Yes, it’s time for another “I hate BzzAgents” rant.
I just learned that the last two books written by Seth Godin have been marketed by the evil BzzAgent machinery. This is kind of a funny, Catch-22, recursive, ouroborosian sort of situation. Seth, the marketing guy, does all sorts of “creative” things to promote his books, which are about marketing. However, in the process, although they have been marketed to the nines, I will never ever ever read one, because they are being marketed by a bunch of disingenuous folks who shill products to friends (oftentimes surreptitiously) in exchange for loot. According to their site, “…you can earn all sorts of rewards. We’ll grant you BzzPoints for your BzzActivities, which you can redeem for BzzRewards such as music, gift certificates, sports gear, movies and galley proofs of novels!”
Bzzzthp on that. Although the BzzAgent founders and website vehemently declare that their “agents” are on the up-and-up, and that honesty is encouraged, the lure of lucre — or more likely, the lure of a shortcut to some sort of feeling of mass-produced “cool” — is going to be too great.
These people, and this model, break the implied social contracts between individuals, the contracts that say “I’m interacting with you because I value you, and I value spending time with you.” Once the trust and the implicit social contract is broken, one’s antennae need to be up at all times, even moreso than before. Every Amazon review. Every worthwhile mention of a co-worker. Every mention on a website. Every interesting thing being read by a stranger at a coffee shop…are they doing these things in order to explicitly influence?
In some ways, it’s almost cult-like. The BzzAgent drones have defined an opaque vocabulary. (Like any other group trying to create cohesion, this acts as a shibboleth to enable the “agents” to easily identify others of their clan.) They get people to donate time, and a lot of it (5-10 hours per week) for the “privilege” of “belonging.”
Of course, the founders of the group preach “transparency!” and claim that everything is above board. However, the recent NYTimes article (reg. requ’d.) shows otherwise.
“For starters, Desjardins said, BzzAgent ”turned me on to reading.” And having enjoyed ”Purple Cow,” he wanted to do his best to spread the word. The Bzz guide suggested he call a bookstore. For a while, he put it off. He would look at the phone and tell himself, I can do this, and he would try to rehearse what he would say, and this would go on for 15 or 20 minutes. ”I thought: What have I got to lose?” he said. ”I’m never going to see this person.” And finally he called and pretended he did not know the name of Seth Godin’s new book. ”He’ll call anybody now,” Melissa said, smiling.
He printed slogans from ”Purple Cow” (”Be Remarkable or Be Invisible”) onto card stock and hung them where his fellow employees could see them. He posted reviews on Amazon. He started conversations with co-workers, customers, strangers. He submitted a rave review for a fantasy novel he was buzzing called ”Across the Nightingale Floor” to The Concord Monitor, and it was published; there’s a laminated copy of the review on the fridge. He wrote to the governor touting Mail-Block. At the grocery store, when a co-worker moaned about not liking her job, Desjardins practically turned into a motivational speaker, waving his hands and quoting from another book called ”Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers,” telling her that if she wasn’t happy she needed to take control of the situation. ”She did end up finding another job after that,” he observed. Desjardins is ranked the 45th most effective BzzAgent, out of 60,000 nationwide, and proud of it. He has learned to influence. “
Which leads us back to Godin. According to the article:
“Godin is not just a BzzAgent fan — he’s also a client. ”Purple Cow” was marketed through BzzAgent, and Godin quietly plugs the company at the end of the book. He describes BzzAgent as a company at the center of a conversation between its corporate clients and thousands of agents who serve as a kind of guild of consumers.”
The most nauseating thing, however, is how the company promotes this sort of “pimp your family” mantra as a shining example to be emulated. From the BzzAgent site, a testimonial from one of their agents, all giddy with his success at selling out his relatives:
“As I neared the Top 10 [BzzAgents], I was excited and set my sights on bee-ing BzzAgent Numero Uno. I knew that I couldn’t casually wait for Bzz opportunities like I had in the past, but had to actively seek them out. I had a lot of success with family and friends, but now I had a better understanding of what it took to create Bzz and hook a target — influencing a person’s buying habits isn’t just as easy as bringing up a subject and diverting the conversation onto a book or other product. No, it required really finding out what made the product great and how to connect it to the target’s needs or experiences. As I got good, I began to appreciate the impact that I was having in shaping the buying habits of the people around me.
The prizes are nice — I’ve been happily rewarded — but the noticeable influence on the purchases of family, friends, and colleagues is the real reason that I enjoy bee-ing a Bzzagent. They now ask me what I think, opening the door for new Bzz, and in some cases, the product is helpful to them, and they wouldn’t have known about it otherwise, had I not brought it up. Bee-ing a Bzzagent has enabled me to reach out to people in ways that I hadn’t before.”
(line of the day: “It’s all simply an ongoing, multi-billion dollar battle of wills between marketer and consumer. Marketers want eyeballs. Consumers want to tear marketer’s eyeballs from their sockets.”)
Update: The Don’t Trust List
The following organizations are companies (and individuals) known to be BzzAgent customers, based on the BzzAgent website. Caveat emptor…
- AirTran Airways
- Anheuser Busch
- Coca Cola
- Estee Lauder
- First National Bank Omaha
- General Mills
- Kayem Foods
- Ralph Lauren
- Lee Jeans
- Johnston & Murphy
- Procter & Gamble
- SC Johnson
- Weight Watchers
- The Wharton School of Business
- Seth Godin
- Tom Peters
Great follow-on BzzAgent commentary taking place over at Brand Autopsy. Be sure to check the comments section.