Royal Caribbean Gives VIP Status to Gushy Reviewers; Gets Spanked by Blogosphere
Okay. Let's nail this down once and for all: DO NOT start a lavish, perks-heavy club of people -- in this case, Royal Caribbeans' "Royal Champions" -- whose objective is to plug your company hither and yon without revealing affiliation.
Just never do it. It's one thing to identify brand advocates and give them props for loving you; it's quite another to do this:
In May 2007, the Royal Champions community of online enthusiasts was invited to their first big event, the pre-inaugural sailings of our newest ship Liberty of the Seas in New York and Miami. This was the first time in the company's history that invitees to pre-inaugural sailings were "ordinary people" i.e. not VIP's, corporate executives, or top producing travel agent. Royal Caribbean hosted ship and stateroom tours and cocktail parties with executives. President Adam Goldstein hosted the New York party and CEO Richard Fain hosted the Miami party. The events generated abundant positive word-of-mouth on various sites and created a cohesive community of Royal Caribbean online enthusiasts that are regularly leveraged for ongoing marketing initiatives.
The Consumerist wraps up nicely: "The program's existence by itself isn't objectionable. Every industry is a carrier for public relations parasites, but most so-called public relations professionals adhere to a code of conduct that includes a clear disclosure of their affiliation."
Royal Caribbean's Consumer Insights Group admits "the key to success" in its "viral marketing" campaigns thus far have been "to subtly influence the influencers without them overtly realizing they are being influenced."
Load of crap. BzzAgent, a third-party WOM marketing network, requires that its evangelists disclose their affiliation to whatever company they're plugging at the time. The firm claims this disclosure actually increases the perceived sense of integrity of an evangelist, making them more likely to try the reco'd product.
No excuses. If people get perks to talk about you, they need to make that clear to their audiences.