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ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Social media provide consumers with a platform for interactivity, and interactivity leads to consumer empowerment by providing the consumer with a platform to make their voice heard. This paper contributes to the marketing literature exploring the voice of the consumer in consumer-generated advertisements (CGAs). The objective of this research is to find ways to measure consumer response to CGAs. We measure whether they differ from firm-generated ads in the responses they elicit and also observe whether they generate different responses by ad type, or if some categories have similar responses. We review CGAs for Apple's MacBook Air lightweight laptop and run a text mining application to understand the common themes and conduct text analysis on the responses to both CGAs and firm-generated ads to answer the question “Is the source of the advertisement important?” Text analytics also enable us to measure consumers' attitude toward products, companies, and ads. We then work toward understanding why and under what circumstances CGAs are effective and how companies may handle or foster different types of CGAs. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Social media provide consumers with a platform for interactivity. Although marketers underestimated the possible consequences of interactive marketing on the Internet (Deighton & Kornfeld 2009), they understood that the Internet as well as social media would make the consumer more accessible and bring more power to the marketers and their messages. However, interactivity did more, empowering the consumer by making their voice heard. The latest trends in technology and media have enabled consumers not only to voice their opinions through blogs, podcasts, and various websites but also to engage with their favorite brands by promoting their products and services. One illustration of this empowerment is through consumer-generated advertisements (CGAs) featured on video-sharing websites, such as YouTube. Companies have been confronted with this new consumer behavior recently as technology and media continually present new inventions, products, and services to users.

The literature in marketing has recently begun exploring this phenomenon, formulating a definition of the concept and types of CGAs and the responses of companies to them (Berthon et al., 2008). This paper extends this literature by analyzing the extent of consumer power in the marketplace by the use of CGAs. Previous literature looked at the source effects of CGAs using experimental studies (Steyn et al., 2010). We choose a grounded theory approach, taking advantage of the abundance of untapped information on the Web to help in theory building. For our data, we review CGAs for Apple's MacBook Air lightweight laptop and run a text mining application to understand the common themes. We then work toward understanding why and under what circumstances CGAs are effective and how companies may handle or foster different types of CGAs.

Therefore, the objective of this research is to find ways to measure consumer response to CGAs. We measure whether they differ from firm-generated ads (FGAs) in the responses they elicit. We also observe whether they generate different responses by ad type (we use four categories of CGAs) or if some categories have similar responses. We conduct text analysis on the responses to both CGAs and FGAs to answer the question “Is the source of the advertisement important?” Text analytics also enable us to measure consumers' attitude toward products, companies, and ads. We conclude by offering managerial strategies based on our findings.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Traditional marketing efforts are only one method of communication from the marketer to the consumer. Advertising was viewed as a way to convey information, invoke emotion, and generate attitude and behavior in the consumer. However, targeting specific consumers was a challenge. Internet advertising, such as banners, pop-ups, or pop-unders, merely emulated this traditional mass media approach. Although the medium was different, the techniques employed in reaching consumers were essentially the same. Then came social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which changed the marketing landscape (Berthon et al., 1996; Watson et al., 2002; Zinkhan & Gelb, 1990).

Consumers started voicing their opinions about products or brands through reviews, microblogs, and video blogs, and from these emerged CGAs. This new trend in consumer behavior requires a change in the traditional marketing perspectives of companies, since consumers are no longer mere passive receivers of advertisements. Consumers want (and are now able) to get involved in the design and transmission of advertisements. The term vigilante marketing exemplifies this trend as “unpaid advertising and marketing efforts, including one-to-one, one-to many, and many-to-many commercially oriented communications, undertaken by brand loyalists on behalf of the brand” (Muñiz and Schau 2007, 187). Of course, this is a double-edged sword: consumers are free to generate ads that portray both positive and negative views of products and firms (Berthon et al., 2007; Pitt et al., 2002).

Berthon et al. (2008) define CGAs as “any publicly disseminated, consumer generated advertising message whose subject is a collectively recognized brand/product.” They go on to identify four types of CGA based on the relationship of the message to the FGA (congruous/incongruous) and the tone of the CGA (positive/negative). When a CGA is in accordance with the official message and a positive tone toward the brand/product, it is termed a concordant ad. On the other hand, a subversive ad would be in general agreement with the official message but with an underlying negative attitude. Incongruous ads do not convey the official message of the brand but nevertheless have positive attitudes. Finally, CGAs that are off the message and clearly have a negative tone are labelled contrarian ads.

