually already been using their product for a good while before putting it to use in a commercial project. Some guy in the company would need just any database for use in his small private project, then tried the same database when things started getting bigger...the rest is history.

This model is obviously not applicable everywhere, but it has a great deal of advantages over regular advertising really - the main thing being that the customers actually know what they're getting, by using the product themselves instead of listening to how some marketing guy somewhere decided to describe the product. This is a great advantage for open source projects in general IMHO.

Free/Free opinions (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003957)

ePinions [epinions.com] has built a moderated community of many reviewers that is often very helpful. It's mostly open, and zero dollars.

problem with e (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004251)

People tend to post soon after their purchase with lots of glowing reviews. This makes it pretty much useless for new products.

Then, when the product proves to be a piece of junk, you'll find post after post from many of those same people complaining about their piece of junk. While this might be comforting in a group therapy kind of way, it is also pretty much useless as a "product review" unless you happen to be considering purchase of two year old merchandise.

Re:problem with e (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004497)

That is true of any review site. That's why I look almost exclusively at "bad" reviews. And I never trust any review at all, without checking the reviewer's other reviews, to get a sense of our common sensibilities. The Web is no different from any other hearsay.

Buzz Marketing (3, Insightful)

daigu (111684) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003971)

Buzz Marketing has been around for a long time. Books like the Anatomy of Buzz [amazon.com] have been out since 2000 and have be subsequently refined conceptually into defining who people listen to by books like The Influentials [amazon.com] or more geographically with books like Hub Culture [amazon.com] .

It's not really that big of a deal. Buzz marketing is just another way of saying a product web of trust, and Slashdot is perhaps one of the better examples of buzz marketing I can think of.

Let's see in the last few days, people on Slashdot have mentioned Firefox and Thunderbird [slashdot.org] , AbiWord [slashdot.org] . and other programs. There are even whole sections - Book Reviews - that are essentially a form of buzz marketing.

The problem that people have is when this is disingenious. Slashdot deals with this by giving you the negative buzz too - anyone here going to rush out and buy a Treo 650 [slashdot.org] ? I know I'm not - and I'm thankful to the guy who posted the comment so I am aware of the problems of the new Treo.

Bottom line: buzz marketing - so long as it is accurate, is offered by someone you trust (or forum or what have you) and is appropriate given the circumstances (posting about a bad product experience on Slashdot for example) is not necessarily a bad thing and is often quite useful and good.

Hearing about new restaurants in your area, new software products, or whatever from people that have actually used them and had a good (or bad) experience is often an excellent way to find out about new things. I think most of us would agree on this point. So, don't get all bent out of shape about a 50 cent word used by marketroids.

Re:Buzz Marketing (1)

jburroug (45317) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004485)

There is a key difference between the way /. works and the way so called buzz marketing work though. The majority of the people posting stories and comments here are not being stage-managed by corporate handlers who have given them an agenda and talking points to follow. The book and product reviews here are by people who have actually read/used the item in question and as you pointed out are often negative. The bzz marketing people TFA talks about haven't always tried the product (such as in the case of the brewpub) their hyping and never spread negative buzz. /. has no specific agenda or talking points it has to follow when users discuss products or companies and attempts to astroturf this board have largely failed. Between moderators moderating and other posters refuting false or exagerated claims the worst examples of buzz marketing won't work here. If some hack were to start talking up the Treo 650 in the story you linked to he'd be moderated or flamed into oblivian. Any attempt to spread buzz here would have mild enough and factual enough not piss off enough moderators or other posters to render the message invisible. So the best a buzzard (phrase stolen from another poster in this thread) could do here would be relate a factual experience with what was being discussed, which is not really any different than what is being done by real posters anyway. /. really isn't buzz marketing, it is, however, a community that buzz marketers and other astroturfers would love to be able to game. Fortunately this is still a skeptical enough place that that kind of shit won't work around here, for the most part.

Collective euphoria (1)

D. Book (534411) | more than 10 years ago | (#11003994)

One phenomenon I'm frequently struck by when visiting a forum discussing upcoming computer hardware and software products is the number of people who are creating hype and whipping each other up into an excited frenzy. There's much more of it than can be explained by agents/shills (paid or otherwise). For some strange reason, people who have no association with the company making the product volunteer themselves as mindless "fanboys" helping to promote it.

The most remarkable example I've encountered was in the Auran forum back in 2001, prior to the original release of their game "Trainz". The atmosphere that existed there in the runup to the game's release was nothing short of a collective euphoria. It's difficult to convey, but one illustration is one of the supplied forum emoticons, the "drool mop", which each individual posted en masse whenever a new feature or screenshot was revealed. They appeared to be setting themselves up for a letdown when their overinflated expectations were unrealised, or a post-decisional dissonance that would blind them to the product's shortcomings.

Why do so many people join in so enthusiastically? And is there any harm in people spending so much of their time acting like consumers on steriods?

