The marketing world is a-buzz with word of mouth marketing. But could up and coming UK laws targeting “unfair commercial practices” kill the virus? Nick Johnson highlights some less expected effects of the “Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations”.
Topic: Consumer protection
Who: Trading Standards officers, word-of-mouth and viral marketers
Where: United Kingdom
When: 26 May 2008
Law stated as at: 28 February 2008
Regular readers of www.marketinglaw.co.uk updates will be aware that the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 were expected to be brought into force in April 2008, as the UK's implementation of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. As now reported elsewhere on marketinglaw, the "in force" date has now been pushed back to 26 May 2008.
The legislation's ambit is extremely broad, but one specific aspect will give particular cause for concern to those engaged in word-of-mouth and viral marketing activities.
Paragraph 22 of Schedule 1 of the Regulations (in their current draft form) will make the following practice a criminal offence:
"Falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer."
This strict liability offence could potentially catch activities such as:
- posting positive reviews of your own restaurant, hotel etc on peer review websites;
- communicating positive messages about a brand in a blog without making it clear that you work for the brand or its agency;
- seeding viral ads on the internet in a way that suggests you are simply a member of the public;
- using actors or "buzz marketing" specialists to communicate with consumers in bars etc, without disclosing that they are acting as brand ambassadors.
Why this matters:
Viral, word-of-mouth and "buzz" marketing are rapidly establishing themselves as credible and proven brand communication channels. But the threat of criminal sanctions, including fines and potential jail sentences for company directors and officers, may prove a significant obstacle to the growth of these disciplines.
Advertisers may wish to review their policies and activities in these areas so as to assess and address any risks in advance of May.