POV: Are consumer testimonials in advertising convincing enough?

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 11, 2011
A consumer speaking well about a product could motivate another to buy it. But, is the testimony of a consumer really persuasive, or does it sound phony?

Pratik Mazumder
Head, marketing, Yatra.com

A brand that requires to be tried does tend to use testimonial form of advertising. I feel consumer testimonials are used when a brand has to be made to look reliable. They work for brands where there is a 'believability' problem.

Therefore, the word-of-mouth format holds the key in this form of communication.

Testimonial ads work best in the B2B domain since the transaction is based on trust. I don't think testimonial advertising will work well for consumer products, though one has to consider that brands like Dove have been using this form of advertising for some time now. I am not sure how well it will work for products like automobiles that demand greater consumer involvement and come at a higher price.

Nilesh Vaidya
Executive creative director, Network Advertising

The consumer is more cynical now. If he took ads with a pinch of salt before, he's using handfuls of the stuff now. Does anyone really believe that the woman on the screen uses that shampoo?

What makes for an effective testimonial-based campaign? The first is context. One would never have taken Amitabh Bachchan eating Dairy Milk. But, the fact that maggots had just crawled out of the wrapper some months ago made it gripping because you knew that Mr B would never support a bad cause. And, you desperately wanted to believe in Dairy Milk.

The other is about category. There are some categories where it can work and others -- like beauty and grooming -- where it is just another one in the crowd. The third factor is creative. One of my favourites is a press ad for a photographer that won many awards years ago. It said: 'Mark Whatsisname will work nights, weekends and holidays to give you a great picture'. And, who was the testimonial from? His ex-wife!

Samit Sinha
Managing partner, Alchemist Consulting

There are four conditions in which people pay attention to advertising. One, when the advertised product or service is new, or if it is different from the usual, and the second, when the category is of such high interest to consumers that they actively seek out the offering (matrimonial ads fall in this category). Third is the sheer repetition or the size of the ad. When none of the above factors are in play, the fourth becomes critical.

Testimonial advertising does not fall under the category of path-breaking ideas or brilliant creative executions. For them to work, one or more of the first three mentioned factors need to be in play. And, it's the second factor that renders this format most effective. Even so, the testimonials need to look and sound believable, not fake.

Shobhit Mathur
Executive creative director, Cheil India

There can be no better advertising than word-of-mouth. Today, after years of watching this continuous string of ad-slickness, every advertiser faces the same problem: to be believed.

Glamour, fiction, and technology have overshadowed realism. This is not to say that they don't work in today's global media, but the consumer is aware of the hucksterism and manipulation of the message. It is this struggle for believability that has made testimonial ads a powerful vehicle in advertising.

Genuine spontaneity and downright realism of testimonial advertising is what gets the boxes ticked for me. But, even a testimonial ad needs to be done tastefully. Brands like Dove, Chevron and IBM have used real people quite effectively over the years. The recent Tata steel or Ford Fiesta campaigns are prime examples of breaking the rhythm and the authenticity of the non-actor working to the hilt. However, sometimes people overdo it. Scripted dialogues and synthetic punch lines kill the believability of the message.

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