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The fall of paid advertising: why word-of-mouth marketing is the way forward

Event Team | Gleanin
16 September 2021

With brands like Apple adding privacy updates to iOS and Google planning to phase out third party cookies in 2022, the very foundations of digital marketing as we know it are crumbling. The message has never been clearer: paid ads are out - privacy is in.

In this post we’ll look at why paid ads are no longer the golden ticket for event marketers looking to get more attendees, and why word-of-mouth marketing is the way forward.


  1. What’s wrong with paid advertising?
  2. Putting power back in the hands of the consumer
  3. What is word-of-mouth marketing?
  4. Why it works
  5. Why this is important to event marketers
  6. If it’s so good, why aren’t more event marketers using word-of-mouth marketing?
  7. The key to successful WoM marketing

     a. Content

     b. Community

     c. VIP attendees

     d. Opinion leaders/influencer marketing

What’s wrong with paid advertising?

Watch anyone under the age of 40 scroll through their social feeds and you’ll quickly realise how wired our brains are to ignore anything that remotely resembles an ad. It’s an art.

It’s also wildly inconvenient for the businesses relying on paid ad spend for the majority of their revenue. Yes, paid ads have their place - but they’re becoming increasingly more expensive to run, and the rise in privacy measures means you’re limited in what you can achieve through this channel that was previously considered a “sure thing” (as long as you were blessed with a competent account manager and a healthy budget).

Putting power back in the hands of the consumer.

Following the introduction of GDPR and CCPA legislation in Europe and California, Apple started making their own changes for iOS 14.5. This brought about opt-in requirements for apps and ad tracking, requiring users to specifically opt-in to their activity being tracked across the internet (source: Forbes). And they’re not alone - restrictions are set to increase even further in 2022 with Google planning to phase out third-party cookies.

So your advertising dollars aren’t going as far as they used to, you’re not getting the reach, tracking, or reporting capabilities you used to get, and it’s costing you more, to boot. Far be it from us to tell you how to live your life, but it seems crazy to keep putting all your eggs in that one rather expensive and ineffective basket. 

Not only that, but marketing budgets are leaner than ever thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, plummeting to 6.4% of company revenue in 2021, compared with 11% in 2020 (source: Gartner).

The pressure’s on to invest into marketing efforts that yield better results, for less.

Advertising blindness and privacy concerns aside, as digital consumers we’re bombarded with sponsored content promising the world - to the point where we no longer believe anything we read. We’re living in an increasingly skeptical society where trust is currency and ads are merely background noise. We want proof.

So, where to from here?

Enter, word of mouth marketing.

What is word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing leverages trust, authority, credibility and proof, to help influence buyer behaviour. For event marketers, this ultimately means people in seats, sold out events, and general winning at this whole ‘career’ thing.

Your event is great. You know it’s great. But how are you going to tell people it’s great? You’re not. Your attendees, partners, and sponsors are.

Why it works

Word of mouth is the OG of marketing channels, trusted by pretty much every human ever since the dawn of time. Which movie to watch this weekend, what’s good to eat at that one place down the road, which car is better, where to send your kids to school - it seeps into every area of our lives, almost without us even realising.

People buy from people they trust, with as many as 83% of consumers saying they trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other types of advertising (source: Nielsen). More importantly, this power extends beyond friends and family, with two thirds of people surveyed saying they trust opinions from fellow shoppers when researching their next big buy online.

The short answer? What people are saying about your brand, matters. It always did, and always will.

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most important factors in every stage of the buyer’s decision journey (process), from initial consideration, to evaluation of alternatives, to the moment of purchase. A negative comment from someone you trust at any stage of the buying process has the potential to flip your stance. Similarly, a quick chat with a brand devotee can tip the odds in that brand’s favour.

Why this is important to event marketers

For event marketers, harnessing that power is one of the biggest challenges in the marketing process, but it’s well worth the effort. People are much more inclined to book an event if they see other people from their network on the guest list. It’s the ultimate social proof, and announcing your attendance is a public endorsement that reaches everyone in your social network (and beyond). 

This is why community is so important for event marketers - building an engaged community means attendees build a strong positive association with your event, forming connections and opportunities off the back of it, lasting long after the event has ended.

If you get your attendees and partners talking positively about the event, and sharing their excitement, experiences, and opinions with their networks, you’re already winning.

If it’s so good, why aren’t more event marketers using word-of-mouth marketing?

Short answer? It’s hard(er) to harness. 

You can’t always predict it, and it’s not as easy to analyse or control. When it relies on other people choosing to share their experiences and opinions, there’s usually a limited amount of control you can have over the when, where and how it happens.

How do you overcome this obstacle? Make it easy.

The key to successful word of mouth marketing.

This is, in part, one of the reasons we created Gleanin - to equip event marketers with the tools to effectively harness word-of-mouth marketing and sell out their events. 

Four ways to work WoM for events include:


Create engaging, eye-catching content for your event community to easily share with their networks. Through Gleanin for example, you can create your own, or save time and customise our pre-designed templates. Keep it interesting by providing a variety of options so they can choose their favourite piece to share. 

Prior to the event, highlight the opportunities there’ll be to create “Instagrammable” content (photo walls, booths, props - both in person and online). Content creation is a challenge for anyone who manages a social media account, so by making it easy, you’re much more likely to see a positive impact that helps build the event community online.


Your attendees, speakers, and sponsors all have the power to spread the word on your behalf. To get the most out of your community, give them the tools they need to let their networks and followers know they’re attending, speaking at, or sponsoring your event. Each of these groups has a powerful community behind them, so use it! 

Encourage attendees to bring a friend, give speakers the content they need to quickly and easily let their fans and followers know they’ll be speaking, and equip sponsors with the tools they need to showcase their sponsorship in the best light. It’s a two-way street where both parties benefit.

VIP attendees

Turn VIPs from attendees to ambassadors by helping them show off their special status. Send them swag, give them VIP-only access, provide unique opportunities for them to share their experience with their followers, and you can bet they’ll be talking about it. 

Timebased Events, a London based event management company, leveraged this by providing VIP guests with access to pose on a moving treadmill in front of a dynamic LED screen for the GQ Men of the Year awards in 2018. Insta-worthy? You betcha.

Key opinion leaders/influencer marketing

The influencer economy is on the rise, with micro influencers paving the way for trustworthy recommendations. Look to key opinion leaders and influencers in relevant industries, with engagement as your guiding metric. Endorsement from an influencer with a highly engaged following in the right market demographic can work wonders for your event numbers. 

Get them on your attendee list, and their fans are likely to follow. Consider us influenced.

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