Duck! and Gather

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Prediction 8: "Word-of-Mouth Agents" Will be Assaulted

More than one "Word-of-mouth agent" will be physically assaulted by targets who have become aware of their duplicitous intent.


[posted: 12/05/04]"Word-of-Mouth Agents" Will be Assaulted


A word-of-mouth agent is a Person who volunteers to serve as a secret agent in a Corporate Person-to-Person marketing campaign. Word-of-mouth is the next step in the evolution of undercover marketing. This technique takes over where "Stealth Marketing" left off. Essentially, the difference between the two is that the secret agent in Stealth Marketing is a paid actor, whereas the Word-of-Mouth agent is an unpaid volunteer.

The feature article in today's (December 5, 2004) New York Times Magazine -- "The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders" (the link may be broken by the time you click it) -- provides an excellent analysis of this phenomenon. How it and Stealth Marketing works is the following: an agent Person approaches a target Person to tell him or her about the benefits of a Corporate product, in the purported context of a friendly exchange. The target is unaware that the agent approached him or her on behalf of the Corporation. This naivety is critical to the effectiveness of these marketing techniques. For this marketing to work, the target must believe that the agent is simply a Person offering friendly advice out of the generosity of his or her own heart.

The reason I'm predicting this dynamic will ultimately lead to violence is that:

  1. violence is the lingua franca of America
  2. impulsive violence is its most common dialect; and
  3. the surprise unmasking of a secret agent seems likely to generate some of these impulses.

I won't belabor the first point. If you have not paid income taxes outside of the United States, then you have little or no context against which to assess America's relative propensity for violent "resolution" of conflict. Conversely, if you have resided outside of this country, you already know this about America.

As for the impulsive nature of American violence, I reiterate the argument of the last paragraph. America is a land dominated by the mythology of the cowboy who takes the law into his own hands.

One sidebar: Do you recall the biggest violence story in America on September 10, 2001 -- the day before 9//11? It was the story of 20-year-old Joseph Ferguson who had shot himself after slaying five former co-workers in his version of "going postal" in Sacramento, California. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the case was the video left behind by the troubled Ferguson in which he boasts, in the style of a "born-again" mad cowboy: "I've taken four victims. This should be good enough to last about a week on the news. ... I giveth and I taketh away." Even had 9/11 not happened, Ferguson's prediction of "a week on the news" seems a tad optimistic given an America long accustomed to such displays of impulsive violence.

The last part of my reasoning concerns the effect that a surprise unmasking of a Word-of-Mouth secret agent could potentially engender. For most targets, this unmasking will be an unpleasant surprise. Here is a Person, approaching you as a friend, when it turns out in reality that their friendship is false, and is, instead, only a ruse to gain your trust.

I'm not predicting that all, or most, or even a non-trivial minority of targets will respond with violence to this surprise unmasking. Most People would probably just shake their head or even laugh, and walk away. Instead, what I'm predicting is that in this great nation of some 300 million People, at least two among us will resort to the time-honored American response: impulsive violence.

Such an unfortunate incident might even serve as the Boston Tea Party, the shots fired on Fort Sumter, and the Black Tuesday of People vs. Corporations.

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