The Declining Efficiency of Advertising: Beyond Banner Ads and Bus Benches

December 2006

Today’s media- and tech-savvy consumers are almost too smart for traditional advertising. People are better able than ever before to sense when they are being marketed to, so that such previously-effective “subversive” strategies as product placement in films result in decreased efficiency, or even scorn. Research “indicates that the 30-second TV spot as a method of convincing the market about the benefits of your product or service is on its way out. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and skeptical about marketing messages… . People have so much choice and so few differentiators; so how helpful or believable are expensive advertising campaigns which make the same hyperbolic claims as everyone else?” (Chiarelli, 42).

Traditional advertising efforts, for the purposes of this paper, are defined as print ads (magazines and newspapers), ads on radio and television, and outdoor advertising (posters, billboards), as well as more recent (to the US) presentations in movie theaters, and pop-up and banner ads on websites. These avenues are what the general public thinks of when they think of marketing, and where most people expect to encounter advertisements; these are the contexts in which they are most immune to marketing messages.

One of the major results of today’s ubiquity of advertising is the dilution of any single message. By placing advertisements on every available surface, from air-sickness bags to laser-etched on eggs, “consumers are [being] overloaded with messages and they’re fighting back. The public’s desire to choose where, when, and how they absorb product information is what’s really changing the world” (Lowery and Chase, 108). More and more, where consumers seek out product information is on the internet, and how they make purchasing decisions is by consulting strangers through internet forums, virtual communities, and online media—including public diaries called blogs (Dellarocas, 1578). This paper attempts to present an overview of the growing new media channels available to customers today, and to suggest how businesses must respond to the rising presence of these powerful, compelling, and unmediated marketing messages.

Concepts: Traditional Strategy meets the Rise of New Medias

Word of Mouth

In 1990, shortly after launching in the US, Lexus realized that one of its flagship models had two problems severe enough to warrant a recall. It was an ignominious entry into a major new market for a product whose reputation was built around reliability and high-end workmanship. But the company’s handling of the situation resulted in a windfall of positive word-of-mouth. On the same day that the recall was announced to the press, every Lexus owner who had purchased the recalled model received a telephone call from the company, and each serviced vehicle was returned cleaned and with a full tank of gas. Lexus mechanics paid house-calls to owners who lived more than one hundred miles from their dealerships, and the company even flew a technician from Los Angeles to Alaska to repair a single car (Gladwell, pp 277-8).

The rationale behind this radical handling of the recall was that “Lexus realized that it had a captive audience of Mavens and that if they went the extra mile they could kick-start a word-of-mouth epidemic about the quality of their service—and that’s just what happened. The company emerged from what could have been a disaster with a reputation for customer service that continues to this day” (Gladwell, 278). Mavens, according to Gladwell, are natural teachers, “information-brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” They are the data-banks of social epidemics, and they are vital transmitters of any word-of-mouth phenomenon (Gladwell, 70).

Word of mouth is a familiar marketing concept, and traditionally conceived of as a process by which customers recommend (or dissuade others from trying) goods and services within their immediate social circle. Word-of-mouth is far more effective than other traditional marketing strategies, yet notoriously difficult to control or direct. Its effectiveness, in large part, is due to the fact that “it is considered more reliable and trustworthy than other sources of information (Day, 1971). Marketing practitioners also recognize the general importance of WOM, for instance suggesting that it is “the most important marketing element that exists” (Alsop, 1984).

