WOMMA's Word of Mouth vs. Advertising

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by: David Polinchock

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is hosting a debate during the upcoming Advertising Week 2005 in New York in late September. As part of their upfront promotion and to really encourage discussion, they have launched a blog to debate traditional vs. WOM marketing and to get input from people with opinions:

This is an experiment in participatory blogging. We popped up this site to enable a vigorous conversation about an interesting topic. Everyone is encouraged to submit ideas (send them to editor@womma.org). Insightful posters will get full author privileges. And, of course, we encourage everyone to jump in, comment, criticize, and enjoy the conversation.

So, here's something that I recently wrote about WOM:

And just look at the entire WOM phenomenon. Now, as part of full disclosure, we participated in the first WOMMA conference and are very good friends of the WOMMA team. But think about it, if you identify campaign A as your WOM campaign, aren't you in effect saying that you don't expect anything from the rest of your campaigns? Shouldn't the goal of great storytelling be that people talk about everything you do??? Shouldn't you be creating TV commercials, events or online activities that all make people want to talk about them?

In our client presentations we talk about the battle between strategy and tactics and honestly, I think that we as an industry spend way too much time creating this debate. We (us in the industry) created the chasm between traditional and non-traditional, above the line and below the line, etc., and I'm not sure our audience really cares about this debate.

But here's what they do care about — the ever-growing intrusion of advertising into our lives. And, despite the online people feeling that they have it all over their offline breathren, this was recently reported in MediaPost's Behavioral Insider:

On Monday, Wired News reported on a group of Flickr users who refuse to create Yahoo! accounts in order to continue using the free photo display and community service, now that the publishing powerhouse has purchased Flickr. In essence, they see Yahoo! as a Web behemoth that's swallowed up their friendly neighborhood meeting place. The fact that Yahoo!, and by extension, Flickr, want to profit from their personal images flies in the face of this small but vocal collective's belief that the Web should be a free and open place. Sure, in exchange for establishing a free Yahoo! account, they'll continue to get the cool photo album and social networking service they appreciate; but, this evidently is an intrusion they're not willing to allow.

And then there's "Internet Advertiser Wakeup Day." Apparently affiliated with phony site log-in generator, BugMeNot.com, the online petition to "Internet Advertisers" reads, "We, the undersigned, wish to demonstrate the pointless nature of forced Web site registration schemes and the dubious demographic data they collect. On November 13th, we will each register an account using fake details at one or more of these top 10 offending sites: www.nytimes.com, www.washingtonpost.com, www.latimes.com, www.ajc.com, www.chicagotribune.com, www.dallasnews.com, www.nypost.com, www.baltimoresun.com, www.philly.com, www.mercurynews.com." 

Honestly, we believe that it doesn't matter what tactic you use, as long as it creates a compelling, authentic and relevant experience for your brand. And it doesn't really matter what tool you use to deliver that story, as long as it's a good story and people want to hear it.

And what happens when tactics over take narrative and strategy? Look at the press the Paris Hilton commercials have scored for Carl's Jr. But an article in Ad Age indicated virtually no lift in sales. And Carl's is now going to create more teen male oriented content on their site, to make it a destination for that audience, based on the number of people who wanted to download that single commercial. That's an idea being driven solely by tactical thinking, not strategic thinking.

You can be sure that after the success of programs like BMW Films and Subservient Chicken that many companies called their agency and said "Give me one of those subservient chicken things!" There was no thought as to how it fit into their brand or story, but if it worked for them, it has to work for us!

Examples like the Paris Hilton ads or the Pontiac giveaway on Oprah show what happens when tactics rule story. Yes, people will talk about it, but it doesn't translate into action.

But, last year, when the American Girl Doll Place opened in NYC, it was the toughest restaurant in the city to get reservations for on a Saturday night. That's the power of great story telling! They've created a compelling, authentic and relevant story that they tell their target audience. But most importantly, they actually deliver on their story. I've heard about people taking an entire vacation to NYC just to go to the American Girl Place here. And they spent lots of money to boot.

Here's what we say about great stories:

  • People want to tell a great story
  • People want to hear a great story
  • People want to participate in a great story  

    The tools that you use to deliver that story will change based on the audience that you're talking too and the story you're telling. For me, it's theatre 101. I just wish we put more effort into working together to tell better stories then debating who has the best tool to tell the story. So, go check out their blog and post your thoughts/comments and add your voice to the debate.

    BTW, here's what I'd like to see discussed: 

  • Authentic WOM (say American Girl) vs. inauthentic WOM (say, Paris Hilton ads for Carl's).
  • What people really believe are great WOM campaigns so we can see how many of them actually started as advertising vs. really starting as WOM (not triggered by an advertising campaign).  

    Link: WOMMA's Word of Mouth vs. Advertising.

    Original Post: http://blog.brandexperiencelab.org/experience_manifesto/2005/09/wommas_word_of_.html