Is Friendship Silent When Money Talks? How People Respond to Word-of-Mouth Marketing Defended on Thursday, 26 June 2008

Word of mouth is a powerful source of consumer influence. Therefore, marketers nowadays are interested in managing word of mouth. An often implemented strategy is stimulating customers to talk about a product by providing a (financial) reward for successful recommendations (‘buzz’). Previous research showed that rewards have a positive influence on recommendation likelihood. In this dissertation, it is investigated how people receiving these rewarded recommendations evaluate these recommendations and the recommending agent. It is argued that a reward leads to three important changes in the recommendation, and their impact is investigated in a series of experiments. First, a reward introduces a sales aspect in the interaction, and thereby transgresses boundaries that exist between sales and friendship norms. Second, the reward sheds doubts on the trustworthiness of the recommendation (agent). Third, rewarded recommendations are relatively often directed towards weak ties (i.e., acquaintances and less intimate friends). This dissertation shows that cues that hint at the presence of a financial reward (by increased salience of sales relationship norms, a disclosure of the reward, or by a slightly untrustworthy appearance) have a positive effect; people evaluate the recommending agent more positively than when these cues are lacking. The impact of these factors on product evaluations and recommendation compliance is mixed. To gain insight in weak tie recommendations, the impact of social categorization was examined. Recommendations from outgroup members can backfire and lead to contrasting evaluations of the target product. Ultimately, this dissertation provides in-depth insights into rewarded recommendations from a target point-of-view.


word of mouth, word-of-mouth marketing, relationship norms, trustworthiness, facial characteristics, social categorization, persuasion

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