Unfortunately for marketers, the most genuine way to build WOM which will be embraced by customers (and useful to marketers) is for customers to generate it themselves, which means relinquishing a measure of spin-control in exchange for honest feedback. Yet this has not stopped marketing departments from trying to generate WOM among customers through incentive programs and other means. One Boston-based marketing firm, BzzAgent, is doing just that. According to its website, were are living through a “Word-of-Mouth Revolution: Where People Own Marketing.” BzzAgent claims to position itself on the cutting edge of marketing, one that proves “that honest opinions are more powerful than interruptive marketing messages ). Bzz “agents” are a self-selected group of volunteers who receive coupons, discounts, and free samples of products in exchange for being seen with them, and talking them up to people within their social circles. These agents tend to be trendsetters or early-adaptors who want to try products and services not yet available to the general public, or who simply want to be rewarded for something they do naturally—share their opinions enthusiastically with others. Bzz Agents are asked to follow a code of conduct by which they identify their affiliation with the company, and—more importantly—they must give their honest opinions about the products they are “bzzing.” It is highly probably, however, that many do not reveal that they are being compensated to talk up certain products. In a thinly-veiled reference to BzzAgent, a recent article cites ethically “questionable methods [which] include hiring people to go into bars and loudly order a branded drink, or sending an “actor” out with the latest cell phone camera to ask tourists to take his picture as a means of getting the device into their hands…” as well as “companies that charge advertisers to take their message and distribute it out to a ‘network’ of agents” (http://marketingnpv.com/news/marketingnpv-journal-there-reliable-way-measure-word-mouth-marketing).

While BzzAgent has built a business on directed word-of-mouth campaigns, other companies engineer them more covertly. A New Hampshire Boloco burrito restaurant recently engineered a marketing campaign to raise awareness of its product and location near Dartmouth College. This push was intentionally “designed to look organic and student driven, rather than like official Boloco marketing ploys” (Brooks, 38). While the campaign—which consisted of “burrito drops” at campus parties, silly contests held at the restaurant, and emails sent by recruited students—was lauded as a success, and indeed nearly doubled delivery orders to the campus (with increased growth projected), it was not strictly ethical marketing, as the targets were never aware that they were being marketed to. Boloco should perhaps have looked toward Boston’s own b.good restaurants for an equally successful but far more forthright strategy.

b.good’s image is honest and slightly quirky. Customers who subscribe to the restaurant’s email list are members of the “b.good family,” and the founders of the chain, Anthony and Jon, are positioned as goofy older cousins. They are eminently accessible: three tabs on every page of the website contain their joint email address, and they always respond to messages from customers. The monthly email newletters that members receive are full of fun tidbits and anecdotes—and occasionally a coupon or special offer. Wildly eye-catching signs posted around the space direct customers to the b.good website, which is central to its marketing strategy. b.good runs contests through, and posts photos and videos of these contests (and their winners) on, the site (http://www.bgood.com/ourchampions.php). In an impromptu interview conducted as Anthony Ackil, one of b.good’s founders, worked behind the cash register in the Harvard Square location, he voiced his belief in the importance of getting people onto the website, which he characterized as their greatest competitive advantage: really cheap to run, easy to create, and allowing great creativity. “The funnier the better,” is their strategy for getting people to visit the site, even if the WOM message is merely, “You have to look at this video—these guys are really stupid!” Good-natured, high-profile publicity stunts contribute to the number of people visiting both website and restaurants. b.good’s customers respond to these campaigns and are positively evangelical about bringing friends and family out for “real” fast-food. The restaurant has generated enormous positive buzz, despite its relatively high prices (the average b.good burger costs $6), and won the Retailers Association of Massachusetts Best Restaurant award in 2005. Its website is currently nominated for the prestigious “Webby Award.”

One notable recent—and very efficient—use of internet word-of-mouth occurred in September of 2004. Kryptonite was secure that had perfected a bolt-cutter-proof bicycle lock that lived up to its “unpickable and unbreakable” slogan: then a repentant thief posted a video online demonstrating how these $80 safeguards could be thwarted with a simple Bic pen (http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/kryptonite.asp). This news spread like wildfire, not just on internet message boards and online bicyclist communities, but by emails sent from person to person containing links to the blogs and websites where this news was posted. The story even made national news headlines. The company’s reaction was swift, and within two days of the initial postings, the company promised replacements to an upgraded (and Bic-proof) model to owners of the flawed locks. It was a marketing coup pulled out of a potential marketing nightmare, pulled off through the responsiveness of a company to its customers’ online word-of-mouth. This incident also greatly raised public awareness of internet consumer forums.*

While 92% of word-of-mouth conversations take place offline, the rise of the internet has exponentially increased the size and geographic scope of social networks, and thus the number of people who receive tips and product suggestions from a relatively few vocal people (Keller Fay Group. Press Release: 05/15/2006). Additionally, online word of mouth is far longer-lasting than a face-to-face conversation. “This escalation in audience is altering the dynamics of many industries where WOM has traditionally played an important role” (Dellarocas and Narayan, 277). There is an unlimited amount of learning that marketing researchers must accomplish online in order to profitably and productively identify and market to both loyal and potential customers.

