April 7, 2009

Is the Wisdom of Crowds always a good thing?

Several academics and practitioners from the Marketing domain are still not convinced that marketing is not anymore what it used to be. (a good idea is to read the article of A. Thomas that I mentioned in a previous post)One of the most obvious changes in this domain is the diminishing power of the mass media and the decreasing effectiveness of some of the old and trusted marketing approaches. When I wrote something like this to a paper I submitted recently the reviewer rejected it as not true. Some colleagues do not accept even obvious facts unless empirical research confirms them. But until such studies are published there is enough anecdotal evidence on the change happening in the marketplace. Look for example to data on marketing budget allocation or the changes in the share of different media in the total advertising expenditure: In most western countries such data indicate a constant contraction of the traditional media and expansion of the new media.
The loss of power of the mass media as communication platforms has to do not only with the fact that people spend increasingly less time in front of the TV or listening to the radio or the zapping-off when advertisements start. An important reason is the increasing mistrust of people to corporate messages and mistrust of even expert opinion. Most consumers will look for peer advice before they buy a new camera, auto or book a hotel vacation; they find this in blogs, forums or other types of social media publishing product reviews and product advice. Mistrust can destroy expensive communication campaigns even in cases that important issues like health are at stake: The recent campaign of the Dutch government aiming at persuading young girls to join the HPV vaccination program meant to protect them from cervical cancer had a limited effect so far. Only about 50% of the girls between 12 and 16 years old took part in the program, the rest preferred to stay home after reading the mostly unfounded and unscientific nonsense circulating online about the dangers of the vaccine. A rather negative example of “customer empowerment” placing attention on the sometime negative effects of the Wisdom of Crowds