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January 21, 2005


The marketing firm wins by creating the "100 special people list." Who wouldn't agree to be chosen and subsequently promoted. The products and services are going to people who don't need them, so it is a little different from the tech editor at pc mag getting free stuff to give thumbs up or thumbs down. Sounds like these people aren't obligated to not say the product sucks. Bad promotion is better than no promotion but even if product is bad Andreeson is using can;t be that bad. Right? I just don't see a big lapse in ethics case here. Sounds like a good marketing ploy for the marketing company.

Marc Andreessen

The first product is a bidet. I'm not making this up. And I'm not going provide any details on how I'm using it :-). (I crack myself up...)


Dan: I think theres much more to the story and transparency aspect's. There is a lot of hype on the practices of the company or the ethics of the 'regular people' - who are engaged in the activitiy ??

Firstly, BuzzAgent is pretty transparent for the regular person- the Agent opt in too bzz. Are they being paid - Actually no-They work to get points, which then they can use for various products. ITs like any other sales process. What differs here, is that a BzzAgent can badmouth a product if s/he choose that route.
BzzMarketing is here to stay- what is needed is more Bzz on this method. Yes - to your last statment- Full disclosure is part of the ethical way to Bzz

Joi Ito

I just posted a conversation with Auren to clarify a few things. We can say anything we want about the products and more importantly, we can say nothing. I guess one way to be more clean would be if we had to give the products back after we tried them... but then I don't think most of us would try them. ;-) Pretty difficult. I did turn down the bidet/washlet because I already have one.

Ross Mayfield

I passed on this free crap and disclosed way too many details.


And let's not forget to declare the retail value of each item on our 1040.

Mark Tapscott

Just like the "compensated spokesman" spots featuring former celebrities endorsing whatever, anything these 100 folks write about a product they have received gratis should be labelled as a compensated endorsement.

Dee Rambeau

It is what it's here to stay and who cares? It only works if you like the product. I became a Bzz Agent...had a bad experience...blogged about it...rank #2 in Google if you type in Bzz an email from their marketing guy because of it.
Like you say Dan, it's no different than any other industry...I can't tell you how many free boxes of tape I used to get when I was a TV producer.

Not a Yank

Ethics and full disclosure are expected from VC's
And the truth shall be spoke by the politican.

Bob M

Back in the eighties, I read in the WSJ about "cowbells", which was a marketing term for identified winos who had status in their communities. They got free booze from the companies selling in that market if they hyped it to their confreres.

No bidets, though.

Bob M

To be serious, though, I did think that it marked the low point in marketing.

Ross Mayfield

It should be pointed out that this is nothing like BzzAgent. I am not encouraged to deceive others by not disclosing (a disgusting tactic), or providing marketing data on those I influence.

This is nothing like Marqui, I have zero obligation to write or talk about a product I receive.

This is schwag in the network age.



It would be usefull I think that if anyone of you do actually talk about such products (wether to endorse or vilify) that you then disclose under what context you receive such products (given for free, from the producer, bought yourself, purposely bought with intention to criticise, etc.)

I'm not sure I remember this correctly, but in Communication Ethics and Philosophy class the foundation for Marketing's ethicality is the adult consumer's consummate ability to make informed decisions. The marketing community's sole ethical responsibility is to not set up barriers that could prevent such informed decisions from being made, eg. denying product defects publicly discovered and proven (think the Kryptonite Lock episode), preventing competitor entry into marketplace using market clout (think antitrust), etc. While in the case of Marketing Communications is to make sure all statements made are truthful (but not necessarily to disclose all product weakness through marketing communication efforts).

Its not a requirement on the part of the endorser, but if any consumer should decide to base purchasing decisions on such endorsement then they should scrutinize where the endorser comes from. I would think it is first the public's responsibility to demand such disclosure. If disclosure is not made then the consumer can base their purchase decision on that specific act of non-disclosure. At other times discretion would be the better part of valor.

I think.



I find it extremely bizarre that this is characterized as "a disgusting tactic" and similar. What difference does it make if they get these items for free?

I once recieved monthly supplies of toothpaste every month for a year, simply because I lived on the street that the company decided to use for product feedback. I did not pay anything for the toothpaste and was required to give feedback on the product. I was not required to "disclose" anything to anyone other than the company.

Was this also a "disgusting tactic'?

I confess to be baffled by the assertion.


First there was Chaos Manor, where Jerry Pournelle was given stuff on a regular basis and he wrote about it in his Byte magazine column. "I'm not writing reviews, I'm reporting on my experiences on using this stuff." He also name-dropped mercilessly.

Now we have a group of 100 people (is Jerry amoung them?) who will be writing First Person experiences of products that come their way...for nothing.

I wonder if what we get in their writing will be worth what they paid for the products they discuss?

(Disclosure: I'm a professional reviewer, currently working in another industry.)

Fred Grott


Its even worse than it appears..

Innovation Conference-Tony Perkins..

A Large majority of speakers who have slots at that conference represent comapnies that directly finanacially support OA..

and quite frankly Ester Dyson should ethically know better..