A common expectation has been that consumers would view CGAs as being honest and sincere and hence more effective than FGAs. Steyn et al. (2010) found that the popularity of CGAs was the only significant variable to create positive feelings. This paper looks at field data to see whether CGAs have a different appeal than FGAs and whether their effectiveness differs within the four categories proposed by Berthon et al. (2008).

METHODOLOGY AND DATA

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Data and coding

The data collected for this study consists of comments posted in response to the official ads and the CGAs for the Apple MacBook Air. We selected this product since the brand has a very active community in terms of creating videos and posting comments. Further, the comments often contain information pertaining not only to the product and brand but also to the creative quality of the videos. Therefore, these data enable a multidimensional analysis of what the consumers think about MacBook Air, Apple, its competitors, and the specific ad.

We looked at 75 ads, 49 of which matched our criteria of being less than 2 minutes long and relevant to the product. Two independent researchers coded the ads based on the definitions of each type provided by Berthon et al. (2008). The process included re-viewing of the 49 chosen videos to answer three questions pertaining to the creator (FGA vs. CGA), message (congruous vs. incongruous), and attitude (positive/negative) as binary variables. Combinations of each binary variable create the category; “if” statements in Excel were formulated to label and categorize each observation. Table 1 shows the number of videos by category (FGA and the four types of CGA) along with the total number of comments that each ad elicited. Of the official FGAs, there were 4 videos with 887 comments. Of the CGAs, 12 were incongruous with 109 comments, 14 concordant with 298 comments, 3 contrarian with 3716 comments, and 20 subversive with 8570 comments.

Table 1. Summary of data
CategoryNumber of adsNumber of Comments
FGAs4887
CGA-Concordant14298
CGA-Subversive208570
CGA-Incongruous12109
CGA-Contrarian33716

The 13,580 comments were analyzed using text mining. Because manual analysis of such large amounts of unstructured data is impractical, text mining can help extract themes and patterns; mining can reveal associations and relationships among terms as well as identify trends (Lee et al., 2010; Davi et al., 2005). We employed SAS Text Mining and NVivo in combination to help understand how the responses toward advertisements differed from each other. We used the packages to mine for main themes in the data and to discover relationships and differences between CGAs and FGAs. Using SAS Text Miner and NVivo, we ran our analysis on the comments for each type of ad. We excluded irrelevant terms such as user IDs, dates, numbers, addresses, prepositions, abbreviations, and noninformative parts of speech. In addition, we united synonyms of the words into one word.

The results are summarized in the next section, following that we discuss the results to reach a comprehensive understanding of the comments. Then we follow up with theoretical and managerial implications and suggestions for future research.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Our analyses consist of word frequency queries and concept link searches. Word frequency queries provide a list of the most frequently appearing words in the selected documents. Word frequency queries are used to identify major themes in the data. The “concept link search” feature in SAS Text Miner generates a link from a first word to a second word when the second word occurs with the first at least 5 per cent of the time.

Word frequency query results

The figures in Table 2 show the most frequent words along with length (the number of letters in the word), count (the number of times that the word has occurred), and percentage (the frequency of the word relative to the total word counted) (see NVivo, 2011, for software details). The “Similar words” column shows the words that are treated as synonymous (i.e., the word stem is the same, for example, mac and macs). We first looked at the frequency of different words in comments on FGAs and CGAs. In both cases, “macs,” “macbooks,” “having,” “like,” “air,” “apple,” “getting,” “just,” “pc,” “computer” are the most frequently used words (see Table 2).

Table 2. FGA and CGA word frequencies
FGACGA
WordLengthCountWeighted percentage (%)Similar wordsWordLengthCountWeighted percentage (%)Similar words
Macs41642.03Mac, macsMacs43251.42Mac, macs
Macbook71281.58Macbook, macbooksLol33171.38Lol, lols
Having61101.36Have, havingMacbooks82841.24Macbook, macbooks
Apple5911.13Apple, applesHaving62651.16Have, haves, having
Like4891.10Like, liked, likesAirs42501.09Air, airs
Getting7881.09Get, gets, gettingLiking62040.89Like, liked, likes, liking
Air3811.00AirJust41830.80Just
Pc2790.98PcWhats51620.71What, whats
Has3760.94HasGetting71570.69Get, 'get, gets, getting
Laptop6710.88Laptop, laptopsLaptop61470.64Laptop, laptopes, laptops
Just4630.78JustFunny51440.63Funni, funny
Using5600.74Use, used, useful, uses, usingComputing91410.62Computer, computers, computing
What4600.74What, whatsHas31410.62Has
Song4590.73Song, songsUsing51350.59Use, used, useful, uses, using
Computer8560.69Computer, computers, computingPc21340.59Pc
Drives6560.69Drive, drivesAll31300.57All, all'
Better6530.66BetterApples61300.57Apple, apples

