One of the world’s leading advertising buyers is telling its clients to change radically their approach to campaigns and focus on getting consumers to talk about products, either in conversations or online through social networks such as MySpace.

Word-of-mouth recommendations, made easier as e-mail and online connections increase the speed that information is passed on and shared, have long played a vital role in increasing sales.

However, conversations have been hard to track and their impact difficult to quantify. New research used by Starcom Mediavest, an agency that advises companies such as Proctor & Gamble on where and how to advertise, has measured the effects of conversations about brands and shows talk is even more important than previously thought.

In addition, Starcom says it can now track the word-of-mouth effect.

“It is clear that traditional advertising is not as effective as it used to be as people spend more time on the internet and as technology allows them to fast-forward through television commercials,” said Jim Kite, research director at Starcom.

“In this environment, word-of-mouth becomes more important, and the internet and the huge increase in use of social networks allows information to spread more quickly.

“But what we did not realise until we did this research was just how important it is and we are telling our clients that they should change their entire approach to communications planning and make word-of-mouth the focus of campaigns.”

Proctor & Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, has used word-of-mouth strategies for numerous campaigns including for Swiffer dusters and Old Spice aftershave.

By offering customers incentives such as coupons or free music videos, marketers hope to push the consumer into passing on information rather than passively absorbing messages – the formula used with much television advertising.

In an analysis of people’s discussions, Starcom has found that 76 per cent of people talk about at least one brand once a day.

Word-of-mouth is traditionally hard to measure, but Starcom says the Talktrack data can be used to track the effects of different forms of advertising. Effective ads should lead to a rise in the number of conversations about a brand.

Advertisers are already seeking more such feedback. This week video ads from Ford, HSBC, Levi’s and others will run on, a news and blog site, which are designed to be easily forwarded. “In addition to looking at impressions, we can now look at what is shared and what is linked, and learn which ads work and which don’t,” said Sarah Bernard, general manager.

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