Ad Age has a great article and what should be a quick primer for a lot of brands that want to “do viral”.
Viral marketing is not word of mouth marketing.
– Posting a lousy, overproduced video on YouTube isn’t word of mouth marketing.
– Posting “stealth” photos doesn’t constitute word of mouth marketing.
– Paying people to post on their blog is not word of mouth marketing.
– Paying people to talk to people offline about your brand is not word of mouth marketing.
There are more examples but I’ll stop there. The aforementioned points are NOT true word of mouth marketing, and the companies that execute those campaigns are a) fly by nights with no long term viability and/or b) looking to make their P&Ls that month.
To borrow from former Pistons/Knicks/Sixers coach Larry Brown, a company doing it “the right way” would advise their clients not to do it and educate them on the potential negatives (which far outweigh any positives) of trying to fool their consumers. A smarter firm would advise them how to really talk with their customers and help the brand evangelists do the talking for them by providing outstanding products, support and customer service.