We extended this analysis by splitting the CGAs into their four subtypes (contrarian, incongruous, subversive, and concordant). “Laugh out loud” (abr. lol), “air,” “have,” “laptop,” “like,” “nice,” and “macbook” are the most common words in the concordant category. Similarly, “lol,” “mac,” “funny,” “great,” “really,” “ad,” “macbook,” and “air” are the most frequent words in the incongruous category. “Macs,” “having,” “lols,” “like,” “macbooks,” and “air” are the most frequent words in the subversive category. In contrast, contrarian ads received comments involving “thin,” “how,” “know,” “lol,” “envelope,” and “ad” most frequently (Table 3).

Table 3. Top 10 most frequent words in concordant, contrarian, incongruous, and subversive categories
WordLengthCountWeighted percentage (%)Similar words
Concordant    
Lol3592.78Lol
Air3331.55Air
Have4321.51Have, having
Macbooks8301.41Macbook, macbooks
Laptop6251.18Laptop, laptopes, laptops
Like4241.13Like, liking
Nice4241.13Nice, nicely
Thinkpad8200.94Thinkpad, thinkpads
Haha4170.80Haha
Just4170.80Just
Contrarian    
Thin443.51Thin
How332.63How
Know432.63Know
Lol332.63Lol
Xd232.63Xd
Envelope821.75Envelope
From421.75From
Fuck421.75Fuck, fucking
Hahaha621.75Hahaha
Mean421.75Mean
Incongruous    
Lol3112.28Lol
Mac381.66Mac
Macbook781.66Macbook
Air371.45Air, airs
Funny571.45Funny
Great571.45Great
Really671.45Really
Ad261.24Ad
Computers961.24Computer, computers
Just461.24Just
Subversive    
Macs42531.49Mac, macs
Macbooks82201.30Macbook, macbooks
Having62111.24Have, haves, having
Air31851.09Air, airs
Lols41590.94Lol, lols
Just41470.87Just
Like41460.86Like, liked, likes, liking
Getting71330.78Get, 'get, gets, getting
Whats51210.71What, whats
Laptop61140.67Laptop, laptopes, laptops

In general, CGAs elicit positive attitudes as viewers use words such as “lol,” “funny,” and “like” in their comments. Furthermore, while most of the comments talk about the product, the ad itself is the second most important theme in the comments.

Concept link search results

After analyzing word frequencies, we run concept links to identify the relationships between terms. We ran the “concept link” search for words that identified the themes within the comments. In each figure, the central theme is positioned at the center; the peripheral links are the concepts that occur with the central theme commonly. For instance, Figure 1a demonstrates a SAS Text Miner “concept link” search for the word “air” that is a central theme in FGAs (see SAS, 2011, for software details). It shows that “air” is linked to words such as “+drive,” “fan,” “+inch,” “+have,” “macbook,” “+apple,” “+make,” and “+see.”

image

Figure 1. FGA concept links.

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Similarly, Figures 1b, 1c, and 1d illustrate the relationships of themes dominating within the comments for the FGAs, like “macbook,” “song,” and “apple,” respectively.

On the one hand, in Figure 1b, concept links for “macbook” indicate that comments related to the product are mostly descriptive.

On the other hand, Figure 1d lists attitudinal connections to the brand. We can say that viewers are polarized since the brand name has a relationship with both of the words “love” and “hate.” Further, comments include many Apple products. Viewers have knowledge about the variety of its products.

Concordant

Concordant ads share the official message and the positive attitude that FGAs also have. Most comments in these are about the product and its price.

As seen in Figure 2, the viewers emphasize the size and the design of the product. There is also concern about price as “air” is associated with “money,” “+buy,” and “spend.”

image

Figure 2. Concordant concept links.

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Contrarian

Contrarian ads deviate from the official message and have a negative attitude. These types of ads were least frequent and yet generated the most number of comments. The comments were distributed on a wide range. Figure 3a shows that the viewers of contrarian ads are discussing the product features and the price as well as the ad.

image

Figure 3. Contrarian concept links.

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As Figures 3b and 3c illustrate, the words “+video” and “+song” generate appreciation and inquiry. Viewers request to know what the name of the song and the artist are.

