When does word of mouth beat advertising?

An OpEd piece in today’s New York Times compares the boost that Huckabee and Obama got in Iowa from people talking to people with their opponents’ well-funded advertising campaigns. Romney outspent Huckabee on TV by 6 to 1. Edwards aced second place, despite being outspent 3 to 1. Why?

The answer is no less profound for being simple — what people say to one another can be as potent as what TV advertisements try to make them think.

As potent. Hm.

The article doesn’t go into whether word of mouth from a strong tie is more powerful than from a weak tie, or from a stranger canvassing a neighborhood. In the 2004 election, it seemed that Howard Dean’s orange cap-wearing fans turned off many Iowans. I wonder what happened on the ground this time.

The article offers some tidbits:

These conversations are more important than ever before. Public trust in all kinds of communication is eroding, with a notable exception: word of mouth. A Roper poll found the number of people who said they get good ideas and information from television ads declined from 1977 to 2003, while the number who said the same about word of mouth increased by 25 percentage points.

Our mid-December survey of Iowa voters found 38 percent saying they trusted information provided by TV ads, while 69 percent trusted “comments from friends, relatives and colleagues.”

But we’ll have to wait for deeper analyses to learn more.


About Jerry Michalski

Lateral thinker, itinerant troublemaker, convener, idea mill.
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