Word Of Mouth Still Rules The Marketing Roost Online

The power to influence action through advocacy still dominates.

Joshua Schnell
Dec 9, 2016 · 6 min read

Publishers regularly turn down campaigns from our advertising partners because they don’t view the campaigns as a fit for their audiences. It’s something that’s a constant struggle for us (esp. our ad sales team) because we all pride ourselves on collecting the best possible advertisements we can for our publishing partners. While I can understand our team’s frustrations, I’m actually quite thankful that our publishing partners constantly hold our feet to the flame and demand better advertisements for their audiences.

Word of mouth still rules the advertising roost.

That kind of commitment to audiences isn’t the norm in our industry anymore, but at BuySellAds we actually try to cultivate those kinds of publishing partnerships. Advertising online has ultimately become a ‘set it and forget it’ type of industry for the majority of people trafficking in advertisements online today. Measurement happens, but rarely at a level that considers audience perception as a key metric.

Why is that a problem? The moment the ad tech industry promoted lowering acquisition costs over closing the gap between advertiser and publisher by helping the respective parties increase opportunities for product advocacy, we doomed the entire online advertising paradigm.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the history of advertising online and how my goals back when I was an independent online publisher are a lot different than the goals for a lot of publishing brands we see online today. Some would argue that the industry grew up, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.

Maybe I was naive, but I used to view online advertisements as products that were being endorsed by publishers. That’s not the case any longer, thanks to things like content ad networks, RTB, and other formats like interstitials, pop-unders, and basically every other interruptive technique now littering the side of abandoned ad tech highways.

I think we need to turn the car around and return to our beginnings. Here’s why…

All things being equal, people always consider the opinions of those they trust when making a decision. It may be a friend or a family member, or it could be a trusted source of information online, but in every situation, the weight of those opinions carry significant value.

There’s Even A Ton Of Rules About It

Advocacy is so powerful as a sales motivation tool that several governments have taken steps to address “unethical” attempts to limit the playing field for brands relying on advocacy for revenue.

We have rules about underwriting advertisements. We have rules about disclosing paid endorsements on social media sites (not that anyone follows them). If you’re in a position to advocate for a product on a daily basis, there’s a good chance that policies are in place to curtail unethical attempts at leveraging the technique for profit.

  1. The FTC has rules in place. (The guideline is 22 pages long).
  2. Amazon is taking steps to combat gift-incentivized product recommendations on its site.
  3. Instagram has policies in place about endorsements.
  4. Journalists have rules about accepting gifts and free review samples.

Of course, people can decide to use the power for good or evil. Publishers who are using advocacy-based advertisements in an ethical way stand to gain quite substantially from the practice.

AOL Keyword: Ethically.

Advocacy Is The Only Real Currency Content Creators Have Today.

People can smell fake ten miles out. It’s pretty obvious to the average person when someone is being genuine in their opinions. For instance, if you watch a lot of video bloggers and reviewers on YouTube, you’ve probably hit the subscribe button on several channels already.

You’ve decided on some level that they’re worth following and that they’re being honest about the products they review.

There are a couple of people I subscribe to on YouTube who review camping gear quite regularly. As someone getting back into camping, their recommendations are extremely valuable to me. I subscribe to two or three people that I’ve come to trust. I’ve unsubscribed from several people that I clearly don’t trust any longer.

All it takes is one poor recommendation and immediately an audiences starts to question that trust. They may let it slide the first time or two, but if there’s a history of poor recommendations, an advocate immediately loses their reputation and audience.

How does advertising work into that? Well, you can probably track every single item in my camping kit to the several channels I’ve subscribed to on YouTube. More specifically, I buy things that people recommend to me.

My process usually unwinds like this:

  1. I stumble across a products on a channel that I’ve subscribed to and then watch a review.
  2. I make an early call on a product and decide that I may purchase it.
  3. I start researching it and look for secondary product reviews about the product.
  4. I head to Amazon and make a purchase.

Step one, for marketers, is probably the most important part of the equation. Product discovery and the additional advocacy that’s attached to that discovery in video format is a powerful marketing combination for most.

But, the whole thing can break down when trust is lost between the person advocating for a product and the person looking to consume the information about the product. The break down happens consistently between step 3 and step 4 above. If secondary reviews don’t re-affirm the views of the person during my first exposure experience, I start to distrust their opinions. But, if reviews align, my trust in the original reviewer grows.

Building trust is the only real currency a content producer has today. It’s increasingly difficult to hock snake oil for a living online. A quick Google search, or even a search on social sites like Facebook or Twitter, immediately reveals the truth about a product.

Some companies, like Wirecutter, absolutely get the value of maintaining their audience’s trust. Most, however, seem to have forgotten that the trust and relationship between reader and content producer is what actually drives revenue growth. When that trust is gone, the power of advocacy disappears almost immediately. As a result, revenue tends to dry up pretty quick.

I’ve had to learn this the hard way on several occasions with my own publications over the years. At some point, you develop a past. If that past catches up to you in a less than favourable way, the only thing left to do is accept the outcome. I’ve run advertisements for several products that, in hindsight, were clearly a mistake.

So, when publishers turn down an advertisement outright, I do a little happy dance inside. For me, it means that they take their audiences seriously. For me, it means that they understand the situation they find themselves in today. It means they’ve made our jobs a little bit easier in the long run because they have a lock on their audience demographics.

The next time someone asks for adjustments to a campaign, or turns down a campaign outright, stop and remind yourself why they’re doing it. When you start thinking in those terms, it’s easy to see that it’s a mutually beneficial outcome for both the publisher and advertiser.

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We help marketers advertise to niche tech audiences in the perfect context.

Joshua Schnell

Written by

Once upon a time tech journalist. Current firestarter, punkin’ instigator @buysellads. Wartime Slack DJ.


We help marketers advertise to niche tech audiences in the perfect context.

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