Regulating Online Buzz Marketing: Untangling a Web of Deceit

32 Pages Posted: 29 May 2009 Last revised: 20 Jun 2011

See all articles by Robert Sprague

Robert Sprague

University of Wyoming - College of Business

Mary Ellen Wells

Alvernia University

Date Written: August 2, 2010


During the past fifteen years, the Internet has swelled into its own virtual world of commentary, opinion, criticism, news, music, videos, gaming, role playing, shopping, banking, finance, and digital commerce. Coupled with the growth of blogs and social networking sites, millions of Americans appear willing to share online their own thoughts and experiences regarding products, services and companies. In response to the public’s interest, companies have begun to rely more heavily in recent years on word of mouth marketing, often referred to as “buzz marketing,” a technique that attempts to generate conversations among and with current and potential customers. Marketers have discovered that the Internet is an excellent interactive medium to promote goods and services. Some marketers have begun to engage in the flourishing business of “stealth marketing,” a method of communicating with potential customers in a way that disguises the originator of the communication. The increase in use of the Internet as a marketing medium gives rise to a conundrum: consumers are bombarded by, skeptical of, and generally ignore overt commercial messages, but consumers are more likely to pay attention to—even seek out—and regard as credible, reviews and opinions by fellow consumers. Marketers therefore hope to convey their advertising messages through consumer comments (endorsements/testimonials). However, if consumers know a marketer sponsors the comments, the comments are less likely to be viewed as credible, and if the marketers do not disclose the sponsorship, they are potentially deceiving the public.

Keywords: commercial speech, online marketing, Communications Decency Act immunity, deceptive trade practices

Suggested Citation

Sprague, Robert and Wells, Mary Ellen, Regulating Online Buzz Marketing: Untangling a Web of Deceit (August 2, 2010). American Business Law Journal, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Robert Sprague (Contact Author)

University of Wyoming - College of Business ( email )

1000 E. University Avenue
Dept. 3275
Laramie, WY 82071
United States


Mary Ellen Wells

Alvernia University ( email )

400 St. Bernardine Street
Reading, PA 19607
United States
(610) 568-1442 (Phone)

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