An average television commercial lasts about 30 to 40 seconds, but takes days, often months, to create. Companies invest heavily in designing such communication all in the hope that the story will be sold to the consumer and another sale clinched. It’s time perhaps to question conventional wisdom, if the findings of a recent Nielsen survey are anything to go by. The global information and measurement company’s recent ‘Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages’ survey says consumers across continents tend to trust the ‘earned media’ more than ‘paid media’ and that they are placing faith in recommendations from people they know and online consumer reviews more than ever before.
In simple terms, earned media would represent any medium through which the consumer actively seeks information; whereas a paid medium would be one through which a company/brand feeds her information and tries to build a favourable perception.
Nielsen’s ‘Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages’ survey, established in 2005, analyses the extent to which consumers trust various advertising media. Apart from the traditional — television, print, radio and outdoor — it also covers new (internet or mobile) and upcoming media. Examples include online consumer reviews, branded websites, editorial content and advertisements served in search engines. The survey for the current report was conducted in August/September 2011 and polled more than 28,000 consumers in 56 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.
While some of the findings reported by the survey may appear to be commonsensical, researchers interested can study the interplay of various factors in a market, and practitioners can implement programmes designed for specific target groups. For instance, while recommendations expectedly top the survey with 91 per cent for India, online consumer reviews have jumped four notches in the survey over the previous one with 77 per cent, to become the second-most trusted form of advertising. It has beaten even brand websites and traditional platforms like television and newspaper advertising. On the other hand, television advertising has witnessed some erosion in trust, falling from 76 per cent in 2009 to 55 per cent in the current survey. Similarly, ads in magazines have witnessed a 14 per cent drop to 59 per cent and those in newspapers saw a 17 per cent fall to 60 per cent.
But does this information really help?
Farshad Family, managing director, media, Nielsen India, certainly thinks so. “The insights on the level of trust that consumers have for the traditional and evolving channels of advertising will go a long way in helping marketers make decisions on targeting their consumers. Critically, it helps in rethinking their marketing strategy by truly understanding how best to engage with their consumers. Marketers now have to talk as well as listen to their consumers, and thus conduct a conversation, instead of sending out one-sided messages,” he says.
While many agree with his views, some marketers argue that it will be some time before new media is able to weaken the grip of traditional platforms in the country. “Advertisers still look at print and television as the primary means of communication and social media as an add-on or must do,” says a senior marketing executive in a Delhi-based FMCG firm.
Take Garnier Men deodorants as a case in point. It is pitched as an anti-perspirant product in a largely fragrance-driven market. The brand therefore needs a high octane campaign to educate the consumers.
Says Satyaki Ghosh, director, consumer products division, L’Oréal India, “Above the line (ATL) communication is very important in India. We are a country dominated by general trade. There isn’t much product browsing in that sense. The consumer walks up to the shopkeeper, asks for the product he saw in a commercial somewhere and buys it. That’s the moment of truth for brands when the actual transaction happens.”
Ghosh’s logic resounds with many others who say that the survey’s findings may reflect the reality in more developed markets. But for a country like India, where most categories are developing and aspirational, ATL activities will remain the key. Ashish Bhasin, chairman (India) and CEO (South East Asia), Aegis Media, points out, “Brands have several factors to consider before making their media choices. While the trust factor can be one among them, it certainly cannot be the deciding one.” Understandably so as brands jostle with issues like cost, a medium’s reach and ability to address the target audience.
So where does it really help?
The survey does reaffirm the growing potential of some of the under utilised and subtle advertising tactics. As an advertiser points out, “The survey states that editorial content scores quite well on trust. Advertisers are quite aware of this. You’ll come across advertisers who, besides advertising on a channel or in print, would also seek some kind ‘editorial presence’. This is done through placements, sponsored sections, advertorials, among other ways.”
Advertisers are also aware of the potential of online reviews. Many are using software to listen to online conversations about their brands. “This can help brands to not just gain insights about their consumers views and opinions, but also aid them in having a constructive two-way communication with them,” says Ranjit Nair, CEO, Germinait Solutions, which develops software products for business analytics and decision support.
The survey also reinforces the growing power of social media by including sponsored advertisements on social networks for the first time in the survey this year. Family explains why: “Social media is sweeping into almost all aspects of life and brands are becoming the centrepiece of social conversation and commentary,” he says. This has thus become an important platform for advertisers to engage with their consumers. And as advertisers strategise how best to position their brand online, understanding consumer insights on the level of their trust in advertising has become key.” To conclude, it is fair to say that the survey has raised the right questions at the right time.