Can I trust you? Why we’re not believing our friends anymore

When you book a holiday, buy a gadget or download an album, chances are, if you’re anything like me, you read all the reviews on Amazon, TripAdvisor and iTunes before parting with your cash. Once, much to the annoyance of the boyf, I changed our hotel booking in Marrakech – just because Enid Williams in Basingstoke hadn’t thought much of the quality of the linens in my previous choice.

There was a time, where we took every review at face value. After all, why would Quickmix Boxer Boy bother to log in to iTunes to tell us how brilliant  Lady Gaga’s latest album was if he didn’t really think that? And yet. And yet…

The latest annual Trust Survey from Edelman’s has revealed that our trust in the information we’re reading online has reduced dramatically. In 2008 45% of us trusted the views of our friends and peers online. In 2009 that figure was just 25%.

So what’s happened?

Have big brands infiltrated the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to such an extent that we no longer trust what we’re reading?

Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet thinks so.

“Social networking used to be innocent, peer to peer conversation and now it’s turned into a marketing playground in which almost everything — blog space, tweets and, in some cases, opinion — is for sale.”

It seems that Tweets, blogs posts and comments are all up for grabs. Remember Paris Hilton’s “I love The Coffee Bean – The Frozen Chocolate Drink is Amazing. If you haven’t tried one before I deinitely [sic] reccomend [sic] it. 🙂 x0x0 Paris”. Yeah, right. With all those calories? 

But if we’re starting to mistrust what we’re reading online, how else are the big brands going to reach us?

Last month the Sunday Times Magazine reported how brands and their ad agencies are now hiring actors for ‘brand experience solutions.’

The magazine interviewed David Chambers, a guy who had worked for an unnamed web search engine. He and a group of colleagues had infiltrated the studio audience of The Wright Stuff, a day time show on Channel 5 here in the UK, which relies heavily on audience participation. Chambers reveals “we were there to plant subliminal messages. It was all about inserting the key phrase, about freeing the information into the conversations.”

“The same day we did dozens of radio phone-ins, calling up and pretending to be different characters and just getting the phrase in”.

According to the Sunday Times, brands are increasingly targeting our conversations. One agency director revealed “it has all become a lot more under the radar. Sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. Consumers will sometimes never know they’re being influenced by a brand.”

What does the future hold? Who can we trust?

Only last week we saw a release of the film The Joneses starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore. They’re a perfect couple with beautiful teenagers, a suburban McMansion, expensive designer clothes, smart looking cars and all the latest gadgets. And of course, they’re happy to recommend these products to their friends, family and colleagues.

But this is no ordinary family. They’re slick marketers employed by brands to sell their products.

Of course this is just a movie. But how long will it be before we see this for real?

So when that lovely family move in next door with their flash Audi A8, 3G iPads and Jimmy Choos*, don’t be jealous. It could be that they’re just being sponsored. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?

*I have not been given any reward for mentioning these products. Or have I……?

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