As the world has changed, the information sources of people have changed. Today, the amount of information about brands, plus the ease of getting them, has changed a lot of behavior. The consultancy firm McKinsey highlighted this a few years back when they introduced a new theoretical model describing the process of how many consumers moved from awareness of a personal need, to choosing a brand, to buying it. And in the past few days, new research in the American publication The Journal of Advertising Research has suggested more changes.

McKinsey’s new model increased the emphasis on the pre-buy evaluation process and the post purchase phase, where in both phases, consumers looked for and shared information about personal brand experiences. Often via the internet and in many cases via their handphones.  These have powerfully affected how they come to a decision on brand selection and retention. 

Some product/service categories are of course not worth researching. But from real estate, malls, cars to food, cellphones, computers, restaurants, hair care, doctors, just naming a few, consumers are increasingly checking the comments made about brands online. Consumers are also researching their needs such as their illnesses, as many doctors now know. Some doctors call this practice Doctor Google, often consulted by patients before they come in to a real doctor.

And who can blame patients? Its their illness and their lives and their money after all.

And after decades of advertising, many consumers have become less likely to believe many ads.

This means that, far more than before, the power of word of mouth, magnified by being findable or searchable  through Google has changed the relationship that many consumers have toward advertising. They now have other, easy to find, sources of information against which to assess the worth of advertising.

Now comes the Journal of Advertising Research, which just published the results of work done on three continents which tried to replicate the results of a widely referenced piece of advertising research done over thirty years ago, in 1983, on the persuasiveness of advertising. They wanted to see if people still behaved the same way in relation to advertising.

In short, it likely is very different now and it could be complicated.

The original research in 1983 was done in the USA when broadcast advertising, mainly TV, was the major source of information about brands.

The 2015 research was done in the USA, UK and Australia. Worth noting, to ensure that findings on the 2015 research were not just going to reflect different cultural factors in the UK and Australia versus the USA, participants in all sites were compared and assessed to be very similar.

Regarding the value of celebrity endorsers, the 1983 study claimed that having a celebrity endorser raised acceptance of the test product more than an endorsement by an ordinary person. But the 2015 one showed that only in the UK was there a difference and it was in the reverse direction, ie the endorsement by an ordinary person was associated with an increase in acceptance versus a celebrity endorser. It is possible that people are now much more skeptical of celebrities, so a well selected, well presented “ordinary person” who sounds more authentic and reliable than a paid celebrity, can move the needle more.

The enormously successful Dove relaunch of recent years, using “real women” is evidence of the power of endorsers who seem authentic and not paid, a reflection of awareness of celebrities being paid to sell.

In the 1983 study, having a favorable attitude toward a brand, whether in a high or low involvement category, was associated with more interest to buy. In the 2015 study, having a favorable attitude toward a brand had greater effect on a low involvement brand and less on a high involvement brand.

Seems that people want to check things out more on their own, which makes sense.

We do not have space to get into many other details of the study but it may be worth your time to check it out, using Google naturally.
Benedicto “Poch” Cid is the Chief Brand Adviser of Mansmith and Fielders Inc., the only advocacy-based training and consulting firm focusing on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation.