1.4 Managerial Relevance

In August 1999, web users who frequented visited bulletin boards of Britney Spears, a pop star, began to receive messages that recommended a new singer: Christina Aguilera. The authors communicated in a style shared by the other members of the communities. Many of the posts came from employees of Electric Artists (i.e., http://www.electricartists.com/), a promotional firm that specializes in web based marketing campaigns. As part of their campaign to promote Christina Aguilera’s debut album, Electric Artists’ team of "posters" surfed various chat rooms, bulletin boards and fan sites in order to provide information to potential fans and to generate eWOM. The web based campaign was considered a success since Christina Aguilera's album debuted at No. 1 on the charts and reached double platinum status.

A remarkable feature of this web based campaign was the means of communication used by the marketers: the Internet enabled the marketers to infiltrate and influence consumers' discussions. Naturally, many marketers will think this sounds like a very attractive strategy for many types of products. After all, Internet have become an important resource for consumers: 84% of Internet users or about 90 million Americans have participated in online groups (Horrigan and Rainie, 2001). One of the reasons behind Electric Artists' success was the fact that members and consumers often offer unsolicited product recommendations online (i.e., eWOM), lending credibility to chat about Christina.

The marketers' ability to disguise their promotion as consumer recommendations is made possible by the anonymity of the Internet. Ultimately, our identities as well as our incentives are hidden in the online world. Thus, companies can easily read conversations that take place between apparent consumers as well as actively participate in these discussions (Park and Fader, 2004). However I question the viability of such web based marketing because consumers often critically examine whether something is true, despite marketers’ ability to pose as consumers. Consumers' awareness of the existence of such anonymous promotion could cause them to dismiss online recommendations. Furthermore, as in traditional marketing, competitors engage in similar promotions.

eWOM is most used in entertainment industries, such as music and film. It already has become an industry standard for CD and other music releases. Besides music and film, eWOM initiatives have also been used widely for television shows and books, and are being developed for products in a wide range of categories.