Word-of-mouth becomes exponentially more important because reaching customers through traditional advertising is becoming more and more difficult: “[m]odern consumers want to feel that they have a choice and that they’re free to demonstrate that choice. [This]… comes into play when we’re looking at how to reach a target customer—not just what we sell to them, once we’ve got their attention. Modern customers are skeptical of marketing information. Instead of listening to the ads and swallowing the hype, they’re much more inclined to seek out information from sources that they trust” (Chiarelli, 42). Whether online or offline, “[f]or advertising to be effective, it has to have credibility. …[And credibility is] truly built by word-of-mouth” (Brooks, 32). Previously, trustworthy sources included friends, relatives, co-workers, and friends-of-friends. Over the past ten years, the internet has vastly expanded the number of “trustworthy” sources to which consumers can appeal for guidance in making their purchasing decisions. It is important for facets of the marketing machine to (re)gain the trust of consumers, and one promising way to do so is by building “virtual” communities online, through active presences on company-sponsored message boards, blogs, and product-centric communities of customers.

Establishing trust is one way to increase user-participation on corporate-run virtual communities, so “a trustworthy community that can encourage people to participate may be better for a company than a community that is full of positive messages toward the company” (Shang et alia, 413). Taco Bell is often cited for its thriving, active, online message boards, where “fans exchange views on cuisine, prices, ‘stupid Taco Bell managers,’ and other topics” (Weill and Vitale, 204). Rather than removing or restricting criticism, companies like Taco Bell are listening to—and learning from—it. However, there are major ethical risks involved in attempting to generate or manipulate WOM online. The relative anonymity of the internet means that you don’t know if the person trying to dissuade you from buying a Honda really had a bad experience with their Civic, or if they are on Toyota’s payroll. The person who wrote a rave review of a new movie on IMDB.com before it hit theaters could really have won tickets to see an advance press screening, or could just as easily work for the studio that produced the film. This is the ethical gray area of internet word-of-mouth, and it is where marketers must tread very carefully.

Marketing managers “have always recognized WOM as an important driver of consumer behavior and have, thus, been interested in properly measuring and managing it. Nevertheless, the ‘perishable’ nature of this important social phenomenon has, so far, limited the reliability of such efforts and resisted the development of a systematic discipline of WOM measurement. …The Internet has had a profound impact on both the reach as well as the measurability of WOM” (Dellarocas and Narayan, 277). Customer opinions published online are both statistically measurable and imperishable, and require far less fiscal expenditure in collecting or analyzing than traditional methods of data-collection. Perhaps the only true impediment to total veracity is the self-selecting nature of available samples. However, as being online becomes more the norm for the average customer, this is less likely to be an issue, and as more people move online, messages will become more and more genuine indicators of public opinion.

Welcome to the Blogosphere: Word-of-Mouth Moves Online

“Blog” is a contraction of “web log”: an online journal or diary. Some common blogging site hosts are livejournal.com, typepad.com, and blogspot.com (See Figure 1). These websites—some for free, some for a small fee—allow computer-users to publish their opinions and experiences online. But bloggers do not merely discuss their day-to-day lives. There are “virtual communities” on livejournal for fans of authors and for readers of individual books, for movie genres, individual films, and for viewers of television shows to gossip about what they think will happen next. There are communities for people studying languages and hundreds of academic disciplines. There are communities for people who listen to certain music, who wear certain fashions, who want to know which makeup products work for others with similar skin tones (See Example 1). Searches on livejournal reveal multiple fan clubs for (and detractors of) brands and stores: abercrombie1892, abercrombielife, and abercrombieclub are a just few communities of users who laud Abercrombie & Fitch clothing. Members of target_freaks, target_fanatics, and target_lovers vie with targetslaves and target_sucks. The popular livejournal blogging community “Rachael Ray Sucks!”—which boasts over 1,000 members—was recently featured in the Boston Globe: in the “Business” section of the paper (Walker; this community was also profiled by the online magazine Slate six months earlier: http://www.slate.com/id/2122085/. Thousands of marketing and products-oriented blogs exist online, from the Gawker-owned “The Consumerist” to “Hot Rod Blog,” “A Dress A Day,” and shoeblogs.com. Studies indicate that both posting in and “lurking…in the virtual consumer community does contribute to an explanation of brand loyalty that goes beyond the explanation of involvement.”

