The advocacy revolution and how
markets became conversations: the
07 January 2009
In America, as in the rest of the world, the internet has transformed the way consumers communicate with each
other, and with companies. Ever since the arrival of Web 2.0, internet users have become more participative: blogs,
forums, social networks, wikis, podcasts and the role of the social media, have transformed the concept of “passive
receptor” into a memory. Is your company prepared for this change?
• The internet, a giant focus group where millions participate;
• Companies in action: how to make the most of the Web 2.0 philosophy;
• The future: the market as a conversation arena and Feedback 3.0;
• The tyranny of the stars and other bidirectional phenomena.
• Consumers now have the word. The credibility of a product or a service is not sustained by what it is advertised
as; it resides in what the consumers themselves say about it. The best advertising is the one generated by word
of mouth. Today, thanks to the internet, this type of publicity is massive;
• Companies are a part of the web. In the fast changing world of the internet and in a context where new
technologies transform society, brands should impose trends among consumers the same way that they are
doing: through 2.0 technologies, deciding and generating their own content. Major brands including Starbucks,
Ford and Pepsi-Co are already using micro-blogging site Twitter to micro-manage their PR. Staff at PepsiCo
posted messages on the site after users began criticising one of the company's advertisements, which depicted a
cartoon calorie committing suicide. Huw Gilbert, communications manager for PepsiCo International,
"tweeted", or posted a public message, in reply. "Huw from Pepsi here," he wrote. "We agree this creative is
totally inappropriate; we apologise and please know it won't run again." One member "tweeted" back: "Thank
you . . . for having the guts to get on Twitter on behalf of Pepsi and give us an update on the suicide ad";
• Consumers are not rational. They give their opinions in a passionate, disinterested and emotional way. If there is
something they liked, they will let you know. But if they feel disappointed, they will talk badly about you,
without anaesthesia. Being alert, answering immediately and searching for opportunities that result from
negative opinions will translate into successes for the online community.
In the beginning, companies had too many things to create, and consumers had plenty of unresolved needs. This is
why, at first, initiatives to develop and sell new products were solely company ones. There were not dozens of
models and colours to choose from when someone bought the first Ford A, and it was impossible to reduce the size
of mobile phones nicknamed “bricks” at the start of the 1990s. Since the middle of the twentieth century, however, a
gigantic wave of products and shopping alternatives flooded consumer market aisles, and ever since, brand
competitiveness started to depend on consumers. Marketing and advertising, as one of its tools, tried to convince
consumers with unilateral campaigns. Thus, advertising in traditional mass media expanded.
But advertising lost its strength when, with the markets´ expansion, the offer and the demand diversified, into more
companies and an audience divided into hundreds of different types of consumers. At that moment, focus groups and
other techniques emerged to get to know the needs and opinions of consumers. Until the internet appeared.
Today, consumers converse, interact and answer. They decide on their next purchase based on other consumers'
comments and compare a product a hundred times before running to the nearest store. And when they do so, they
return to the computer to test it, and publish and criticise it. “Internauts” consume and generate tons of information,
but do not do so in depth. The information remains spread in more than 70 million active blogs, according to more
conservative statistics. The advocacy revolution was the first one. The second revolution is the one in the market,
which is transforming itself into a conversation.
The internet, a giant focus group where millions participate
The actual consumer is active; has an opinion, criticises, comments and demands. And all of this is done online.
What was found, back in the day, in slow and expensive focus groups, where users gave their opinions in artificial
surroundings, today has become accessible to everyone. Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Tweeter, MySpace, Slideshare,
Sonico and Keegy, among others, have become very popular in the region. With them have appeared sites where it is
possible to leave comments and opinions on their products. eBay and Amazon have incorporated forums and
consumer guides completed by its users.
But why are these websites thriving? According to unpublished research from universities of the USA, Canada,
Mexico, Brazil and Argentina consulted by Euromonitor International, citizens in America read the comments and
give their opinion because that allows them to “compare” a product before purchasing it.
Another explanation given by investigators is that the democratisation of web content is now a giant trend. That is
why consumers nowadays choose their products in participative contexts of virtual collaboration and this way the
consumption of products recommended by other users becomes much more trustworthy; consumers are not just
buying what the brands suggest.
Identity is also mentioned. Consumers build their identity through the use of 2.0 tools; in what they see, read,
consume and write, they see themselves reflected.
Companies in action: how to make the most of the Web 2.0 philosophy
The participation of consumers in America is something companies have been paying more and more attention to.
Even though there are few examples of companies making use of users´ comments to create new products, more and
more advertising campaigns are produced inspired by the interactivity and the collaboration of users of the 2.0 era.
One of these examples was the case of Saladix snacks, produced by the Arcor Company, from Argentina. At the end
of 2007, the firm launched two new flavours; Cheddar and Provoleta, with an extensive advertising campaign called
“The flavour feud”. Arcor distributed both products and gave consumers the opportunity to choose which flavour
they preferred. The one that secured the most votes remained on the market, and the looser was eliminated.
Argentinean confectionary brand Billiken launched a website where children could “invent” new delicacies. After
that, it selected ten products created by users and held an “election”. The two most voted were produced and were
very successful among consumers. Another example involved cable channel TNT, which in Latin America included
in its programming schedule a slot called “Cinema à la Carte”, where the most voted and commented on films were
The future: the market as a conversation and Feedback 3.0
To make good use of the “activeness” of consumers does not comprehend the advocacy revolution fully. Enterprises
are used to “directing messages”, but not to answering them. Feedback 3.0, a novelty for most companies, is one of
the new 2009 trends earmarked by trendwatching.com although the idea already has 10 years of existence behind it.
In 1998 David Weinberger, Christopher Locke and Doc Searls wrote the “Cluetrain Manifesto”, which predicts that
markets will transform in conversations and dialogues. This can also be called Feedback 3.0, and according to
trendwatching, it “will be all about companies joining the conversation, if only to get their side of the story in front
of the mass audience that now scans reviews”.
Coincidentally, the most popular companies that consumers recommend and review are the first ones that give
opinions and respond to consumer requests. Most of them have their headquarters in the United States: Yelp, Bazaar
Voice, HomeAway and Tripadvisor. Trendwatching also mentions Dell and Starbucks as the promoters of Feedback
3.0 (damage limitation as well as listening). Their websites Dell Ideastorm and My Starbucks Idea allow users to
comment and write about products and service. Instantly, companies respond to every comment. That is
The tyranny of the stars and other bidirectional phenomena
A peculiar feature of internet users in America is the excessive “emotional charge” that consumers have when they
give their opinion on a product or service. Such is the extent of this, that two advertisers in the USA have defined the
recommendations and reviews of users as “the tyranny of the stars”. According to analysts, many users in America
are “unfair” when they judge a new consumer electronics product. The Finnish brand Nokia criticised some
American bloggers because of their devotion to the iPhone, when the Nokia model N95 “has more functions and was
on the market a year before”.
This is why many companies that support user comments have taken some decisions about them. The most famous
approach is the one adopted by IMDb.com Inc., part of Amazon, which ranks films according to user opinions. After
noticing that many memorable films appeared last, however, it had to create a complex mathematic algorithm in
order to avoid the distortions created by users that commented with excessive emotion!
Do you think that your best product for the next semester will come out of one of your inventor's brains? The new
trends suggest that if that is what you are thinking, then you are probably wrong. The advocacy revolution puts an
end to unidirectional messages and is the beginning of a dialogue between company and client. To get to know and
discover what your consumers want is less than a foot away from you… on the screen. Those who speak to you are
not always criticising; they are also giving solutions and free ideas that could be successful.