Broadcast vs Word of Mouth Marketing: How Do They Stack Up?

By Ted Wright September 4, 2018

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In the landscape of marketing, where do Broadcast and Word of Mouth Marketing fit in?

Broadcast had a strong 35 year run where it was effective, but it’s decayed over time. Effectiveness is referring to the fact that it was a successful tool for selling more stuff to more people more often for more money. But no one pays attention to broadcast anymore, and they haven’t for a long time. People don’t trust it.

When TV first showed up, it wowed people. The closest thing they had before was radio – which was great, but imagine only being able to hear stories and suddenly being able to see into an entire new medium. At that time TV was interesting, relevant and authentic for people. It broke down barriers and created less isolation between them and the rest of the world.

The Rise of Broadcast

Broadcast’s 35 year run started in 1970 when everyone in the country had easy access to color TV. Yes TV was around before this time, but by 1970 everyone had easy access to color TV. 35 years later we end up in 2005 where the effectiveness starts to decay – but more on that later.

From 1970-2005 there were an enormous amount of broadcast campaigns. Some super innovative, some ridiculous. The cigarette company Virginia Slims had a famous long-term campaign depicting women who smoked them as idealistic. They even sponsored womens tennis from 1970-1978, and again from 1983-1994, creating the Virginia Slims Circuit – a tennis tour featuring 9 professional players.

Think of this from a Word of Mouth Marketing perspective.

Cigarettes have a strong odor, cause cancer and you have to go outside to use them. None of these things are interesting, relevant or authentic. But from a broadcast perspective, it was easy to create an idealistic persona of a slim, charming woman who happened to smoke Virginia Slims.

Can you imagine Serena Williams promoting cigarettes in 2018?

On the other side of things, Broadcast was also super effective with its anti-litter and anti-pollution campaign. This ad featuring a Native American named Iron Eyes who was crying over the pollution and destruction in America helped educate citizens and also got some to take action.

Fast forward some years later and the Texas Department of Transportation created the “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign to reduce littering on Texas roadways. This wasn’t broadcast, though. This was WOMM. The slogan was plastered on signs and bumper stickers around the state and actually reduced litter on Texas highways roughly 72% between 1986 and 1990, and even more into recent years.

Broadcast had its run, and it did all over the world. When it comes to any country the way it did in America, you’ll see this 35 year run cycle take place. Broadcast enters, eventually becomes ubiquitous of color TV. Products that were once expensive and hard to come by eventually become cheap.

Want to test this theory? Go to your CEO or CMO and pull the data from your broadcast efforts. Are you getting more bang for your buck now, or back then?

This all doesn’t mean that broadcast isn’t useful. This means two things:

  1. It is less useful than it used to be
  2. WOMM has replaced a lot of it

WOMMA did a landmark study on the effectiveness of WOMM, and it found that no matter what your KPI is for broadcast, it’s 15% more effective if WOMM is attached to it.

When kicking off a Word of Mouth Marketing campaign, broadcast is super effective – it’s not obsolete. Trailers depicting what’s interesting, relevant, and authentic about a story will always get people talking. Radio still drives a lot of country music sales, insurance companies make billions off commercials (you know the ones I’m talking about) and movie trailers and clips drive conversation.

WOMM is a strong stand-alone channel, broadcast is not. If you want to beef up your broadcast strategy, try attaching it  to WOMM.

Ted Wright is the founder of Fizz, the world’s leading word of mouth marketing (WOMM) agency. Ted is also an acclaimed WOMM keynote speaker and the author of Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth


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