Blogging is a massive—and growing—phenomenon, and dozens of bloggers to date have received highly lucrative book deals.** Many of the most popular blogs, such as “Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things” (the most popular blog in the world, as ranked by Technorati.com), “Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide” and “PostSecret,” receive millions of daily visits to their websites. Of the 147 million American adults who use the internet, 39% read blogs regularly, and 8% of U.S. internet users 18 and older write blogs (higher for under-18s; see Figure 2). This number is growing exponentially, with nearly half of all bloggers having started within the past year. 18% of all blogs are less than six months old, and 82% of bloggers expected to still be updating their blogs a year after the date of the survey (See Figure 3 and Figure 4). Among the many topics which writers blog about are products and services: the things they buy, the type of service they receive at stores and restaurants, new products they try, and whether or not these work for them. In fact, the popular blog apartmenttherapy.com and the social networking site zebo.com are simply collections of consumer products, advertised for free (See Examples 2 and 3). The voices of bloggers ring out with more force than most people’s, carry further, and—because all blog postings are archived and searchable to millions—have a far longer shelf life and reach than either advertising or personal word-of-mouth.

Most people want to control “where, when, and how they absorb product information….When they need information about a product or a brand, consumers go to the Web, where a variety of viewpoints are available. When they’re not in information-gathering mode, they block out” most targeted marketing messages (Lowery and Chase, 108). One of the primary reasons that blogs can be so potentially damaging (or helpful) to companies is because they are transparently public, and thus appear on search engines such as Google, which returns the most-visited results to a user. When blogger Jeff Jarvis, a media consultant and the founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, began detailing his problems with Dell Computer’s customer service department on his popular blog, www.buzzmachine.com, the blogging world took notice. On the day he posted an open letter to Dell’s CMO and to its chairman on his blog (http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/cat_dell.html), it was the third-most-linked-to blog entry on the internet (Gupta). If a person considering the purchase of a computer googles “Dell,” and one of the first search results is Jeff Jarvis’s account of his “Dell Hell,” the company stands to potentially lose hundreds—if not thousands—of customers. At the same time, Jarvis’s decision to switch to a Mac PowerBook provided free positive publicity for Apple Computer.

Many companies are attempting to respond to the rise of the “blogosphere”; most are caught playing catch-up. As a direct result of a single customer’s dissatisfaction, Dell’s public relations department now monitors thousands of blogs and has their customer-service department reach out to dissatisfied customers directly: “When someone like Jeff is going on at length like that, you do more than just listen to it… .It’s like a cancer that has to be stopped—and people are going to start listening, and it’s going to have an effect on your reputation” (Gupta). It is not simply powerful voices like Jarvis’ that should make companies take notice, however. There is a real sense in which bloggers must be viewed by marketers as ersatz “Nielson families.” In Gladwell’s parlance, bloggers are today’s most powerful Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen, and provide a compelling statistical sample for market research. Many bloggers identify their age, gender, and location. Most bloggers keep “blogrolls,” lists of their readers and of the blogs they read, and fully nine-out-of-ten bloggers allow their readers to comment directly on their websites, a function that marketing departments should take advantage of (Lenhart and Fox, p. 20. 87% of sampled bloggers allow comments: 94% of bloggers 18-29, 84% aged 30-49, and 69% of bloggers 50-64). Blogs represent a vast—and vastly undertapped—trove of raw data that marketing researchers are, for the most part, still struggling to identify, respond to, and assimilate. Most importantly, blogs provide companies with an unprecedentedly powerful way to determine the “worth” and loyalty of their customers.

