National Institute on Media and the Family

National Institute on Media and the Family is an independent, nonpartisan, non-sectarian, non-profit organization that provides reliable information so families can make prudent media choices. .

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

WOMMA Ethics Code Misses the Mark with Minors

This following open letter is from a full-page ad running in national publications:

An Open Letter to Marketing Professionals:

Today, the National Institute on Media and the Family is asking marketing professionals and the brands they represent to take a stand and refuse to work for or with marketers who use minors as a distribution model in word-of-mouth campaigns.

Word-of-mouth is an age-old marketing strategy with limitless possibilities, but only when implemented responsibly and appropriately. Savvy adults who are used to and comfortable with expressing their opinions about products and services understand how viral and buzz marketing work. But the rules that apply to adult consumers don’t, and shouldn’t, apply to young people.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), one of several new groups representing some of these unique marketers, recently announced a draft “code of ethics” that has caused “turmoil,” according to one of the leading Internet marketing publications.

One reason for the turmoil is the National Institute on Media and the Family and others believe that the WOMMA code does not appropriately address the use of minors in viral marketing campaigns. In fact, WOMMA’s code provides safe harbor to marketers who create “Internet sweatshops” or multilevel marketing schemes using minors as their distribution model. These
marketers offer their “agents” little payment and often offer only free products.

BzzAgent, whose CEO serves as chairman of the WOMMA ethics committee, was recently critiqued in The New York Times for advising its “secret agent” consumer advocates—including youth 13-16 years of age— to use “discretion” with friends and family members about their marketing efforts. In response to public pressure, including a complaint from the National Institute on Media and the Family, BzzAgent publicly claimed to remove all mention of discretion from its materials. However, we have discovered that BzzAgent, in fact, continues to mail welcome packets to new volunteer recruits that prompt them to be “discreet.”

Despite WOMMA’s own declaration to be the “good guys,” words must be backed up with responsible actions. Parents need to know who is marketing to – and more importantly with – their kids on the Internet. We encourage parents to take a “zero tolerance” policy against this form of marketing and join the National Institute on Media and the Family in voicing concern about the use of minors in word-of-mouth campaigns.

We also support innovations in marketing techniques. But when it comes to word-of-mouth strategies, we hope marketers will take special care not to exploit minors when representing their clients and brands.

To add your voice to the effort to protect kids recruited for stealth marketing campaigns, visit our Web site at

David Walsh, PhD
Founder and President
National Institute on Media and the Family

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 7:58 AM

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