In Depth

Media Less Trusted Than Other Consumers' Opinions

In a world of turbocharged media options, word of mouth remains the most trusted form of advertising around the world.

In a semi-annual survey, the Nielsen Co. found that consumers trust other consumers more than they trust messages from paid media advertising.

When consumers in 47 markets worldwide were asked, “To what extent do you trust the following forms of advertising?” 78 percent put some faith in recommendations from consumers. That topped newspapers, which came in second with 63 percent; television, with 56 percent; magazines, also with 56 percent; and radio with 54 percent.

Online forms of advertising are starting to move up the charts. Consumer opinions posted online were trusted by 61 percent of consumers surveyed by Nielsen.

Official brand Web sites were judged trustworthy by 60 percent; e-mails that consumers sign up for were trusted by 49 percent. But search engine ads got the thumbs-up from only 34 percent of consumers, online banners ads drew approval from 26 percent and text ads on mobile phones were trusted by 18 percent.

“Advertisers around the world are able to reach consumers across an increasingly diverse range of media platforms,” said David McCallum, global managing director for Nielsen’s Customized Research Services. “Even so, the recommendation of someone else remains the most trusted source of information when consumers decide which products and services to buy.”

While positive word of mouth can be a benefit, marketers must beware of negative word of mouth and work to control it.

“Given that nothing travels faster than bad news—with estimates that reports of bad experiences outnumber good service reports by as many as 5 to 1—the importance of high-quality customer service is yet again highlighted,” Mr. McCallum said.

“And even though new-media technologies are playing a role in ‘globalizing’ society, many purchasing decision are still based on firmly held national and cultural attitudes,” he said.

The Nielsen study questioned 26,486 Internet users in Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East. Results of the survey often varied greatly from region to region and market to market.

Filipinos and Brazilians were the most trusting of all forms of advertising, according to the Nielsen survey.

Trust was lowest among Danes, Italians, Lithuanians and Germans. Only 28 percent of the Danish respondents said they trusted advertising.

Word of mouth was particularly powerful for consumers in Asian countries. Among consumers in Hong Kong, 93 percent said they relied on recommendations from other consumers in making consumer choices.

Other markets where dependence on word of mouth was high included Taiwan, Indonesia, India and South Korea.

Even where word of mouth scored lowest, it was still relied on by a clear majority of consumers. Word of mouth scored lowest in Denmark, but even there 62 percent of those surveyed deemed it trustworthy.

Consumer opinion and recommendation are increasingly available online, through blogs and other sources. That online information was seen as particularly reliable in North America and Asia Pacific. On the other end of the scale, this online consumer opinion was seen as trustworthy by just 35 percent of those surveyed in Finland, 46 percent in Lithuania, 46 percent in Estonia, 47 percent in Chile and 47 percent in Italy.

The trick is for marketers and their media and ad agencies to produce the kinds of messages that generate word of mouth by the people who receive them. And that is something a number of agencies have been working on by creating Internet campaigns with tools that allow consumers to share video and other forms of information.

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