Just as internet search engines allow consumers to search online for reviews and recommendations of products, marketing researchers are slowly realizing that they too can type the name of a product into Google and discover what kind of buzz and consumer response a product or service or public figure is generating. To this end, most corporations now have dedicated SEO (search engine optimization) employees and departments, or hire outside firms to monitor what their customers are saying about their products online. As Chris Myles, senior VP of an Atlanta PR firm notes, “It’s a great way to take a temperature. …I don’t think blogs are 100 percent representative of your customer base, but if you can keep your fanatics happy, there’s a good chance you can keep everybody else happy” (Brooks, 32). By “fanatics,” he is referring to the subjects of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Law of the Few”— “connectors,” “mavens,” and “salemen”—people whose word of mouth reverberates furthest and most persuasively among consumers. Blogs provide one highly-effective way for companies to identify the people who can get messages out quickly and efficiently within their target markets. Blogs can also be helpful to identify target markets.

Viral Marketing: Two Campaigns

To paraphrase an old joke, if you ask three professors of literature to define the word “postmodern,” you will get five answers. The term “viral marketing” similarly attracts an aggregation of conflicting and complementary definitions. One wild oversimplification of the case is to claim that “viral marketing is word-of-mouth moved online” (Brooks, 36). In the broadest terms, this refers to any marketing campaign created by or on behalf of a company selling a product of service, wherein the message itself is spread by customers or potential consumers of that product. The distinction between viral marketing and word of mouth is thin, and at one point Wikipedia, a popular online encyclopedia written by its readers, considered doing away entirely with its entry for “word of mouth marketing” in favor of “viral marketing.” As a result of a word-of-mouth campaign, the proposed change was stopped, and viral marketing is now defined as a subset of WOMM (Wasserman, 34).

One of the most widely-cited, and perhaps a textbook-perfect example, of viral marketing was engineered by Microsoft’s Hotmail, a service providing free personal email addresses. Through the simple expedient of appending a small clickable link to each message sent—disguised as a “p.s.” and suggesting that the recipient of the email should subscribe to the service—Hotmail exploded, growing faster than any media phenomenon in history: “By mid-2000, Hotmail had over 66 million users with 270,000 new accounts being established each day” (Moore, 348-50; Subramani and Rajagopalan, 300, 302) It was, in part, in reaction to this campaign that the term “viral marketing” was coined. However, viral marketing is not of necessity dependent on the internet, and remains distinct from word-of-mouth, virtual or personal. Viral marketing is purposefully directed and intended to create a buzz. Word-of-mouth is that buzz. “Viral marketing is a powerful means for both marketers and recipients to benefit from the innate helpfulness of individuals in social networks. However, success hinges upon the recognition of the strong need for influencers to be viewed as knowledgeable helpers in the social network rather than as agents of the marketer” (Subramani and Rajagopalan, 306). The Hotmail example works because the postscript to outgoing emails feels more like a suggestion from a friend than an advertisement.

A more recent example of viral marketing was actually foiled by word-of-mouth generated by popular media blogs Gawker and Defamer. On July 17, 2006, a billboard went up in lower Manhattan. It read: “Hi Steven, Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly endowed slimeball. Everything’s caught on tape. Your (soon-to-be-ex) Wife, Emily” (Bosman, 6).*** After a photo of the billboard was posted on Gawker.com (http://www.gawker.com/news/advertising/spurned-wife-more-likely-26yearold-hipster-ad-twat-who-thinks-hes-just-so-clever-187884.php), another west-coast blogger independently placed a photograph of an identical billboard—this one located in West Hollywood—on his blog ). Gawker’s west-coast affiliate site, Defamer, then posted the story. It is noteworthy that each initial post about this billboard automatically and independently assumed that this was an advertising gimmick. Almost immediately, comments appended to all three blogs by readers pointed out another blog, purportedly the online journal of the woman who had purchased the billboard (http://www.thatgirlemily.blogspot.com). Whether or not the people directing readers to Emily’s blog were part of the campaign is uncertain, but the game was up in less than 24 hours: the billboards and blog were revealed to be part of an advertising campaign for a single episode of the Court TV television program “Parco, P.I.”

