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TV Still Owns Watercooler, but Shares It With the Web

Internet Matches TV's Influence Over Conversation, According to New Research

By Published on . 5

BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Once, TV was the symbolic water-cooler that drove consumer conversations. It still is. But the tube is being upstaged by the web, which now nearly matches it in terms of influence on conversations, according to a new study from Yahoo and Keller Fay Group.

Keller Fay has taken the air out of the online buzz balloon for years with survey research finding that most discussion about brands still happen face-to-face, and are influenced far more by traditional media than what happens online.

But that is changing. The internet is growing as the channel that influences or prompts those conversations, however they occur. The web influenced nearly 15% of consumer discussions about brands in January 2010, according to the survey, up from 12% from a year earlier and nearly matching the 16% of such conversations inspired by TV ads or shows.

TV's impact constant
TV's impact on word-of-mouth remained constant year over year, while the internet's grew substantially. This coincides with the mainstreaming of social networks that facilitate online sharing and communication, like Facebook, which nearly doubled to 133 million unique U.S. visitors in January from 69 million the prior year, according to Compete.com.

The vast majority of consumer conversations about brands take place face-to-face, which accounts for 76% of consumer brand mentions vs. only 7% that happen online. The rest are mainly by phone. But the internet is growing as a channel that influences or prompts those conversations however, or wherever, they occur.

Oddly, the internet doesn't appear to be replacing other media as an influence over conversations. In addition to TV, which remained stable, print drove a fairly constant 10% of brand-related conversations over the 18 months from July 2008 to January 2010, while the percentage driven by in-store or point-of-sale displays rose from around 8% in January 2009 to 9% in January 2010.

"Displacement of one medium by another has been less than people expects as the whole media pie keeps growing," said Brad Fay, chief operating officer of Keller Fay.

Younger demos drive conversation
The study found people 13 to 29 drove most of the increase in internet-influenced brand conversations, with those 30 to 39 also playing a role. "More and more of the millennials, the first internet generation, are now in purchasing brackets," said Radha Subramanyam, VP-corporate and media research at Yahoo. "They're now coming into a phase of their lives where brands matter."

She also believes the pervasiveness of mobile devices in making the internet a round-the-clock presence has played a role in driving more brand conversations. Mr. Fay said the increased role of the internet in brand discussions may also owe to people doing more research and being more cautious about their money due to the economy.

Social media, online reviews and non-company websites were the fastest-growing components of internet influence in the study, but the two leading drivers remained company websites followed by internet ads, with the influence of both rising slightly over the 18-month period. In all, 38% of consumers in the study said they had at some point talked about brands based on something they'd heard or seen on the internet. And they indicated 66% of brand word-of-mouth mentions are mostly positive.

The study found 8% of the population account for 19% of brand word-of-mouth, a group Yahoo calls "Conversation Catalysts." The company notes that a disproportionate 10% of the Yahoo audience is made up of such people.

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