Consumerists Urge Feds to Probe P&G Marketing Tactics

20 October 2005

'Nader the Crusader', better known as consumerist veteran Ralph Nader, is one of the activists behind Consumer Alert, a Portland, Oregon, located lobbying body.

The organization is currently pressing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate certain marketing techniques employed by Procter & Gamble via its in-house 'buzz-marketing' agency, Tremor.

The demand forms part of CA's request for a wider study of covert promotional techniques such as viral-marketing and its sinister sister stealth-marketing - neither of which reveal the identity of their sponsors to consumers.

The range of covert techniques (general descriptor: word-of-mouth marketing) is a minor but fast-growing promotional tactic employed by a number of major advertisers, including the US government.

In targeting P&G's Tremor unit, CA is concerned that the company allegedly enlisted 250,000 teenagers in its buzz-marketing sales force.

Boasts the Tremor website: "P&G created our unit to drive research and explore the challenges and promises of word-of-mouth marketing." It claims to deliver to advertisers 200,000 influential teenagers, the "gateway to the total teen population".

Such claims do not gladden CA's heart. Urges its letter to FTC secretary Donald Clark: "The commission should carefully examine the targeting of minors by buzz marketing, because children and teenagers tend to be more impressionable and easy to deceive.

"The commission should do this, at a minimum, by issuing subpoenas to executives at Procter & Gamble's Tremor and other buzz marketers that target children and teenagers, to determine whether their endorsers are disclosing that they are paid marketers."

Protests a spokeswoman for the world's largest marketer: "We have always been transparent in communicating that Tremor is a marketing service to our teens. We have been upfront with them to let them know that we are part of Procter & Gamble and a word-of-mouth marketing program … we're not compensating someone to endorse a product."

Word-of-mouth marketing is a growth industry, said to generate up to $60 million (€50.3m; £34.3m) annually.

[Connoisseurs of marketing-speak should beat a pathway to the P&G/Tremor website. Its fervid prose would gladden the heart of a trussed turkey.]

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff