For recommenders to be reliable they must be: 1) knowledgeable about the product category in question and 2) trustworthy, i.e., they offer an unbiased opinion not tainted by personal interest in the outcome. Recommenders who are employees of the organizations they’re referring or who receive referral-based incentives have difficulty upholding criterion #2, which gives consumers good reason to view their recommendations skeptically.
Recognizing these reservations, certain organizations try to trick consumers into believing that their paid endorsers are impartial advocates. Such companies have few scruples, but would the “Happiest Place on Earth” attempt such deception?
The Walt Disney Company describes its Disney Parks Moms Panel as “a forum where online "Moms" (and Dads!) answer your questions and offer advice and tips about Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disneyland Resort in California, Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Line, team sports at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and runDisney events.” Although many organizations as diverse as Hewlett-Packard and Kimberly-Clark now leverage mothers’ persuasiveness to promote their brands, Disney was “the first major company to tap the influence of moms across a wide spectrum of social media.”
What’s the motivation for enlisting maternal endorsers? Most people listen to their mothers, and apparently so do others when it comes to things like vacation planning. Of course, there are also the dollars driving the decision. According to social media consultant Maria Bailey, mothers’ spending in the U.S. accounts for about $3.2 trillion each year.
Disney says that those it chooses as Mom Panel participants “have demonstrated an excellent knowledge of the Disney Destination in which they specialize,” which allows them to “offer helpful tips (and a dash of pixie dust) to help your vacation planning.” There are reportedly over 1,300 of these Disney Moms, who respond to a wide variety of forum questions ranging from what food comes with specific Disney dining plans to what to pack for a day at the park.
Disney supposedly does not tell the panelists what to say or how often they should post, but certainly there must be some criteria for Moms to remain in good standing. The company says “The views expressed in [the Moms’] answers are those of the panelists, who are independent contractors,” and adds that the responses “have not been reviewed or approved by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online prior to posting.”
So, Disney promises that its panelists offer unfiltered feedback, but what about compensation? Calling the Moms “independent contractors” suggests that they’re not on the company payroll, but Disney does reward them for their participation in the form of perks. According to the firm’s website “Panelists have received/will receive a trip to the Disney Destination they represent, for panelist and up to three family members and/or park tickets for their participation on the Disney Parks Moms Panel.”
Keeping in mind all of the above, it’s time to return to the original question: Is the Disney Parks Moms Panel deceptive? In other words, are those who use the service unlikely to recognize that the Moms may lack objectivity in their evaluations of Disney parks since they receive incentives for their participation?
First, it’s important to reiterate that Disney does clearly disclose the perks that its Moms receive, which makes the company’s approach legal according to the FTC. Of course, ethicality is another issue; however, the same unambiguous statement of benefits should alert reasonable consumers to the likelihood that Disney Moms are acting as agents of the namesake organization, not as completely objective evaluators. Other evidence suggests similar corporate control, e.g., the program is called “Disney Parks Moms Panel” and it’s hosted on a Disney.go.com website.
Each year Disney hosts a Social Media Moms Celebration. This year’s event, which about 200 people attended, “generated 28,500 tweets, 4,900 Instagram photos and 88 blog posts full of ride reviews and videos of kids meeting Disney characters.” Such results suggest that the Panel program creates considerable stakeholder value. Likewise, the program does not appear to compromise any particular society values; rather it promotes helpful peer-to-peer information sharing. Consequently, the Disney Parks Moms Panel can be considered “Mindful Marketing.”
Learn more about the Mindful Matrix and Mindful Meter.
Check out Mindful Marketing Ads and Vote your Mind!