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March 12, 2007

WORD OF MOUTH: Just light the blue touchpaper

It is fascinating to witness the ‘evolution’ of the oldest advertising medium known to man – word of mouth (WOM). It is as if advertisers have all just woken up to this new, intriguing concept, and are suddenly in urgent need of buzz words and definitions to help us all ‘understand it’, ‘harness it’, ‘maximise its potential’. But, with the popularity for WOM comes the inevitable negative terms describing it as simply 'runaway' or 'wild fire' marketing, suggesting that it cannot be properly harnessed or controlled.

I would argue that WOM, if used properly, is highly targeted and as easy to control as any other form of marketing. Of course, it makes a big bang that everyone remembers, but it is more like lighting the blue touch-paper and retiring to a safe distance than tossing a lighted match into a keg of gunpowder!  

So just how big is the WOM phenomenon is at the moment? Recent research conducted by Comment UK among 100 leading UK brands showed just how strong its pull is for marketers right now. The research showed there is a strong willingness to use the technique and revealed a positive sea change in the way brands are marketing themselves. Overall, 65% of respondents declared that they will be adding live performance-based communication techniques to their marketing, advertising and communications plans for 2007 to stimulate and generate WOM, 85% of these respondents will be embarking on such WOM programmes for the first time.    

Respondents said they were using the medium to address more than one distinct element of their marketing communications, from amplifying on-pack/in-store promotions to supporting TV or print campaigns at consumer level.  

Striking a chord

So, clearly marketers have understood that live communications, for example (the best ignition for an incremental WOM response) strikes a deep chord with the consumer and can offer very high, sustained levels of recall of up to 85%. And even though live communications cannot address millions like an ATL campaign, it can address hundreds of thousands of the right people, and those people will talk about your brand.

The secret has already been discovered by major brands, such as BT, Unilever and Nokia, resulting in realistic, controlled, positive and sustainable results. So, how is this done? Quite simply, before we communicate with the consumer, whatever medium we use, we should be probing the strategy with questions such as:

“Is this product word of mouth worthy?”
“If so, have we communicated that clearly”
“Will they talk about this campaign/product after seeing this creative?”
“If so, what do we want them to say and to whom”
“If they won’t, why not? What can we do to ensure they do?”
“Can we control what they say and if so, for how long?”

Answer these simple questions and you will begin to hone a creative execution and campaign strategy that will actually control what people say about your brand.

Making consumers happy

A good example is a recent campaign that Comment UK launched in 2006 to support two new crisp flavours for Walkers. It used teams of singers serenading busy workers during their lunch break with a re-worded rendition of “Don’t Worry be Happy”.

The public were entertained and received a voucher for a free packet of crisps at Boots. The concept was based on the death of the lunch hour, with most people now taking just 15 minutes rather than the traditional 60 – that was the talking point.

The initiative was organised like a military campaign and also involved radio with live discussions and even DJ’s visiting parks and malls in nine major urban centres to engage in vox pops with lunching workers. The campaign had all the right elements – an unusual and engaging live performance near an outlet where they could sample a popular product free and a big idea that actually meant something to the target audience.  

But did it work? Well, the week of the campaign Boots had its highest turnover week in history. Coincidence? Maybe. However, when the campaign was being created, this was the planned outcome. Let’s face it – when did you last hear West End-standard singers in your local Boots, park or shopping mall, and get a free bag of crisps? The result? People were actually seeking us out because they’d been told all about it by their mates.  

Old media for new
If word of mouth is hit and miss, runaway, uncontrollable, then we are either using media wrong or using the wrong media. We have two options: create talk-worthy campaigns using old media (think about the anti-smoking ads with the cigs turning into clogged and oozing arteries. That got all of us smokers talking over a fag in the pub!), or create campaigns using new media. The latter seems to be easier, and the reasons are evident.

This is not rocket science at all. Word of mouth is created by tapping into human nature. It is giving back to the consumer in a unique and emotive way – and that is something that modern promotions seldom do. If you do it, you will get word of mouth. It’s that simple. Let’s stop worrying about whether we can create and control it, and actually plan to do so from word go.

What do you think of this $type?





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