Eric Eggertson

I understand the sentiment about wanting to have people disclose anything that might make them feel beholden to a company, if that person is putting themselves forward as an objective source of information. But where does the disclosure end?

If I'm on a freebie list of some sort, do I have to post a lengthy list of the contents of my house so someone can break in and use my list to confirm that they got everything? ("Hey, it says there's an XBox around here, keep looking!"

Do I need to keep track of all the goodies I pick up at a trade show, even if I ended up giving it all to my kids' friends? If I share a cab to the airport with a marketing rep from some company, do I have to declare the half-fare that they paid as a possible attempt to influence me?

I think some sort of disclosure makes sense, as long as it isn't ridiculous. Of course, if I post a statement like "I have accepted numerous free technology products, which I may or may not comment on in this blog" the end result might be more swag, not less.


So long as you don't hide the fact you got freebies to flog it, its a no-brainer. Have fun trying out stuff you probably wouldn't buy on your own.

About that high-tech toilet seat - a first encounter with it results in varying degrees of bemusement, alarm, suspicion and aversion. Enough to make you put-off that first poop using it till the last possible moment. And then there is the feature shock - what are all these buttons? What do they do? If I press the wrong button, will the machinery go berserk and do unspeakable things like the things from the Evil dead?

But you know what - so long as you learn to control the water jet to avoid unpleasantness, its really great. Warm seat, handsfree operation, automatic fregrance could really get used to this ! You don't know what you are missing until you've tried it ! If you still have the option of choosing to get one - just do it !


>How does this differ from the stuff that shows up in news organizations' newsrooms all the time, from companies hoping to get reviews of their products?

Oh, you mean like, Gmail?


Gern wrote:
I find it extremely bizarre that this is characterized as "a disgusting tactic" and similar. What difference does it make if they get these items for free?

It is a 'disgusting tactic' (to at least a certain, low, level) in the sense that people who don't know better eg. 'mindless' fans (a subset of a celebrity's fandom that can't seem to think for themselves) are very easily lead to buy such products in droves. Even when they don't need it. Especially when they don't need it.

This assumes that 'mindless fans' don't have 'a consummate ability to make informed decisions.' You'd be surprised how many modern adults fit that description. In fact it could be argued that Advertising's succes is mostly due to the number of people who fit this description. Especially from SES class B and below.

As to wether giving you free toothpaste is disgusting or not: are you famous? And if you're famous, are you going to promote said toothpaste? And if you're going to promote, are you sure all (or at least most) of your fans can make 'informed adult decisions?' And even when you know they can, are you still gonna push it? The product I mean? Aggresively? Especially when you're not getting paid at all? Other than with your 'freebie gift'?

Remember, when succesfull you're 'robbing' these fans of yours, these consumers, of money that could perhaps be better spent elsewhere, like in useful books or on tutorials for web-programming:)

There's a name for that specific Marketing Communication tactic; its called 'Celebrity Endorsement.' As to wether its ethical or not, well, that's certainly very debatable. Even then, this type of Celebrity Endorsement is more than the traditional type applied using mass-media advertising. It takes on a whole new level because this communication is considered by the audience to be 'word-of-mouth,' which is the situation you're in when you truly believe that the person talking to you is talking candidly and totally in your best interest as a friend. You can't get that kind of illusion no matter how good a TV Ad's director is. Because it's assumed to be real by the audience.

And in a way this type of electronic word-of-mouth celebrity endorsement could be more dangerous than the type hawked by traditional media (at least for the celebrity involved) in that if the ploy fails then the celebrity's credibility (at least as a product recommender) would fall faster, in that the celebrity endorser's bad call would be ping-ponged across the blogosphere at the speed of light. Beware the Web as a conversation.

To Eric Eggertson: I agree with your opinion that disclosure must be made in certain situations, and that in those specific certain situations the disclosures must be made.

To syrinje: That is a good point, that some of these products are so pioneering (perhaps, or at least some of them) that noone, not even most pioneers, would try them unless said products were given for free. And when its a good product with actual product benefits for consumers, then its also a service. And even then, as is the case of all marketing plans, if the product basically sucks then no amount of marketing can save it. If a 'marketing' could save it, then its not really marketing, its political economy (think antitrust).

BTW, OOT, by any chance is your nick a reference to the hypodermic needle 'theory'?

Sheila Lennon

In my newsroom there is a Swag (sic) Bin -- a big cardboard box for incoming products. We can't keep anything.

The exception: Hundreds of review books and CDs -- most of which arent ever reviewed -- are offered to the entire company in monthly "book grabs." (take a limit of 3 the first hour, after that as much as you want.)

The idea is to incur no obligations, perceived or actual.

I picked up the galley proof of Dan's We the Media there last month.


The reality is that these Silicon Valley members can say whatever they want about the Swash. They don't get paid. The company gives up a lot of $ in product to try and get word of mouth out. This product is just like Tivo -- you need evangelists to tell you how awesome the Swash is. Once you try it, you'll never go back. I know. I use one everyday and the heated seat alone makes me happy to go to the bathroom - a place I previously hated due to cold toilet seats. The warm water wash and dryer functions are the icing on the cake. Nobody paid me to say this.

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