Paul Harvey, Fish Oil and Social Media

I spent this past weekend in Pennsylvania, visiting my 85-year old grandmother, Louise, who happens to be a life-long fan of America’s most successful radio huckster, Paul Harvey. Harvey has been on the air for more than 70 years, narrating brief news summaries along with his trademark “page 2” advertisements. Each week, his programs are heard by more than 22 million people–Grandma Louise, among them.

Devotion

Every day, twice a day, my grandmother stops whatever she’s doing and turns on her Paul Harvey-advertised BOSE radio to listen to Paul Harvey. If she’s on the phone, she’ll call you back. If she’s cooking, she’ll turn off the stove. If she’s reading, she’ll put down her book. In fact, I recall her once sitting in her parked car for more than 15 minutes before heading into the grocery store. She would not go shopping until Paul Harvey was finished.

That is a very special kind of brand loyalty. It is consumer devotion. I wonder, could this kind of devotion take place on the web? Or does the long tail work against consumer devotion the same way it works against big hit products, songs, books, etc.? Is the Paul Harvey-style devotee on the verge of extinction?

Evangelization

My grandmother buys whatever Paul Harvey sells. She buys the weird pills, and the fish oil and the BOSE radio. But she’s not just a consumer. She’s also a mighty foot soldier in Paul Harvey’s vast and ever-expanding army of loyal fans. (I enjoy imagining my grandmother as a brand warrior.) My grandmother spent 20 minutes this weekend trying to convince me to take fish oil daily, using the same phrases I heard on Harvey’s broadcast earlier that day. For forty years, my grandmother has probably told more than 500 people about scores of products endorsed by her radio god.

It’s a special kind of WOM marketing. It’s almost…inspired. And I’m left wondering, can WOM marketing via social media achieve such heights? And what does that look like, exactly? I suspect it will be far more removed. Shouting at each other through the noise of social media.

WOM and the Social Media Hat Trick

Paul Harvey is a trusted member of my grandmother’s social network. His enterprise is social media 1.0. When Harvey tells my grandmother about ocular nutrition, she feels as though she’s listening to the advice of a close friend. And then she goes and tells her neighbor about it.

It’s not that different for me and my social presence on the web. Example: When I first heard fellow Twitterers casually recommending Virgin Atlantic, I decided to book my next flight to SFO on the airline. I figured that my fellow geeks share my taste in air travel, and I’m pretty unhappy with other airlines. I haven’t even flown on the Virgin yet, but I’m already mentioning the brand to friends, saying “I haven’t flown on Virgin, but I hear it’s great!” and they, in turn, tell me they’ll check it out. It wasn’t the product experience that made me become a brand evangelist for Virgin, it was the WOM experience.

My grandmother and I aren’t so different, after all.

Here’s what I’m left wondering about…

  • What will product/brand devotion look like in the mature social media age?
  • How can on-demand, ever-abundant social media inspire the same kind of “I’m not leaving the car until this program is finished” product/brand devotion?
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