The network was caught with its pants down. A spokesman revealed to the New York Times that the online frenzy over the billboards placed Court TV in a position where they were forced to move up the launch date of the second phase of their marketing campaign by several weeks: “It’s like a flash investigation took place, and within 24 hours we were busted” (Bosman). A viral mystery that had been intended to unravel over the course of a month or more was foiled by online word-of-mouth in a single day. Viral marketing is susceptible to failure and consumer backlash as a direct result of its indirect nature; no one like being made a fool of. However, the Emily campaign was a success in part because it was disrupted: the market had outwitted the marketers.

Aggregation and Analysis of online WOM: The eBay-ification of the Marketplace

While blogging has been discussed as playing a major role in the rise of new mass-media WOM, it is only one recent phenomenon—and not even the most popular one—in the online world. Blogging is merely one facet of “a diverse mosaic of Internet-mediated communities (product review sites, discussion groups, instant messaging chat rooms, web logs, etc.) [which have] allowed individuals all over the world to easily share opinions on…products, services, and even world events. Thanks to these systems, opinions of a single individual can instantly reach thousands, or even millions, of other consumers” (Dellarocas and Narayan, 277). Yet there are other highly effective methods of capturing customer opinions online in measurable and useful ways.

One of the most successful companies in terms of capturing online word-of-mouth, and translating it into positive customer response is the online auction site, eBay, the internet auction house which actively uses its website—which boasts chat rooms, feedback forums, user-generated rating and ranking systems, and posts the direct email addresses of its officers—to solicit and fulfill its users’ wants and needs. eBay’s successful customer service has hinged on two major factors: the basic and “provable” honesty of its users through “feedback” left by other users, and customers’ ability to feel part of a community ownership of the company itself. These goals are served by eBay’s emphasis on “facilitate[ing] open and honest communication, both amongst users themselves, and between users and the company” (Frei, Francis X. and Hannah Rodriguez-Farrar. p. 2). A growing number of eBay’s sellers are brick-and-mortar corporations—including IBM, Dell, Disney, Xerox, Home Depot, The Sharper Image, and JC Penney—seeking to establish or supplement an online presence (Frei 5, 13), and these companies are quickly learning that in order to survive and thrive in an internet age, they must become radically customer-oriented: “eBay buyers, accustomed to a high level of interpersonal service in the completion of their transactions with [private] sellers, demanded more attention from corporate sellers than those larger businesses were accustomed to providing. …The irony is that, so far, the corporations are the ones adjusting the way they do business. Buyers…expect an e-mail response the next day, not in six weeks, and shipping had better not cost half as much as the entire product” (Frei, 6). The success of companies in the brick-and-mortar, as well as the online, marketplace may well depend upon how well they internalize the lessons of eBay—on their success in creating channels for direct online communication between businesses and customers, and being responsive to these channels.

While by no means an ad-free space, the spaces on the internet which allow people the freedom to discuss products, services, and the marketing of each—whether brand-affiliated or independent—can be valuable marketing measures and guides: “Consumers need a pause in all of the clutter to let messages sink in. If advertisers take every opportunity to make a sales pitch they are being counterproductive. Advertisements stacked brick upon brick become a wall of white noise that gets ignored. …Advertisers who feel compelled to jump onto this bandwagon of advertising cluster-bombing will lose to competitors who treat their consumer with the respect of subtlety” (Cleveland, 58). Advertisements are easy to tune out, fast-forward through, or simply ignore. Many advertisements which attempt to stand out in a crowd actually lose their effectiveness, as Seth Stevenson notes in his blog, “The Ad Report Card,” citing the specific example of an E-surance ad he had watched dozens of times without noticing what was being advertised (Stevenson). What makes brand messages “stick” is discussion of brands and brand campaigns.

