The Advertising & WOM Paradox

This is a guest post by Kevin Dangu, Social Media Manager at French marketing agency, 1min30.

The advertising paradox, as word of mouth is the proven first source of influence. Many people have heard that word of mouth is the most powerful driver of influence in purchasing decisions, but it feels only few have actually reflected on what that truly means.

According to a study carried out by Ipsos-Epsilon in September 2013, in France TV, advertising influences 21% of consumers, and radio publicity 11%. The first four ranks of influence, however, are those based on social advice: friends (54%), family (52%), partners (38%) and review websites (37%). As per the visual below, it is more or less the same in the UK where TV advertising is even lower at 19% and radio publicity too low to be featured.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.15.21 AM

Here lies the paradox of the intensive use of media advertising, as figures and studies show the much greater superiority of recommendations and non-media advertising.

“Dangerous liaisons” between word of mouth and advertising

Let’s cut to the chase: word of mouth and advertising are closely linked.

Everyone knows that advertising is constantly influencing word of mouth – it’s one of its main goals. It aims to favourably shape conversations and exchanges between consumers to steer them in “the right direction.”

But the opposite is also true – word of mouth can influence advertising. Consider how Victoria’s Secret were recently forced to do a U-turn on their ‘Perfect Body’ advertising campaign, because of a social media backlash. Similarly, Unilever’s Flora did so the previous year.

The link between advertising and word of mouth

That link is so important these days that it should be taken into consideration in marketing strategy at the global level, and indeed as a two-way relationship.

Let’s consider this link from several angles:

  • The direct descending impact: This is the impact an advert has on an individual’s perception of a brand and their buying decisions. As the most clear and visible part of the relationship, it is what companies have traditionally focused on and often the marketing team’s only strategic vision.
  • The indirect descending impact: This is the impact an advert has on word of mouth, and therefore the interactions between individuals. Although it often happens spontaneously, it could be better anticipated and should be part of the communication creation process itself – like in the Flora example.
  • The ascending impact: This is the impact that word of mouth has on advertising, a sort of feedback prompting tweaks and adjustments in brands’ communications. On the short-term, these may be quick changes to the campaign (like in the Victoria’s Secret example) or for the campaign to be removed entirely; in the event of a highly positive return, the brand may decide to expand and further develop the campaign. However, there may also be longer-term adjustments, implying that brands will be using data to improve their future communication activities.

Influence IS the link

The point really is that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of an entity’s influence, but rather about influence as the link between word of mouth and advertising. This link creates a multi-directional force that favours the development of interactions and communications around a product or a brand – something that should be thought through globally and executed locally.

Influence, the link between word of mouth
and advertising, matters more than
each of the entities alone.

Analyzing the angles of inter-connection between various communication options will help companies develop and manage their advertising activities and communication strategies as a whole.

Keen to know how you could generate more impact?