Spreading The "Buzz"

At a kids' play date outside Atlanta, Caron Cohen is buzzing her friends.

"Who needs bug spray," she says. "It's this new Off stuff called 'smooth and dry,' and it dries like powder finish. It's nice."

At a farm store in Massachusetts, so is Devan Ferreira.

"I do buzz agent. It's all word-of-mouth advertising," she said. "Do you want some lotion samples?"

She is telling her coworkers about a new hand cream and offering them coupons for chicken sausage.

She doesn't get paid for this, CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports. So why does she do it?

"Because it's fun," Ferreira said. "I like to get free samples. I like to get free stuff. I like to get mail."

They're agents for Buzz Agent, a new Boston company created, says CEO Dave Balter, "to organize, manage and measure word of mouth."

How many "buzz agents" does he usually send out on something?

"Our average is about 12 to 15,000," he said.

Here's why companies like Proctor and Gamble, TV Guide and Dunkin Donuts are doing it. Studies show each "agent" impacts about 60 people over the course of a campaign. So 15,000 agents will generate 900,000 conversations about a product.

Is this part of a major shift in advertising?

"It certainly is," said Peter Kim of Forrester Research.

Kim said traditional advertising, on TV and print, has always sent a one-way message.

"Well, this is more of a conversation and a dialogue," he explained.

Because "agents" email in reports on their own reactions and their friends' reactions.

"Everything, negative or positive goes back," Ferreira said.

Every agent's kit comes with samples, coupons and a code of conduct.

Mason asked: "So you tell people in this code of conduct, 'let people know you're involved with Buzz Agent?'"

"They have to," Balter said. "If they don't we kick 'em out of the system."

"Usually I end up liking what they send me," Ferreira said. "And if I don't I talk about that too."

Balter said: "That's the power of honest word of mouth. Another consumer listens because someone's willing to tell the good and the bad."

Word of mouth has always been out there of course. But with buzz marketing, companies are now tapping into the conversation.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"