Word on the Street

Psst ... your friends may be shilling for a soap company. Why people love marketing by word of mouth

Illustration by David Plunkert for TIME

The next time someone you know ravesĀ about a dish detergent or motor oil, consider this: you might be on the receiving end of a clever marketing campaign. It's a brave new world for people whose job it is to sell you things, what with consumers' TiVo-enabled ability to skip over ads they don't want to see, and their Internet-empowered freedom to find out all the stuff left out of a cheery 30-sec. TV spot. That's driving marketers to all sorts of new places, including your circle of friends--a trend that has produced some surprising intelligence on how word-of-mouth communication really works.

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