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Celebrating World Consumer Rights Day

Today is the 35th celebration of World Consumer Rights Day, an event inspired by an address that President John F Kennedy gave to Congress in 1962. The first world leader to address the issue of consumer rights, JFK highlighted the government's "responsibility to make certain that our nation's economy fairly and adequately serves consumers' interests." However, he also signaled out advertisers, saying that "marketing is increasingly impersonal" and "consumer choice is influenced by mass advertising utilizing highly developed arts of persuasion." In this regard, JFK would be happy to see the new marketing landscape, increasingly dominated by the influence of consumers — not brands.

When JFK gave his speech, trust in institutions generally, and in advertising specifically, was historically low. For the previous three decades, cigarette companies had made claims that were being exposed as everything from misleading to downright untrue. For example, as early as 1930, Lucky Strike had asserted that "20,679 physicians say, 'Luckies are less irritating.'" Since then, a variety of spokespeople — actors, doctors, athletes, senators, even babies and cartoon characters — had reassured consumers that, among other things, smoking “does not cause bad breath” and “can never stain your teeth.”

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 A 1951 ad for Marlboro's, from
The New York Times

In the '60s, brands tried to reearn the public's trust. Pepsi spoke directly to young people, the demographic most skeptical of traditional advertising, with their wholesome "Think Young" and "Pepsi Generation" campaigns. Some years later, Coca-Cola took a more idealistic tone with its multi-ethnic "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" TV spot. At the same time, Campbell's tried to absorb and project pop culture by tweaking its slogan from "M'm, M'm, good!" to "m'm, m'm, groovy!" Nevertheless, JFK's claim was just as valid — marketing and advertising was still a mass-produced product exclusively conceived of and controlled by a brand.

Today, that dynamic is fundamentally different. TV commercials, the advertising juggernaut in the '60s, have been supplanted by the internet and social media, platforms that give consumers a far louder voice in the conversation. For example, in 2015, SeaWorld tried to rehabilitate its image by holding a Q&A on Twitter. Immediately, consumers used the #AskSeaWorld hashtag to attack SeaWorld's handling of its marine life: "#AskSeaWorld Do you call yourself an ABUSEMENT PARK?" When the company doubled down and accused critics of being online trolls, the negative press multiplied. 

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From Nielsen's, "Global Trust in Advertising"

Marketing and advertising is no longer a message. It's a conversation, and one where consumers have the most credibility. According to Nielsen, eighty-three percent of consumers completely or somewhat trust recommendation from people they know, compared to just 56% who trust an email list that they themselves signed up for. In this regard, the most effective marketing is when a brand equips its consumers to tell the story for them -- the foundation upon which Wyng is built. It allows brands to drive participation instead of offering marketing that is, to quote JFK, "increasingly impersonal."

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