The new Tooheys Extra Dry ad attempts to answer a question that has nagged anyone who’s ever turned up at a house party with a six pack of beers: where exactly do they end up once you stick them in the ice bath?
The ad gets top marks for tapping into a universal truth about house parties, but sadly I’m not sure it tells the real story. Any sane person taking Tooheys to a house party has one thing on their mind – upcycling them into something with a bit of flavour.
I’m currently planning a trip to Japan and seem to be spending an alarming amount of time on TripAdvisor. As any TripAdvisor addict will attest, trying to choose between hotels can soon result in a state of analysis paralysis.
Everyone has their own criteria when it comes to choosing hotels (a pillow menu isn’t really a deal-breaker for me), however, conventional wisdom dictates that our decisions should be based on whether the positive reviews broadly outweigh the negatives – right?
According to some recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Research, not exactly. While the overall sentiment of reviews is obviously important, our decisions are also being subtly influenced by how specific these comments are.
The study, quoted in Art Markman’s Ulterior Motives blog, highlights that when an experience reinforces a deeply held attitude, we tend to respond by making a general analysis of the brand or product’s overall quality. Conversely, when our experience contradicts our existing view we focus on specific product attributes:
For example, in one study, people try out either Bic pens (which people tend to think of as cheap and low quality) or Parker pens (which people tend to think of as expensive and high quality). The pens were manipulated so that they did not work. Then, they had to pick a statement that best described their feeling about the pen. For the Bic pen, people selected abstract statements (like “This Bic pen is bad”). For the Parker pen, people selected more specific statements (like “This Parker pen would not write”). Art MarkmanJuly 5, 2010
So far, so straightforward – it’s common sense that our existing prejudices would play a role in the way we review products. More interesting in the context of social media is how this phenomenon affects the readers of these comments.
The next phase of the study focused on the influence comments had the purchasing intention of others who read them. It found that positive comments were more likely to motivate others to buy when they were abstract in nature (e.g ‘this pen is great’) as opposed to specific (e.g ‘this pen writes well’). Similarly, negative comments were less damaging to purchasing intention when they were specific in nature (eg ‘this pen writes badly’) than when they were more abstract (eg ‘this pen is awful’).
Just as reviewers do not consciously choose abstract or specific language based on their desire to influence, most of us do not consciously place more emphasis on reviews that are abstract as opposed to specific. However, even if we are oblivious to these nuances, the research suggests that the phrasing of these reviews can be highly influential.
This has implications for way we analyse attitudes to our brands online. Automated sentiment analysis tools – already compromised by their inability to detect sarcasm – fail to take into account the way language choices influence the reader. These findings suggest that by taking a deeper look at the way people phrase their reviews we might be able to gain some interesting insights into their broader attitudes about the brand or category and tailor our response accordingly.
The research is also relevant to the way we encourage people to talk about our brands online. More progressive companies are starting to aggregate social media mentions and reviews on their own sites – even when they these are critical about their products. While brands shouldn’t attempt to manipulate the content of these reviews, this research suggests that the way we frame the debate is worth some thought, particularly given that most decision making is based on minimising risk rather than optimising choice.
When much of the internet seems dedicated to earnest posts detailing ’10 ways to double your blog traffic in five minutes’, it’s refreshing to hear an example of someone whose online popularity was completely accidental.
Gregory Levey’s article on The Nervous Breakdown (thanks to Big C for this) explains how he created a Facebook group to promote his book “Shut Up, I’m Talking”, a memoir about his time as a speechwriter for the Israeli government.
Levey saw his Facebook fans grow from about a hundred friends and family to over 750,000 – significantly more than better known authors such as JK Rowling (95,000) and Dan Brown (499,000).
The source of this new found popularity? Unfortunately for Levey, it wasn’t an explosion of interest in his book. Rather, it was his choice of title:
Even though the fan page shows the book’s cover and its synopsis, and informs visitors that it was published by Simon & Schuster, the vast majority of these supposed “fans” were somehow totally unaware that it was referring to a book at all. They had simply joined because they were fans of the phrase “Shut Up, I’m Talking.”
They were the sort of people, I soon discovered, who were also fans of such inane but popular Facebook fan pages as “Punching Things” and “I hate it when I get fingerprints all over my phone.” But each time one of them would become a fan of Shut Up, I’m Talking, their circle of Facebook friends would blindly do the same – causing its frighteningly viral spread.
If Levey were to message his 750,000 fans via Facebook, he’d surely pick up some extra sales. However, given that few expressed any interest in middle eastern politics, his conversion rate would probably be fairly low.
Levey’s experience is a great example of how, contrary to the claims of viral agencies and e-book peddlers, building a following can be a pretty unpredictable affair. Furthermore, a successful online community has more to do with quality than quantity.
On the plus side, the popularity of Levey’s Facebook group highlights how readily people identify with an insight that rings true – however trivial it might seem. In fact, maybe we’re all missing a trick – sounds like the smart money’s in fingerprint-resistant mobile phone covers…
If you live in the UK you may have already seen this, but I thought it was too good to ignore…
Last week I stumbled across this superb Google Street View image capturing an audacious seagull making a quick getaway after stealing a chip in John Street, Brighton.
As a former Brighton resident, I think it provides a great insight into what it’s like to live there. If you were to scroll round to the right you’d notice that the theft occurred right outside Brighton Police Station – I assume the police were too busy dishing out ASBOs to intervene…
For more of Street View’s accidental heroes check out this collection from the Huffington Post.
UPDATE 14/05/2010: Interestingly Google (under pressure from Brighton & Hove City Council?) seem to have photoshopped out the offending seagull from StreetView, so I’ve replaced it with a screenshot.