Stifling Opinion Leadership

There may be times when the marketer desires to stifle personal influence rather than encourage it. Negative personal influence may be the result of rumor, a poor product, or misunderstandings among consumers. Whether negative information arise form external sources (e.g. 60 minutes) or though an individual’s own product experience, it can hurt the product’s standing. Such information could influence people to avoid the brand, product, company, idea or individual that is the focus of the information. Research indicates that even mild implied negativity can have serious consequences and it can even be more powerful than positive information. Market share loss is an almost certain result of negative product publicity as evidenced by Rely tampons, Tylenol. Ford’s Pinto, and the Plymouth Horizon / Dodge Omni. The good news from a study of such cases is that long term effects can be made less severe when the company enacts quick and competent action.

When consumers spread negative word of mouth communication over dissatisfaction with a product or over a question or complaint that is ignored or un-satisfactorily resolved by the marketer the effect may be quite damaging. For example

Although less than 3 percent of sample of communication received by Coca Cola from consumers in a recent year were complaints of customers who complained and weren’t satisfied with the response typically told nine or ten friends or associates about their experiences and in 12 percent of the cases, they told more than twenty people. In addition, 30 percent said they stopped buying Coca Cola products while another 45 percent said they would buy less in the future.

Another study indicated that 34 percent of those dissatisfied with a personal care product told about their dissatisfaction.

Firms have a range of response strategies available for negative publicity situations including:

1) Outright denial of all allegations
2) No comment
3) Redirecting audience attention by emphasizing tangential issues.
4) Voluntary admission of guilt and wrongdoing
5) Implied admission of guilt and mandated compliance with governmental regulatory agencies requests.
6) Admission of guilt and voluntary corrective actions to make restitution.

Although it is impossible to generalize some research indicates that a a proactive consumer oriented approach implemented in a timely manner to redress negative publicity pays dividends

One condition under which unfavorable personal influence should be retarded exists when a damaging rumor surfaces about the company or its product. Rumors abound in ours society; they are part of people’s fascination with the grotesque. For example, the following business rumors have circulated among the public.

1) McDonald’s adds worms to hamburger meat
2) R J Reynolds Tobacco owns marijuana fields in Mexico
3) False teeth dissolve if left overnight in a glass of Coca –Cola
4) General Foods’ Pop Rocks Crackling Candy makes your stomach explode.
5) Wearing Jockey shorts men sterile
6) Procter & Gamble whose century old trademark is a man in the moon, is owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Others have claimed that the trademark is satanical
7) Life savers’ bubble gum causes cancer and / or has spider eggs in it.

In unfortunate cases such as these, the marketer must take immediate action to stop negative word-of-mouth communication and must build up a positive image. It may well take a sustained fort to overcome the damage en buy rumors. For example Procter & Gamble after years of fighting unwarranted attacks over its logo from misinformed consumers dropped the logo from its packages and also modified it to remove any possible perception of unintended messages.

A final factor requiring slowing of personal influence results form consumers misunderstandings and could lead to poor word of mouth communication if not corrected. For example, consumers may be operating the product incorrectly leading to malfunctions. Perhaps the item needs to be redesigned or instruction manuals need rewriting to make hem clearer. When the product is radically new such problems are very likely to exist. In these cases demonstrations may be called for in stores and more explicit commercials may be necessary showing the product in use. Once again the necessity of a system to monitor personal influence and word of mouth communication – both good and bad — is underscored.