Staples Speak Easy is Hard to Swallow
Do you trust your friends when they recommend a product to you? Research shows that most people trust that more than advertising and most other forms of marketing, but should they? A hot topic the last month on a number of customer and marketing blogs and publications has been Staples’ “Speak Easy” program, which I believe falls somewhere in the gray area of marketing ethics.
The office supply company has chosen certain rewards program members to act as brand advocates, sending them free products in exchange for spreading good reviews to others. Along with the free stuff, the company includes tidbits of information about the merchandise, similar to political pundits’ talking points. For example, if a customer gets a free package of markers they might receive information about what surfaces it can write on, how long before they run out, and other selling points.
There’s no method of policing the program on Staples’ part, and they haven’t threatened to charge for the products if the rewards members don’t promote them, but just the concept seems to be wrong. In some cases Staples has gone a step further, even including ways members can bring up the products in conversation. If you’ve ever told a friend that you’re always losing phone numbers and they said you should get a great pocket organizer they just bought at Staples, you might have had a Speak Easy encounter.
There’s nothing wrong with brand advocates. They’re as much a part of good marketing practices as anything else, as long as they’re genuine. The question is, should word-of-mouth marketing be paid for, and should that information be disclosed to the friends and family sold to by Speak Easy members?
Does your company compensate customers for spreading positive reviews of products? What do you think of the concept? Comment below and fill out the survey to tell us your thoughts.
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