Two weeks ago there was a conference in Orlando, Florida called “Word-of-Mouth Basic Training” and according to NY Times advertising reporter, Julie Bosman, “it was aimed at teaching attendees how to tap into the power of word of mouth, an ancient form of communication that many marketers have updated by using new technology like blogs, podcasting, and online message boards.”

The consensus is nearly unanimous amongst big and small firms alike: traditional advertising isn’t nearly as effective as what is being called “buzz marketing,” “viral marketing,” and “niche marketing.” In other words, pitch your product to the people who count and get the most popular kids on the block to start buzzing about it.

Marketers are now reaching out to “evangelists,” who are already die-hard fans of a brand, and persuading them to spread the word through their existing social networks.

Loosely borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book “The Tipping Point,” Ms. Weisberg lectured on the importance of using “influencers,” or people who have large social networks and are good communicators, and “promoters,” people who talk positively about a brand.

My friend Ethan wrote a post a few weeks back, while traveling in France, that caught my eye. In it he said that entrepreneur, Martin Varsavsky hasn’t spent a single penny on marketing or PR for his new company, FON:

Speaking at Les Blogs today, Martin tells the audience that he spent €30 million in advertising on his last company, Jazztel, and hasn’t yet spent any money on advertising FON yet. Instead, he’s inviting bloggers to join his board of advisors and asking us to try the product and become evangelists for it.

I was well aware of Martin Varsavsky – an Argentinean living in Spain – for quite some time because of his influence in the Spanish-speaking blogosphere. He also maintains a couple weblogs in English where his appealing personality comes off just as much as in Spanish.

What caught my eye more than just all the adoring attention by my friends and acquaintances, Rebecca, Ethan, Eduardo, and Mariano, were some of the comments that followed them:

He only accepts positive comments, and has deleted hard criticized posts ([like] the one regarding patenting the idea/software behing Fon). The forum on their corporate website is hardly moderated. You can hardly see any critic. He only answers what he liked and interest him. That´s not bloggin, that´s cheating the audience.

As I heard the comments from the audience, it was that Martin had deleted a post, not a comment, regarding the “patent pending of FON”. Deleting comments is of course fine, but deleting posts while they are being (negatively) discussed in the Spanish/Catelan blogosphere seems absurd. Instead, if he changes his mind, he should just clarify why.

That kind of censorship is very much against the tolerant, free-speech nature of the internet, but I do have to at least commend Martin for making clear yesterday:

Now in my blogs I reserve the right to not accept commentaries. I also reserve the right to delete or change posts should circumstances arise that make me do so, for example if pressed by my lawyers or other people´s lawyers. I also reserve the right to ammend posts for the same reasons.

I’ll admit that I was down right uneasy when I saw that, in the same week, ten of the world’s most popular weblogs had, what appeared to be, a personalized press release for the company when it announced its collaboration with Google and Skype/Ebay as well as 18 million euros of venture capital from Sequoia and Index Ventures.

It’s not that I think bloggers should not be allowed to earn money. Quite the opposite, but I do think a certain etiquette should be encouraged. Big props to both Rebecca and Ethan for making so clear in their press releases that 1.) they are on the Fon board and 2.) they receive equity and 3.) what their criticisms of the company so far are. Anyone who reads their posts immediately understands where they are coming from. But that is not true of all the Fon press releases I saw. As far as I can tell, Fon is a great company whose success will be bolstered by its talented board of advisors and directors. But I really hope that an institutional policy is put into place which says that all Fon marketers (ie. “bloggers”) that gain money from the company, clearly disclose the fact. It will ensure their success all the more. Otherwise, I’ll find myself skeptical of everything I read about Fon. Does Doc Searls have a stake? What about Om Malik and Pau?

Last night I was doing some work at Influx Cafe while my sister had her first community college class. Influx is, without a doubt, one of my favorite places to both relax and do work in the city. But just writing that simple fact, I feel like a pawn in the game. Jason, the friendly hipster/father/motorcyclist/owner told me that he comes across this blog all the time when he does searches for the cafe. My initial reaction was, uh oh, I hope I didn’t say anything bad.

When I look for new places to eat and visit, I always research online to get a feel for what the “common (wo)man” has to say about the place. I’ll never ever click on a “sponsored link” on the google search results page because I know they’re trying to sell me something. But I tend to trust just about everything else as independent and sincere. Maybe it’s time I’m a bit more skeptical.

If I were dictator of my own small island, it’s not capitalism that I would get rid of, it’s marketing. That ever-present force telling us we should be more beautiful, happier, drunker, skinnier, hipper, and whatever else it takes more money to attain. I was recently chided for celebrating socialist indoctrination in Cuba … and while I agreee that indoctrination in all its forms is a bad thing, what is possibly more indoctrinating than capitalistic marketing? The demons have gone so far as to get us to call a small cup of coffee, “tall.” If that’s not playing us for the fool, I don’t know what is.

Related: Why transparency matters [via Jennifer]

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Safari’s Fair and White anal bleaching cream. (a joke)

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