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"Sign-up your friends," implores the banner on the website, "get $25." Harrumph. Not me. My friends are worth more to me than that, and besides, I founded Integrity For Sale. My friends will cost you fifty.

So yeah, if you've ever felt like a rump roast in the lion's den, you've probably had good reason.

You've also probably had company. By now, everyone's heard of Sony's coup awhile back, when hired performers approached strangers on the street and asked them to take their pictures with "their" Sony cameras. After a chat, a dozen new disciples.

At the same time that the kids today pride their designer labels, they're also enrolling with agencies that send them out as unpaid product advocates. Sort of like a one-person Tupperware party on the move.

If you can't believe in the news, if you can't believe in politics, if you can't believe in the church, if you can't believe in love, you can always believe in sportswear. Spread your faith. Where once the Hare Krishnas and the Moonies grasped your lapels in the airports, now it's the devout from the Church of the latter-day Consumer.

The democratization of marketing was a natural for the internet, where anything you said in an online forum wound-up on screens worldwide. Many a list has its regulars who carry most of the discourse, plus maybe, once in awhile, two guys that nobody remembers from before, who act like they've always been there, trading praises for Product X. Two weeks later, they're gone.

Despite the climate of suspicion such things create, plenty of websites invite their guests to "review" the products they've just bought. Will such reviews be critical? Put it to you like this. You've just spent two grand on a new DSLR. You're going to tell the World Wide Web it was a bonehead decision?

"My husband says he loves the camera," writes a reviewer about the Olympus E-1 on a photography web site, "but he complains that it gets noisy at high ISO speeds."

What a bummer! Except, all cameras get noisy at high ISO speeds. Of all that I've worked with, the Olympus E-1 gets the least noisy. It's one thing to know a product, another to know its context. Low-light photographers might want to know things the lady's husband did not.

So, let's see. Nobody trusts the establishment because it abuses information, and nobody trusts the anti-establishment because it doesn't have any. So, sir or madam, how shall you sell cameras today?

Swallow ‘Em Up

In searching for an avenue that will be both respected and lucrative, it helps to remember how a market society responds to rebellion. It doesn't fight back, it absorbs. It co-opts the squeaky wheel.

Which brings up the bloggers. Originally, folks with opinions and no information. Then, folks with opinions and the information nobody else would publish. They've collectively known, sometimes derisively, as the blogosphere. "Should your business have one too?" asks a report in PC Connection magazine, published "for the IT mind."

"Just as Web sites were 10 years ago and e-newsletters were five years ago, blogs today are a little understood but potentially powerful tool that can help companies forge closer relationships with customers and business partners alike."

Included in a sidebar headed "Blog Don'ts," the article advises, "Don't lie. Readers may be willing to shrug off rumors from a political pundit, but they'll hold it against your company's reputation."


   







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