The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) today issued changes to its Ethics Code of Conduct, known as the WOMMA Code, to help define best practices, unacceptable practices and baseline rules for word of mouth marketing.
"The WOMMA Code is a tool for marketers to understand where the lines are drawn and how to do the right thing," says WOMMA President John Bell. "The word of mouth marketing environment is changing rapidly, the rules are evolving, and ethical practices are still being defined. As the standard-setting organization for word of mouth marketing, marketers rely on WOMMA to provide meaningful guidance and assure that word of mouth marketing is trusted by consumers and protects their rights to open and honest communication."
WOMMA's members and the general public contributed extensively through a public forum and an ethics blog to help update the code. They contributed substantial knowledge of industry best practices. The WOMMA Code also is consistent with the Federal Trade Commission's recent revisions to its guideline for the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising.
"This is a living ethics code that that will be reviewed regularly and amended as necessary to respond to issues and needs in the word-of-mouth marketing industry," says Bell.
The changes to the code focused on the Honesty of Relationship, Opinion and Identity, which included:
• We practice openness about the relationship between consumers and marketers. Consumers engaged in a word of mouth program should disclose their relationship with marketers in their communications with other consumers. We don't tell consumers specifically what to say, but we do instruct them to be open and honest about any relationship with a marketer and about any products or incentives that they may have received.
• We require marketers to disclose their relationships with consumers in relation to word of mouth initiatives.
• We require marketers to effectively monitor disclosure of consumers involved in their word of mouth initiatives.
• We stand against marketing practices whereby the consumer is paid cash by the manufacturer, supplier or one of their representatives to make recommendations, reviews or endorsements.
• We require consumers involved in a word of mouth initiative to disclose the material aspects of their commercial relationship with a marketer, including the specific type of any remuneration received.
• We require consumers involved in a word of mouth initiative to disclose the source of product samples or incentives received from a marketer.
• We comply with FTC regulations that state: "When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed."
• Teaser campaigns are acceptable when the average consumer would recognize the effects as part of a marketing program and when there is a planned revelation as part of the initiative.
The WOMMA Code's key principles are:
1. Respect and promote practices that abide by an understanding that the consumer, not the marketer, is fundamentally in charge and in control and dictates the terms of the consumer-marketer relationship.
2. Openness and honesty between consumers and marketers requires that consumers engaged in a word-of-mouth programs disclose their relationships with marketers with other consumers and marketers disclose their relationships with consumers in relation to word-of- mouth initiatives.
3. Clear disclosure of identity is vital to establishing trust and credibility. Identification should not be blurred in a manner that misleads consumers as to the true identity of the individual with whom they are communicating.
4. Working with minors in word-of-mouth marketing programs carries important responsibilities and sensitivities, therefore, children under the age of 13 should not be included in any word-of-mouth marketing programs.
5. Promote honesty in all downstream communications to assure that ethical standards are upheld even after multiple generations of a conversation.
6. Respect the privacy of consumer at all times and comply with the highest privacy, opt-in and permission standards.
"The industry is proactively drawing the lines about what is and isn't acceptable in this evolving space," said Paul M. Rand, WOMMA vice president and leader of the Association's Living Ethics project. "These changes impact every brand and every marketer. The WOMMA code is recognized as a clear guide to help stay on the right side of the issue."