Ruder Finn Confirms The Obvious …but will the Oblivious Listen

July 7th, 2009 |


VP/Digital Account Director at The Martin Agency. Advertising geek, web addict, social media fanatic, and insomniac blogger. Read more from Eric at Pixel Maverick.

Here is a real shocker for you — people prefer to spend their time socializing, sharing, and learning with their peers MUCH more than they do buying things.

That sounds like a fairly simple observation of normal human behavior, but when you consider that these are actually the findings of an ongoing study by Ruder Finn on what motivates people to go online it makes for some very interesting extensions to that finding.

The ongoing research project I am referring to is the Ruder Finn Intent Index, and the results were recently published online in the form of an  interactive tool.  The tool is both aesthetically pleasing and user friendly.  With the exception of research analysts who love their spreadsheets, this approach of showing the data and insights gained is excellent.


Online Imitates Life …sort of

The findings suggest that more than twice as many people go online to socialize (82%) than to engage in business (39%) or to shop (31%).  The tool allows you to view the data for Men, Women, Youth, and Seniors but regardless of the segment variance they all show a significant preference for socializing, connecting, and learning over doing business or shopping online.  This large disparity is definitely newsworthy given that a large percentage of the value of the Internet is typically tied to online ordering/commerce in some form or another.

When you really think about it though, are these findings really that hard to believe or is it pretty obvious? Nobody spends the majority of their time buying things.  Nobody cruises around town solo 24/7 365 like a deranged person on a never ending product comparison & purchase mission.  Ridiculous!

We are extremely skilled multi-taskers that are constantly processing a large amounts of individual decisions (research, comparisons, valuations) simultaneously in our heads while going about our normal lives.  And what does our normal life consist of?  Socializing and interacting with others within our various community networks to achieve tasks, enjoy life, learn, and even to obtain or provide assistance/advice for all those pesky decisions rattling around in our brains.


Web 1.0 was a one-way street where you could obtain information.  However, with Web 2.0 online experience the vast amounts of information & community interaction are mashed together.  The result is an online experience that somewhat resembles real life.  So, it would stand to reason that online behavior (activity, motivations, etc.) would also closely resemble real life human behavior.  Go dust off some Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology textbooks and I bet you will find that how we have been acting in life is similar to how we are beginning to act online.

So What is a Marketer to Do?

Advertising agencies and brands everywhere are thinking “What is this BS?  To be honest we were still trying to figure out this whole “digital” thing anyway before Web 2.0 came around.  Now you tell us that people aren’t even buying stuff online …WTF man?”.

Before you think this post is going to devolve into a crazy rant about how TV is dead and agencies should quit and brands should just make products and blindly hope people will buy them — don’t worry I am not going there with this (I would be out of a job if I believed this was the case).

I am, however, advocating that more agencies and brands take the findings of Ruder Finn to heart and begin to think of the online experience as an extension of how people behave in real life.  Quit fooling yourself by thinking that your brilliant copy or Flash animation is going to independently persuade an individual to purchase something, and accept the fact that you can make people take notice of your product but the community holds the majority power of persuasion.  Ultimately it is not what YOU say about your product, it is about the combination of hundreds of mentions/ articles/ forum posts/ reviews/ tweets, etc. that a person encounters while going about their everyday life that will affect their decision.

I think that there are several agencies and brands out there today that are already making a respectable attempt at this today, but the majority of them are still obliviously trying to equate “digital” to checking a media buy box in the overall mix (banners – check!).  The sooner they apply evaluations of how people behave together in real life & the influence that this has on a person’s decisions …the better they will be at leveraging online behavior to sell product.

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Eric Williamson