Incongruous

When an ad features a different message than the FGA and has a positive attitude toward the product, it is categorized as incongruous. In the MacBook Air example, incongruous ads featured themes about the ad. More specifically, the word “ad” had links with words “great” and “job,” suggesting that the ad is appreciated among the viewers (see Figure 4.)

image

Figure 4. Incongruous concept links.

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Subversive

Subversive ads have the official message but a negative attitude toward the product/brand advertised. The comments for this type of ads were focused on the ad like the other CGAs and the product itself. In Figure 5, the product “mac” had association with the words “+pc,” “os,” and “windows.” Viewers of these ads compared the software, and there is a very clear polarization in the comments, as can be seen in the examples below:

image

Figure 5. Subversive concept links.

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“I am definitely a mac person by cool ad.”

“Windows is no more or less secure than a Mac.”

“Well, let me say that I have been a PC guy for 20 years.”

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

Our analysis identified patterns in ad responses in terms of frequency and relationships. Both the categories of FGAs and CGAs and the types of CGAs among themselves share some common themes of emphasis and differ from each other at other points of focus. The comments in their entirety are a testament to how the contemporary consumer becomes vocal in cyberspace and how they are empowered through social media.

Figure 6 illustrates main themes with example words. Three main themes emerged for FGA comments: product/brand, competitor's product, and the ad. Similarly for CGAs, the main themes were the product/brand, the competition, and the ad itself. Within the comments focusing on the ad in the CGA category, there were attitude and descriptive patterns.

image

Figure 6. Themes and patterns.

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As the work sets in Figure 6 reveal, the main themes are similar whether the ads are firm generated or consumer generated. What stands out, however, is the difference between the content discussed within the theme. The viewers express appreciation for the FGA and emphasize the song; however, they find the CGAs funny and talk more about the visuals such as the envelope within the ad theme. The product/brand is described in further detail in the FGA comments in comparison to the comments left for the CGAs.

In terms of being a catalyst for discussion, contrarian ads stood out with 3716 comments for just three ads. By definition, contrarian ads deviate from FGAs in terms of both the message and the attitude. One may conclude that this deviation from the original ad creates a greater space for discussion. The ad that got most of the comments was a comedic take on eating disorders of a fat laptop (PC) as she sees a thin one (MacBook Air). Interestingly, most comments focused on the ad rather than the product itself. For instance, one comment explained the plot to the rest of the viewers who seemed to be lost:

“ok. you see hes watching thin notebook? hes not thin. so you see the food next to it all the time? it has eating problems. it watched the fat girl and tried to work out. Then it became anorexic and throwing up to be skinny like the MacBook. GET IT YET?”

Other comments praised the ad and the creator:

“Very, very good :)”

“My favorite part is when it's doing sit-ups. (Open-and-closes?)”

“That was so cool!!!! I'm laughing my head off!!!!”

Some had information for those who wished to buy MacBook Air:

“thalliumproductions is giving away an macbook for free. all you have to do is be subscribed to him, theres a video with all the info in my channel. so subscribe to him”

The word frequency query revealed several interesting points; the similarities and differences between the comments left for FGAs and CGAs were rather curious. First, references to the product itself, such as Mac, MacBook, Apple, and Air, as well as references to the category of PCs, computers, or laptops are among the common words for both categories. Secondly, allusion to the song used in the original ad is mostly seen in the FGAs. Audience asks for the name of the song and the singer, and others respond with the information. It is worth noting that the same song is used in many of the CGAs; however, the newness factor probably diminished after the original ads aired there for references in the CGAs, although not nonexistent, became less. Also, in the comments for FGAs, we encounter comparatives such as “better” or “more” and action verbs such as “buy,” which is not as common in the comments left for CGAs. Finally, CGA comments feature abbreviations such as “LOL,” smileys like “XD,” and descriptives for the ad such as “funny,” “great,” and “nice job” to indicate the general attitude toward the CGAs. From these we deduce that humor is more commonly used in CGAs and that the audience is able to appreciate it. Furthermore, the song choice on the part of Apple proves to be successful in creating a light mood to get the consumer into a buyer's mindset (Van Raaij 1993). One might even argue that it is perhaps a bit too successful inasmuch as the song overshadows the product at times in the discussion.

The last stage of our analysis focused on the relationship between the most commonly occurring words and themes. For this, we used the concept link search tool and found that for FGAs, the comments are product descriptive. The concept links on Apple especially reveal that the audience has knowledge of Apple products, not limited to the product featured in the ad. Moreover, the links between the brand “Apple” and both “like” and “hate” are strong, suggesting that there may be polarization in the discussion. Several such comments carry the discussion as follows:

“this made me fall in love with apple products..”

