The advertising game is changing at a breakneck pace. Thankfully, we’re here to help you keep up. With increasingly sophisticated tools to target a particular market subset, multiple ad delivery channels and analytics to track campaign efficacy, advertisers are getting more and more efficient in the ways they push out their message.

… Or are they? While total advertising spend worldwide is still dominated by TV, print and online ads, a recent study by The Nielsen Company shows these ad channels to be significantly less trustworthy than so-called “word-of-mouth” sources. According to the study, “ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising,” (Nielsen, 2012). That’s an increase of 18 percent over 2007 figures.

Likewise, “online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform,” corresponding to a 15 percent increase over a four year period. This type of source has an emerging name — they are called “virtual strangers” — and they are the third most trustworthy source behind family and friends.

When it comes to television, magazine and newspaper ads, not only do a mere 47 percent of consumers view them as a trustworthy source, but consumer confidence also declined 24 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent respectively since 2009. Despite the sharp decline in trust, overall ad spend for television advertising still increased by nearly 10 percent in the US.

Online ads are not experiencing any shelter from the desensitization of the consumer base from advertising either. Online and mobile ads overall earn trust from approximately 25-35 percent of consumers, depending on the delivery medium. Although these numbers are still relatively low, trust in online and mobile ads experienced an encouraging uptick in trust from 2007, with mobile ads accountable for the highest increase — 21 percent since 2009 and 61 percent since 2007.

In the words of the great Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin.” Conventional push advertising is becoming white noise to consumers, while digital word-of-mouth from virtual strangers is shaping buying decisions. Look at your marketing budget — does your spend allocation set you up to win in 2012? How about 2013?

Of course, patient opinions are not for sale. And even if they were, the medical and dental industries would be prohibited from investing in them. But by empowering your patients to share their voices online, you can effectively leverage the opinions of your most trustworthy advocate. Gone are the days of full-page Yellow Pages ads and local magazine blocks. The social Internet is no longer just a trend. The world is becoming increasingly social, and advertising is no exception. It is now a necessary component of modern business.

Be forewarned: if you don’t take advantage of social and crowd-sourced marketing, you can be sure that your competition will.



Resources: Nielsen: Global Consumers’ Trust in ‘Earned’ Advertising Grows in Importance