It has been established that “that word of mouth is vitally important and is likely to become more so. The propensity to influence others is going to vary widely from person to person so how do we spot those who are going to be the very best word-of-mouth advocates for our brand?” (Chiarelli, 43). A product’s reputation, as transmitted via word of mouth, is a vital asset for any company. Public perception of consumer as well as luxury goods matter because every purchase “is part of a social process. …It involves not only a one-to-one interaction between the company and the customer but also many exchanges of information and influence among the people who surround the customer” (Phelps, et alia, citing Rosen, 2000, p 6). Today, increasingly, the people who surround consumers, and the people to whom consumers trust and turn to for advice may be people they have never met, but whom they merely interact with through online communities and forums. Whether we call them mavens, influentials, early-adaptors, or fanatics, those members of the public most likely to have an undue influence on the purchasing habits of others are already online. They’ve been there for quite some time. And as these leaders go, others—and their collective purchasing power—follow.

Footnotes

* First recorded posting of flaw (09/12/2004): http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=67493; company’s promise to replace locks (09/14/2004): http://lists.ebbc.org/pipermail/ebbc-talk-ebbc.org/2004-September/000598.html.

** Most notably Stephanie Klein (blog: “Greek Tragedy”; book deal: $500,000+ for two books; unspecified amount for an NBC pilot), Ana Marie Cox (blog: “Wonkette”; $250,000 for one book), Julie Powell (blog: “The Julie/Julia Project”; close to seven figures for one book), Tucker Max (blog: “tuckermax.com”; book deal: $300,000 for one book, and later recruited by a second publisher for an undisclosed sum), and Dana Vachon (blog: “D-Nasty”; book deal: $650,000 for two books).

*** See also http://www.gawker.com/news/advertising/obvious-viral-ad-works-its-crappy-magic-on-both-sides-of-country-188090.php, and http://defamer.com/hollywood/viral-nonsense/please-cover-this-viral-marketing-billboard-in-viralmarketed-guerilla-art-187933.php. The irreverent titles of these blog articles go to proving the jadedness of the general public towards advertisers.

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Walker, Rob. “Hatred of Rachael Ray can be a powerful uniting force.” The Boston Globe. November 26, 2006. hatred_of_rachael_ray_can_be_a_powerful_ uniting_force/)

Wasserman, Todd. “Word-of-Mouth vs. Viral Marketing.” Brandweek, September 4, 2006, p. 34.

Weill, Peter and Michael R. Vitale. Place to Space: Migrating to eBusiness Models. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.

Figures

Figure 1.

use of blogging tools broken down by % of bloggers who use each

Figure 2.

americans who use the internet: 147 million. americans who read blogs: 57 million. americans who keep blogs: 12 million. All data Pew Internet & American Life Project, circa 2006.

Figure 3.

18% of bloggers have been blogging for six months of less. 33% have blogged for about a year. 30% blogged for 2 to 3 years. 19% blogged for more than 4 years. All data Pew Internet & American Life Project, circa 2006.

Figure 4.

51% of bloggers have been blogging less than a year; 82% belive they will be blogging a year from now. All data Pew Internet & American Life Project, circa 2006.

Examples

Example 1.

This screenshot from a livejournal community selected at random demonstrates several important aspects of WOM interactions that occur online, including how users provide internet links to and between “trustworthy” consumer feedback forums.

Example 2.

Discussion and dissention on an apartmenttherapy.com forum. Note segregated sidebar advertising content.

Example 3.

apartmenttherapy.com caters to affluent apartment-dwellers (or those who aspire to live like them), and the original New York City-based blog has four affiliated sister-sites (in San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as well as an entire section devoted to “the kitchen.” Its content includes user-generated Q&As/product recommendations (top left); suggestions of gift ideas (center left); recommended local goods, shops, and services (bottom left); highlighted high-design products (right, top and center); and featured offers of interest from craigslist.com and eBay (bottom left). While it generates money through sidebar advertisements, none of the products featured as editorial content within the blog itself produces revenue. Since creating the site, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan has been featured on several home-makeover television shows, and published a book, Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure, which is consistently ranked in the top-ten most-purchased interior design books on Amazon.com.

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