Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong, Part 1

Posted by nathanpowers22 on February 6, 2017

“The Value of Customer Recommendations” by Stacy Wood discussed the shift in marketing from expert and celebrity testimonials to user-generated reviews that seems to be taking place currently. Of course, celebrity endorsements are clearly still thriving as evidenced by Super Bowl ads starring Justin Timberlake, Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, Snoop Dogg, and Martha Stewart, to name a few, which are also trending on YouTube at the moment. However, Wood suggests that our increasing awareness of the compensation these pop culture figures receive for their participation has led us to view their perspectives as less authentic and reliable. Rather, she claims, product reviews written by our fellow consumers have become a more modern form of word-of-mouth appraisal, but with its own challenges to authenticity. Wood specifically mentions that while incentives to review (e.g. chances to win prizes) are initially positive due to product association with said incentives, customers tend “to later discount their original positive attitude,” as a result of this conflation.

An additional problem not referred to in this essay is the idea of “sponsored reviews.” I’ve seen this sort of thing numerous times in the past on Amazon and Steam, where glowing product and game reviews are occasionally associated with some kind of disclaimer: “This user was given a free copy of the product for review,” or something to that effect. I, as I’m sure many others did, thought when I saw these messages, “Well, I can’t really trust that one…let’s look at some other reviews,” because there’s a clear conflict of interest in producing a negative review, regardless of whether or not the consumer was genuine in their recommendation. In trying to find an example of what exactly the disclaimer would say, I actually found an article from Ars Technica [1] that confirms this idea with relevant data on how “incentivized” reviews influence reviewer and consumer perceptions of a given product. In fact, the “growing distrust and even disdain,” as ReviewMeta [2] puts it, for sponsored reviews is so great that the companies I mentioned previously, Amazon and Steam, have both begun taking steps to prevent this kind of collusion.

Though I didn’t really discuss the other essays, I think the theme that unified them was that they all seek to evaluate the current roles of consumers in pop culture media. These roles involve a greater influence on the success and failure of media texts (“The Implicit Contract” by Alec Austin), the emergence of co-creative patterns between professionals and amateurs (“Co-creative Expertise in Gaming Cultures”), and the transformation of media via customization and expanded narratives (“Interrogating ‘Free’ Fan Labor”).

[1] – https://arstechnica.com/business/2016/10/amazon-bans-incentivised-reviews-based-on-free-or-discounted-products/

[2] – https://reviewmeta.com/blog/analysis-of-7-million-amazon-reviews-customers-who-receive-free-or-discounted-item-much-more-likely-to-write-positive-review/


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