In Our Super-Connected World, How Should Advertising Really “Work”?


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Let’s face it. Like it or not, today all of us are living, and being influenced on a daily basis, on an omnichannel planet. As new personalized technologies – Google Glass, wearable computers, etc. – become more mainstream, and meld with social media, this will continue to increase. So, how we make product and service decisions is more complex, and based on interconnections, now than at any time in the past.

Wherever consumers are, the key words are access, content, context, and connection. Also, they are pretty much medium-agnostic and desirous of speed. In sum, information-wise, consumers want what they want when they want it.

And, even with all this change in both dynamics and complexity, marketers still have to find the most effective and cost-efficient pathways for getting consumers to buy their products and services, and keep them buying, hopefully to the exclusion of all other brands they might consider:

As consumers, many of us see product and service reviews online, and some may also post them as a result of their own experiences. We hear, or look at, commercials. We engage in brand-based conversations, through social media, text, phone and emails, and in-person through one-on-one or group dialogue. When marketing budgets are being allocated and media plans are crystallizing, key and basic questions need to be asked. What actually causes us to communicate about products and services on our mobile devices, and in person? Is it advertising? Is it social word of mouth? Do we have a real idea of how they work, independently and together, to stimulate interest?

Many marketers believe that their contact and interest-building approaches are contemporary, but numerous studies and evaluations of successful campaigns strongly suggest that customers want more dialogue and engagement, and less unsolicited and unwanted content, irrespective of format or medium. Whether electronic or print, there is still an overabundance of marginally-targeted push marketing, much of it cloaked in the sheep’s clothing of consumer ‘viral’ or ‘in the moment’:

The recent Word of Mouth Marketing Association study not only verified the economic value of consumer-to-consumer communication (, it also examined how word-of-mouth and traditional advertising are, or can be, linked to generate online/offline sharing and conversations. Several key findings emerged for building brand equity and linking paid advertising, word-of-mouth, and product or service purchase:

• Advertising should be purposely designed and executed to create consumer dialogue, or “talk worthiness”, through every channel. Without this kind of memorability and downstream impact, advertising’s real value is minimized

• Advertising should be a lever or stimulus which drives conversations, promoting shared viewing or listening. This has to do with the creative aspects of ads and promotions, as well as their media of placement.

• Advertising should also be so crafted and placed that it targets the most active communicators, called “influentials” by Ed Keller and Jon Berry over a decade ago in their seminal book (The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy)

Today, advertising needs to become more social and engaging in nature, in part because informal dialogue has been proven to influence such a large proportion of b2b and b2c decision-making. So, a contemporary and real-world way of looking at advertising and promotional effectiveness is to go beyond the message push and hype factor and assess how well they stimulate the engagement and word-of mouth that contributes to, or results in, the path to consumer purchase.

Consultant Andy Sernovitz, considered a word-of-mouth marketing pioneer, wrote (in his book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking): “You should try to build word-of mouth into every advertising campaign. Real word-of-mouth dips in and out of different spaces. You eat at a good restaurant. You mention it to people in the office. One of them emails your recommendation to his wife. She emails it to four friends, and they have lunch there. Two mention the restaurant to other friends at a party, and one of them blogs about it. Someone reads the blog and calls a buddy about eating there. They review it online. You get the idea.”

What he has just described is part of what media impact pundits have labeled as the “long tail”, the desired (or undesired) staying power that occurs when advertising and promotion converge with experience. The long tail produces memories, which result in reputation/image and consumer word-of-mouth, for good or evil. Naturally, as marketers blend advertising with word-of-mouth, their goal is to optimize the good and minimize the evil. Or, to quote lyricist Johnny Mercer:

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene.”

These are advertising, customer experience, social media and word-of-mouth concepts to live by.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. You definitely hit the spot Michael, particularly in the advertisements being a stimulus to drive conversations part. Most of the ads I’ve seen are direct to the point and overly promotional. Although straightforwardness has its benefits, it doesn’t usually give a positive response. Ads, particularly in online platforms, should be memorable, humorous and be something that would stay in the minds of uses for a long time 🙂

  2. Content marketing is a good place to start when talking about interactive advertising. If we follow the principle of using advertisements as stimuli for conversations, I think creating more branded content that can be shared on social media is a great way to increase brand awareness. Infographics, videos, and other rich media content are some examples of these.

    The more places they reach, the more conversations they can create. Making sure that these materials are not only engaging, but valuable and relevant to their target audience as well is what will make them share-worthy.


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