Providing some contrast, if not balance, are those places where the manufacturer or their product is scathingly and repeatedly criticised, with people complaining endlessly about the problems they're experiencing. Usenet groups, and forums whose primary purpose is tech support, such as those at Logitech and iRiver, are typically like this. Then again, many people in those forums seem to be obsessed with the issue(s) they're experiencing, posting about it at length and bringing it to the attention of newcomers over the course of several months while waiting for the company to produce a fix. So perhaps these forums simply play host to a different kind of "fanboy", albiet a disgruntled one.

Gmail (1)

cuteseal (794590) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004062)

"volunteers promote products simply because it makes them feel good"

Isn't this the philosophy behind gmail and wallop? The exclusivity makes people want to be in it -- even just for the sake of it.

Buzz vs BS (1)

Sai Babu (827212) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004105)

The key with buzz is that a little investigation will turn u someone you know or wsomeone who will talk toyou about the OS A that might bet the ticket. The BS is just background noise.

-1 incoherent (1)

AnotherFreakboy (730662) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004733)

Someone out there has a sig about moderating incoherent. Finally I begin to understand why that might be necessary.

Sai Babu, if English is not your first language try to post some more information and I (or someone) might try to help you. If English is your first language I hope, for you sake, that you are drunk.

Is nothing sacred?! (2, Insightful)

Misanthropy (31291) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004111)

"They were invited guests, friends or relatives of whoever organized the get-togethers, but they were also -- unknown to most all the other attendees -- ''agents,'' and they filed reports."

WTF?! I would be completely insulted if I invited somebody to my house and they tried to advertise a product.

Marketing has infiltrated our lives enough already, yet these idiots volunteer to advertise and file reports about their friends and family to some market research people. I find that more than a little creepy!

It's amazing that people think that this is not only okay, but that they would volunteer to do it.

Re:Is nothing sacred?! (1)

Misanthropy (31291) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004164)

Oh I forgot to add:

Any company or product that is touted via some sort of "guerilla marketing" scheme such as this I make a point to never buy or support the product/company.
I find it really intrusive and insulting.
Everything these days has to be "in your face" and edgy. Hey marketers get out of my face!

I actually think that today the most effective advertising would be a simple "Hey, this is what we are selling. Check it out."
With everybody getting more and more in your face maybe somebody who is just straight-forward and non-intrusive about what they are selling would actually stand out from all the noise.

this is how shopping carts got started (1)

drunkasian (734665) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004115)

History of the Shopping Cart [realcart.com] Nothing new, just good marketing by Sony, et al.

Why do we "buzz"? (1)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004180)

I don't work with BzzAgents, although I am involved in similar areas to them. It's interesting to think of why we "buzz" (to steal their terminology) certain products and services and not others.

For example, I'll often recommend MySQL, Apple, Linux, Perl, or even companies like EV1Servers with total enthusiasm. It doesn't affect me if someone uses MySQL, an Apple computer, or gets a server with EV1, so why the enthusiasm? Most people don't do the analysis, and I guess I haven't till now either. The answer you get will probably be one of the many answers that apply to the BzzAgents.

In my case, do I recommend all of the above systems/brands/companies because I want to improve the lives/businesses of the people I talk to? Partly, but perhaps it's because I want to be associated as the one who helped them with this improvement. A selfish helpfulness, I guess, where the reward isn't helping people, but being recognized as the one who did the helping.

Thinking small (3, Insightful)

metamatic (202216) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004235)

People shilling products for free is nothing! Look at how many people pay money for the privilege of shilling products on their clothes.

Re:Thinking small (1)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004270)

Look at how many people pay money for the privilege of shilling products on their clothes.

Yeah, don't people know that the way to get T-shirts with advertising on them is to go to conventions? Then people *give* them to you...and the only reason to wear them is when you are too lazy to do laundry and you have nothing else to wear.

Re:Thinking small (1)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004431)

From My First Mall Reader [tripod.com]

Lesson 4. The clothing stores
See the clothing stores.
See the posters in the window.
See the people in the posters.
See how thin they are.
Later they eat a lot.
Then they throw up.
See the people shopping there.
They all look the same.
See the clothes in the store.
See the name on the shirts.
It is the name of the store.

Advertising vs. suggesting (1)

danila (69889) | more than 10 years ago | (#11004612)

I rarely if ever "advertise" products that I like. I respect other people too much to do that. Only when I see that a person clearly has a need that can be met with a particular product, would I recommend it. Though when a product is free, I can suggest it even when the need is not so obvious.

For example, here on Slashdot I won't promote CS Desktop Notes [chissoft.com] , even though it's really great software, because I don't think most slashdotters need it. On the other hand, I feel no remorse about suggesting you check out Nici [nicisoft.com] , an efficient, user-friendly program to mass-download free porn, categorize and view it, because people here look like a target audience. :) I would have suggested a dating service, but that would be an exercise in futility, though eHarmony [eharmony.com] is good.
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