Viral marketing is a hot marketing tool: Persuade regular people to tell their friends about a product. It’s such a good idea that companies have resorted to creating their own grass-roots movement—the so-called “astro-turf marketing”.
Marketers usually look benignly on bad viral messages from ordinary individuals about rival products, but now some executives have turned reputation terrorists.
Coca-Cola claims to be a victim in Argentina. It accuses two unnamed Danone executives and a public-relations firm of orchestrating a two-year Internet smear campaign against Coke’s Desani water brand, calling it “bottled-tap” and “cancer”water.
No matter that Desani really comes from a “municipal source” and is heavily purified. It’s grossly unfair, if as accused, the promoters of rival Volvic are spreading slander.
In the case of Whole Foods, the facts are clear. The anonymous Web-rants of John Mackay, the eccentric founder and chairman of the US organic retail chain, were exposed this week.
Over seven years, under the alias of “Rahodeb”—an anagram of his wife’s name—Mackey made over 1,000 posts on a Yahoo finance bulletin board, championing his company’s stock, and disparaging its main rival, Wild Oats.
Coke and the US Federal Trade Commission aren’t amused by the web attacks. The beverage giant has filed a criminal complaint against Danone.
And the FTC is using Mackay’s blogs to support its case that Whole Foods’ attempted takeover of Wild Oats will limit competition.
Companies and regulators are evidently starting to take viral attacks seriously—a case of “word-of-mouth” turned “foot-in-mouth”.