Monday, August 21, 2006

Word of mouth

(The following rant has got nothing to do with the rest of this piece, but I need to do it to ease my conscience.)


I do not like Simon Cowell, he may be successful, but he's clearly a bully and a narcissist, and quite possibly a psychopath (the evidence for psychopath's in business is well evidenced).



OK with that off my chest, I hate to say it, but he said something quite interesting the weekend before last, that has stayed with me.

Quite why Simon Cowell was on Desert Island Discs is beyond me, but he was, and near to the end he was discussing with Sue Lawley what it takes for musical success. Now what Simon said is hardly new in itself, but what was interesting is that it came from him, and not because I loathe him, but because he does have a well attuned antennae for making popular and successful records. So when asked what it took to do just that he replied something along the lines of "to be truly successful, I'm increasingly of the opinion that word of mouth is really the only important factor".


And the thing is, he is right of course. And this is hardly new news, but what struck me about this is that it didn't come from a marketing hack, theorist or person who philosophises about such matters, it came from someone who operates in probably the toughest arena to create sales (albeit it seems Simon Cowell's trick is to ensure they are good looking, put loads of money behind it, and write cheesy tunes). At the end of the day Simon Cowell is a slick marketer. He taps into what a certain generation of people are looking for (or currently attuned to) and provides it, but he does more than that and in Pop Idol's case I believe he's actively moulding culture.

In the interview Simon Cowell pretty much admitted that Pop Idol's success was its ability to tap into young people's desire to be famous, not to be a famous singer or actress, but "fame for fames sake". He wasn't sure whether Pop Idol was the fuel for this phenomenon, or the follower, but that was what was behind its success. I suspect that Pop Idol had a role in the former and capitalised entirely on the latter, but it's word of mouth effect came directly out of this powerful understanding.

It is my belief that we should be trying to apply these princples to the brands we work on and how we approaching marketing. There are truly great examples from high profile campaigns such as Sony's bouncing balls ad to Bud's Wassup campaign, but it's just as effective with lower profile marketing efforts too, Innocent's fruitstock or nPower's urban cricket (more of that to come) are just two examples that spring to mind. So I wonder whether this should be the permanent state of desire for all planners: how can I influence culture to create a word of mouth effect?


Lets face it as media costs go up and up, and as fragmentation only multiplies, this surely will be the only way to go...

p.s. thanks goes to Russel whom put so succintly the thoughts of brands influencing culture

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