If you haven't heard, ASOS have announced plans to launch their ASOS Rewards loyalty scheme. At first glance, the scheme behaves like many others. In fact, like the Nectar card, you get 5 points for each £1 spent.
But look deeper and you'll see that ASOS has thought outside the basket. Card holders can collect points by engaging with the brand across online social platforms. In effect, ASOS Rewards has developed a socially-enhanced loyalty scheme – part of a small set of next generation loyalty programmes like Jet Blue's True Blue.
With 60% of the e-tailer's traffic coming through mobiles over the past year, it's a smart move to put instantly generated, social content at the heart of a new customer strategy. Photos captioned #ASOS and #AsSeenOnMe (a hashtag created by ASOS) total almost 1.9M on Instagram alone. Many people are happy to freely promote the brands they love alongside themselves – brands signal who we are to the world.
So it makes perfect sense that ASOS sees opportunity in using its 9.9M of active users as channels. And a reward gives people that little nudge to do more of it – shifting behaviour from tagging to transaction.
While the ASOS programme isn't a problem in its own right, it brings up a broader question: is this type of nudge celebrating smart consumers or creating sneaky channels? Traditional transactional programmes reward repeat purchases and build bottom lines. These new hybrid programmes also create millions of micro-channels to market. Smart marketing, but is the premise its ultimate downfall? As more and more people get paid to promote, do we stop trusting our peers?
While an extreme case, it's worth recounting the recent Amazon scandal. 1,000 people were found to be receiving compensation from the company for writing fake product reviews. Trip Advisor, Yelp and many other customer review sites have also fallen foul of scrutiny.
And what's the social cost of rewarding people's incessant need to be seen, heard or even adored by the masses? If 19-year-old Essena O'Neill public meltdown / breakdown / retirement from life as an Instragram model, she'll tell us how her Instragram ‘career' left her empty of self-esteem.
Call me a cynic, but word of mouth isn't the same the word of mouthpieces. Bring on the people who whoop proudly about the brand because they truly love it. But we mustn't confuse them with the undisclosed paid promoters.
And for brands, don't confuse paid promotion with real loyalty – it might be cheaper to buy influence, but ultimately you have to earn brand love and respect.
Amy Cowpe and Nicole Griffin, part of The Clearing's strategy team