Many consumers ignore commercial advertisements. In response, advertising companies have started using a new tactic, called “buzzing.” The advertisers hire people—buzzers—who personally promote (buzz) products to people they know or meet. The key part is that the buzzers do not reveal that they are being paid to promote anything. They behave as though they were just spontaneously praising a product during normal conversation. Buzzing has generated a lot of controversy, and many critics would like to see it banned.
First, the critics complain that consumers should know whether a person praising a product is being paid to praise the product. Knowing this makes a big difference: we expect the truth from people who we believe do not have any motive for misleading us. But with buzzing what you hear is just paid advertising, which may well give a person incorrect information about the buzzed product.
Second, since buzzers pretend they are just private individuals, consumers listen to their endorsements less critically than they should. With advertisements in print or on TV, the consumer is on guard for questionable claims or empty descriptions such as “new and improved.” But when consumers do not know they are being lobbied, they may accept claims they would otherwise be suspicious of. This may suit the manufacturers, but it could really harm consumers. And worst of all is the harmful effect that buzzing is likely to have on social relationships. Once we become aware that people we meet socially may be buzzers with a hidden agenda, we will become less trustful of people in general. So buzzing will result in the spread of mistrust and the expectation of dishonesty.