This week Wayne Rooney received a slap on the wrists from the Advertising Standards Authority for passing off a blatant advertisement for Nike as a personal tweet. It's the latest in a long line of examples of major companies getting it wrong - and getting caught out - when it comes to 'hidden' marketing on social networks.
What puzzles me is why so many marketing campaigns on social networks use these covert tactics - particularly as they are almost always caught out.
In January McDonald's found themselves stung after paying Twitter to get #McDStories in the top trends for that day. Once Twitter users got wise to the scheme, they took their anger out on the hashtag, sharing all manner of horror stories (true and untrue) about the company. Mars also caused controversy earlier in the year by taking over Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price's twitter feeds to promote Snickers - only drawing attention to the ad campaign in the fifth and final tweet.
The problem comes not from the ambition - big companies are absolutely right to try and exploit the word-of-mouth power of social networks - but from the execution. Sadly most of these campaigns are run with all the subtlety of a drunken elephant.
Authenticity is an increasingly important factor when it comes to marketing. Particularly when it comes to women, big showy brands and straplines are far less trusted than something that feels genuinely tailored towards them. Social networks like Twitter are the perfect platform for this personal feel - particularly when reaching whole communities - but only if companies stop trying to trick us and start bringing their products out into the open.
A site like Twitter works because it is a community. One person targeted by an inauthentic ad may not smell a rat - but hundreds of thousands will see through the ruse instantly. What's more, they won't be afraid in telling the world about it. In order for word-of-mouth advertising on Twitter to work, more respect has to be shown to the people that use it.
It's time to get back to the grassroots of marketing. Instead of paying Kim Kardashian to tweet about you, put the product into the customer's hands and get them using it and talking about it. It's the modern day equivalent of the 'Avon Lady': why spend millions making the customer hunt down the product when you can bring the product to the customer?
Given the above, we have decided to do things differently. We are partnering with Nokia to run a Remarkable Women Programme where we have cherry picked 50 Remarkable Women in diverse fields. All are 'Unfollowers' and have carved their own path, achieving great things in male dominated fields. We are giving each of the women a Nokia Lumia phone in the hope that they will use it to enable their communities to grow and demonstrate the power of the female network. We are not asking our Remarkable Women to talk about the phone, there is no payment involved. We have faith in the strength of the product to speak for itself and are pleased to be partnering with Nokia as they are taking a brave new approach.
Our approach follows three principles:
1) Don't choose the usual suspects i.e. celebrities - chose authentic women that other women can be inspired by
2) Understand her tribe and don't try and force her into yours
3) Have faith in your own productn- don't pay people to say nice things about your product
Advertisers need to stop trying to outthink us with hidden agendas - someone, somewhere will always catch them out.
Instead they should strip the bullshit and use a network like Twitter for what it was designed for - to get real women talking honestly and to get women's' voices heard.
One thing for certain is that word of mouth has never been so loud.