Consumerism in the 21st century is more influenced by the opinions of other consumers than by advertising. The thumbs up system on Facebook, YouTube and other websites are now in command of what products and services we decide to purchase with our hard-earned cash.

Every marketer dreams of creating a viral campaign that will drive sales through the roof. Commercials have become a staple diet of what millions will watch, voluntarily, on websites like YouTube. Not because there’s a particular interest in what the ad is trying to sell, but rather because of the content of the ad itself.

There are hundreds of compilations of banned commercials online as a result. Outrageous ads that in the end offer little more than a couple of minutes of entertainment receive thousands of likes and generate thousands of comments and discussions in the forums provided.

Thumbs up!

A perfect example is the UK company SodaStream. Their ads were banned from television in 2012. In retaliation, SodaStream launched a print campaign that featured the word censored in capital letters and added the following statement in their defense:

“Our TV advertisement has been banned from being shown on UK TV because the major commercial broadcasters have ruled it ‘denigrates the soft-drinks industry.’ This is the same soft-drinks industry which spends GBP 39m in TV advertising each year.”

The company also posted their banned commercial on YouTube and it has to date had more than 3.5 million views and more than 2,500 likes. There are hundreds of posts in the comment section below. But with a top comment like: “Calm your vagina,” it’s easy to question if they’ve achieved what they hoped for.

An e-commerce study from 2007 shows that a consumer’s trust directly and indirectly influences their purchasing intention as well as the views on perceived risks. In other words, we mostly pay for goods and services based on trusting what other consumers say about them.

This means that a clever marketer knows that a product or service only has to be perceived as trustworthy to sell off the charts. Naturally, the quality does come into play in the end, but is no longer vital when it comes to boosting initial sales.

Some less scrupulous companies even hire graduate students to write tons of positive reviews online and to refute the negative ones.

A landmark case involved cosmetics company Lifestyle Lift, which was caught having fake customer reviews written by its own employees. The company ended up paying US$300,000 in penalties to the state of New York in 2009.

With all these changes to consumer behavior, mainly driven by technology and ready access to information, the old saying “buyer beware” has never rung more true.

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