For authenticity in advertising … perhaps it’s time to stop making it “advertising.”

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Take a look at the interesting data in the chart above, courtesy of Nielsen.

Among the things it tells us is this: If there’s one thing that’s universally consistent across all age ranges – from Gen Z and Millennials to the Silent Generation – it’s that nothing has a more positive impact on buying decisions than the recommendation of a family member, a friend or a colleague.

Not only is it true across all age ranges, it’s equally true in business and consumer segments.

The chart also shows us that, broadly speaking, younger people tend to be more receptive to various advertising formats than older age segments.

this isn’t too surprising because with age comes experience – and that also means a higher degree of cynicism about advertising.

Techniques like the “testimonials” from so-called “real people” (who are nonetheless still actors) can’t get past the jaundiced eye of veteran consumers who’ve been around the track many more times than their younger counterparts.

Someone from the Boomer or Silent Generation can smell these things out for the fakery they are like nobody else.

But if friends and colleagues are what move the buy needle the best, how does advertising fit into that scenario? What’s the best way for it to be in the mix?

One way may be “influencer” advertising. This is when industry experts and other respected people are willing to go on record speaking positively about a particular product or service.

Of course, influencers have the best “influence” in the fields where they’re already active, as opposed to endorsements from famous people who don’t have a natural connection to the products they are touting. Such celebrity “testimonials” rarely pass the snicker test.

But if you think about other people like this:

  • An industry thought leader
  • A prominent blogger or social networker in a particular field or on a particular topic
  • A person with a genuine passion for interacting with a particular product or service

… Then you have a person who advocates for your brand in a proactive way.

That’s the most genuine form of persuasion aside from hearing recommendations from those trusted relatives, friends and colleagues.

Of course, none of that will happen without the products and services inspiring passion and advocacy at the outset. If those fundamental factors aren’t part of the mix, we’re back to square one with ineffective faux-testimonials that feel about as genuine as AstroTurf® … and the (lack of) results to match.

What are America’s “Most Influential” Brands?

Most influential brandsIn my most recent blog post, I reported on equity analysis firm 24/7 Wall Street and its take on the “most damaged” brands in the United States.

While there was pretty universal agreement among readers on most of the nine brands that had the dubious honor to make it on the list, there were several cases where some readers disagreed — Apple and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular.

Now, as an interesting comparative exercise looking at the other end of the scale, New York-based research company Ipsos MarketQuest polled Americans earlier this year on which brands they view as the “most influential” ones.

Of the 100 major brands included in the Ipsos survey and rated by respondents, here are the ten brands cited as most influential in the 2013 survey (in descending order of score):

  1. Google
  2. Amazon
  3. Apple
  4. Microsoft
  5. Facebook
  6. VISA
  7. Wal-Mart
  8. Yahoo!
  9. Proctor & Gamble
  10. eBay

Google leads the pack – and it’s hardly a surprise. But an important (and perhaps surprising) thing we notice is how pervasive technology, media and web-based brands are on the list.

Clearly, these are the types of companies that are increasingly influential in the lives of everyday Americans.

In fact, just three brands in the “Top 10 Most Influential” predate the personal computer era: VISA, Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble. And they rank relatively low on the list at #6, #7 and #9.

Moreover, let’s not forget that all three of these more “legacy-type” brands have actually been quite active in online and social media activities. Clearly, their senior management personnel realize that a good measure of future brand health lies in the same space where the other leading brands are active.

Apple: Brand Damage?Another interesting point that jumps out is when we compare the Ipsos “most influential” with the 24/7 Wall Street “most damaged” rankings. One brand stands out on both lists: Apple.

How can this be?

But on second thought, is it reall all so surprising? The 24/7 Wall Street inclusion was based on stock analysts’ reading of the company’s recent missteps and related share price declines … whereas the Ipsos list is based on the findings from a survey of “ordinary Americans.”

Applying the same comparative measures, I’m pretty sure the public’s view of General Motors stayed right up there long after the financial analysts had fled the stock and  relegated GM’s brand reputation to the basement.

But in the end, public opinion eventually followed the analysts, in part because GM’s efforts to turn around company performance proved spectacularly ineffective. It just took more time for that knowledge to seep into the collective consciousness.

For Apple, the big question is: Will its future actions mean that it stabilizes its brand reputation? Or, will its effort fall short, leading to a loss of consumer confidence?

Let’s check in again after 18-24 months and find out.