“I like Mac computers. I HATE mac users :D I also love my PC laptop. macbook user trolls and L2play minesweeper.”

“the only reason mac people hate pc people is because they spent a fortune to buy the crappy OSX that can do nothing serious, not even play games, while pc users get 5 times more things with 1/3 the price…”

Another result from the concept link search revealed that comments pertaining to the CGAs of all types focus on describing the ad. The description is provided by word associations such as “video” or “ad” and “funny.” Positive attitude toward the incongruous ads, for instance, are evident in the links between “ad” and “great,” “nice,” and “job.” Two categories of CGAs, the concordant and the subversive ones, also feature links that focus on the product. For instance, there exist concept links between “apple” or “air” and “thinkpad” pointing to a comparison. Also, there are references to the price of the product and features such as USB “drives” (or lack thereof).

The examples and results mentioned above all support the premise that the social media provide the venue for customers to let their opinions be known about anything and everything. The comments' themes, as suggested earlier, range from the product/brand or the competition to the ad itself or the creator of the ad. There is not much inhibition when it comes to what consumers say or even how they choose to say it, whether it be through videos as in the example of CGAs or text as in the example of comments.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES

“Three of the world's most popular brands online are social-media related (Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia) and the world now spends over 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites. This equates to 22 percent of all time online or one in every four and half minutes.” (Neilsen Reports, 2010)

In consideration of the significant impact that social media have had on how we relate to each other, it is important once more to realize its impact on marketing and the consumer. We find that consumers are empowered through the freedom that social media provide when it comes to making the consumer's voice heard. In this paper, we analyzed a set of comments left for FGAs and CGAs for the MacBook Air. Using a grounded theory approach, we explored source effects when it came to the responses toward ads, and on which topics consumers were vocal. We found that the comments differ for the FGAs and CGAs; there was no indication of a source effect but rather references to the dominant features such as the song for the FGAs and the humor for the CGAs. We also found patterns within the comments about which types of ads and topics elicited discussion from consumers. Ads that deviated from the FGAs, both in the message and the attitude, were the ones that generated the most comments. We believe this is because the deviation provides originality and more points of discussion. When it comes to the common themes and patterns in the comments, we see that the product, MacBook Air; its alternatives, Thinkpad, laptops, PCs; and their features are one identifiable group. The other patterns that emerge in the CGAs are mostly about how “funny” or “good” the ads are.

Limitations and directions for future research

During the analyses, we encountered several limitations to our chosen methodology. The first one was concerning the coding of CGAs; however, the existence of two independent coders and the binary system focusing on the feature of the ads rather than the ads themselves helped alleviate this limitation. Another one was choosing the appropriate tools of text mining among many options. We decided to use SAS Enterprise Text Miner and NVivo after careful consideration and a survey of the literature; both programs provide us with two important analyses: word frequency queries and concept link searches. The third important limitation of this study was in part about making sense of the results because we chose a grounded theory approach. Our starting point was not a theory but the observations from the data we gathered; hence, the results were the fruit of discovering the themes and patterns, not identifying what was suggested by previous researchers. Since all cases would be unique in terms of the results, starting from the data is more sensible than starting with preconceptions.

Future research should focus on generalizable patterns of response to ads from different sources. This way, a systematic strategy can be formulated. Our results suggest that there are three important topics that receive a response: the product, the competitors, and the ad. With enough data, it might be possible to create a model to explain the role that each topic plays and test the model to see which ones are more influential.

Scholarly and managerial contributions

This paper contributes to the literature by analyzing the extent of consumer power in the marketplace by the use of CGAs as well as source effects as manifested in the comments, using a grounded theory approach. To our knowledge, the literature does not have examples of this sort. Our analysis identified patterns in ad responses and enabled us to provide suggestions and recommendations on how to use this information.

The managerial implications of these findings rest in the subtle differences between the responses to FGAs and CGAs. With the growth of social media, companies may inflict unnecessary harm to their businesses by ignoring CGAs and the impact of communicative technology on their products. Companies must recognize this new trend in consumer behavior and should capitalize on consumer efforts to promote their brands by adjusting their marketing strategies to harness this trend.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF THE CONSUMER
  5. METHODOLOGY AND DATA
  6. RESULTS
  7. DISCUSSION
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. REFERENCES
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