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Power of word of mouth (and text message)


The ''stuff" Mark Hughes talks up in ''Buzzmarketing," his caffeinated, readable guide to the new world of promotion, is business big and small. Packed with anecdotes and written in a conversational style, ''Buzzmarketing" gets one talking indeed.

Whether it yields profits, the goal of any such book of advice depends on how the business hopeful leverages the buzz and on whether the product is effective and of high quality. The key to buzzmarketing is what Hughes calls the Six Buttons of Buzz:

The taboo (sex, lies, bathroom humor)

The unusual

The outrageous

The hilarious

The remarkable

The secrets (both kept and revealed)

A former executive at eBay,, Pep Boys, and PepsiCo, Hughes has the inside dope on companies and celebrities like Apple, the ''American Idol" TV show, and Britney Spears. The governing idea of his chatty book is that word of mouth is the best currency in a market reeling from media overload, especially commercials.

''Viewers zap more than 63 percent of TV ads. The average cable watcher can choose from more than a hundred channels. Some 25 percent of all TV time is ad related," he writes. ''Most TV shows get one-tenth the ratings they did thirty years ago."

The solution, it may seem, is more advertising, but that's not working either. ''People are sleeping less, working more, and feeling inundated with the more than a thousand ad messages each of us is bombarded with every day," he writes.

Clutter-free media is the goal, he says, citing the Burma Shave signs that used to pop up along American highways before the rise of the interstates.

Hughes spins business tall tales, stories of marketing so outrageous they're inspiring. The best tells how persuaded the Oregon town of Halfway to change its name to for a year. Not only did that buzz the media, it generated huge business for and eventually led to its sale to eBay for a cool $300 million.

Not all is so clear-cut, however. Take the interactivity that is key to ''American Idol" and Radio Disney, where fans determine the programming. That prompts word of mouth, or buzz, on a huge scale. But it also subordinates talent.

''American Idol" branded itself quickly because of its interactive business model, its blunt personality Simon Cowell, and its competitive nature. It also popularized text messaging by having viewers vote every week either by phone or text message for their favorite singer. It was so successful it prompted Cingular and Sprint to advertise on the show.

Empowered interactivity gives the user ''a reason to be invested in your brand or product," Hughes writes. ''You connect them to it by empowering them. In 'American Idol's' case, they allow us, their audience, to vote for who wins and who loses. And in return? We talk. We spread the gospel."

And while we generate business, we dumb down the culture. But that's another story. This book is all business, and it's a good one.

People interested in this book are also interested in:

THE ADVERTISED MIND: Ground-Breaking Insights Into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising, by Erik Du Plessis (Kogan Page, $45)

THE SECRETS OF WORD-OF-MOUTH MARKETING: How to Trigger Exponential Sales Through Runaway Word of Mouth, by George Silverman (American Management Association, $17.95)

THE ANATOMY OF BUZZ: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing, by Emanuel Rosen (Currency, $15.95)

THE POWER OF UNFAIR ADVANTAGE: How to Create It, Build It, and Use It to Maximum Effect, by John L. Nesheim (Free Press, $30)

FREE PRIZE INSIDE!: The Next Big Marketing Idea, by Seth Godin (Portfolio, $19.95)

Employees of marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather are reading:

TRADING UP: The New American Luxury, by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske (Portfolio, $26.95)

PARIS TO THE MOON , by Adam Gopnik (Random House Trade Paperbacks, $14.95)

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, by Bill Bryson (Broadway, $27.50)


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