Visual Cues

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Jonah Berger and Eric M. Schwartz (2011). What Drives Immediate and Ongoing Word of Mouth? Journal of Marketing Research, 48 (5), 869-880.


This comprehensive study by Jonah Berger, Wharton Professor and best-selling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence, investigates hundreds of advertising and marketing campaigns and concludes that what drives behavioral change (sales for them, votes for us) is the following:

1. If the campaign does not generate word-of-mouth, does not give people content they can share verbally in casual settings, it has zero impact.

2. If the campaign does generate word-of-mouth, the impact dissipates within two weeks. This is very well established and understood even in the political consulting community.

3. The ONLY cases in which the campaign succeeded in influencing behavior, were those that involved “visual cues in the environment”, or the private sector equivalent of lawn signs, hats, tees, buttons, bumper stickers and so on.

Researchers conclude that the visual cues acted to trigger repeat word-of-mouth conversations, allowing the word-of-mouth to grow instead of dying out.

This study makes a strong case for investment in promotional marketing collateral as part of an effective campaign strategy.


Word of mouth (WOM) affects diffusion and sales, but why are certain products talked about more than others, both right after consumers first experience them and in the months that follow? this article examines psychological drivers of immediate and ongoing WOM. The authors analyze a unique data set of everyday conversations for more than 300 products and conduct both a large field experiment across various cities and a controlled laboratory experiment with real conversations.

The results indicate that more interesting products get more immediate WOM but, contrary to intuition, do not receive more ongoing WOM over multiple months or overall.

In contrast, products that are cued more by the environment or are more publicly visible receive more WOM both right away and over time.

Additional analyses demonstrate which promotional giveaways in WOM marketing campaigns are associated with increased WOM. Overall, the findings shed light on psychological drivers of WOM and provide insight into designing more effective WOM campaigns.