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When Trust Falls Down

Trinity Mirrors' Andrew Tenzer looks at what's driving the growing crisis in trust between advertisers and consumers - and the steps that need to be taken to try and regain it

Since the general election, the mainstream media are once again asking how they misjudged the mood of the British people so badly. In our world of marketing and advertising, we’ve also been asking ourselves what recent political events might tell us about the British consumer? If politicians and commentators can get it so wrong – what could we be doing wrong and how should we be responding?

Recent research by Trinity Mirror has discovered that the build-up of factors leading to recent political events are so seismic, they’ve had a much wider reverberation across society.

In fact, we are witnessing an on-going societal shift in people’s mind-set. The British consumer feels they can trust almost nothing and that trust is in crisis. It’s this world view which is impacting on perceptions of brands and advertising - 69% of adults distrust advertising and 37% trust brands less than they used to (vs.7% who trust brands more).

We need to understand and confront this new mindset head-on, in order to build valuable connections with today’s consumers. But what’s driving this crisis in trust?

Firstly, we need to recognise the wider societal context. The default position for British consumers is that everything has to work harder to gain trust. The default position is one of scepticism and even cynicism.

Arguably, in the pre-internet era, the choice to trust something was a binary one - you either trusted it, or you didn’t. The reality is now very different - consumers have the ability to fact check and investigate multiple sources to reach what they consider to be the truth and even then they might not believe it.

A real concern for brands is that half of adults (50%) rate brands closer to the ‘Establishment’ than not. This wouldn’t be a problem if perceptions of the ‘Establishment’ were positive or at best neutral.

In a world where facts can be checked in a matter of seconds, it is more important than ever that brands are seen to be behaving responsibly."

However, we know from recent events, and from our own research, that the word or concept is often used as a pejorative term for excessive power and influence. It’s generally considered to be remote, unreachable, abstract and self-serving. As a consequence, we are seeing a ‘retrenchment’ from the impact of globalisation and a turning inwards towards what people feel is safe and can be trusted.

As an industry, we need to acknowledge and address this generalised feeling of distrust in the ‘Establishment’, which is very real, particularly outside London.

Consequently, both brands and advertising are perceived to be out of touch and too London centric - people don’t see their own lives represented in it. Non-Londoners are 21% more likely than people living in London to say brands don’t aim their advertising and marketing at people in their local area.

This feeling needs to be taken seriously because it exacerbates people’s ideas of brands as faceless corporations that don’t care about, or attempt to understand the very people they are trying to sell to.

There is a sense that advertising strives to be aspirational, but simply ends up fabricating reality. This only contributes to a feeling of scepticism and distrust towards the advertising industry.

So in a world where facts can be checked in a matter of seconds, it is more important than ever that brands are seen to be behaving responsibly. In fact, they are undermining their own credibility in a number of different ways.

Firstly, as brands move from propositions to ‘purpose’, they leave themselves open to scorn. With a cynical starting point, a brand’s purpose is viewed as inauthentic until people have seen it put into action with their own eyes.

This perceived lack of authenticity is having a profound impact on trust, because 58% of adults don’t trust a brand until they have seen ‘real world proof’ that they have kept their promises.
Secondly, digital has opened up a relatively new advertising channel, which brands are desperately trying to determine how best to use and measure. As a consequence, they have fallen into ‘budget brand’ behaviours that they wouldn’t dream of implementing in more traditional media.

Consumers recognise this, describing sneaky tactics and pushiness, as aggressive retargeting follows them in all sorts of non-premium contexts. 40% associate brands with being ‘pushy’ and 57% of adults agree that brands should be more careful where they place their advertising

It’s clear that whilst we as an industry are observing the shifts in the British mood and outlook, we are not addressing what it means for us, how we view ourselves and how we behave. It is becoming tougher to convince consumers about a brand’s positioning and authenticity. Despite a brand’s best efforts consumers are more able than ever before to ignore even the most compelling and legitimate brand truths.

There are no easy answers in this brave new world but we’ve identified three key areas brands need to confront to challenge the rise of distrust.

  1. Brand realism to replace brand delusion: Over inflated brand propositions may well have succeeded in the past, when hyperbole, exaggeration and blockbuster ads were enthusiastically lapped up by consumers.

    Marketers need to be ruthlessly honest on how convincing their proposition or purpose is, moving from fantasy to reality in order to be convincing ‘truth-tellers’.

  2. Anecdote-telling to replace story-telling: If it was once the marketers’ job to amplify a brand truth, now is the time to prove a brand’s truth. It’s no longer enough to tell people what you stand for. You have to actually stand for it - stand up for it - and demonstrate it in real world action.

    If you’re a brand about thanking, how have you thanked? If you are a brand about sharing, how have you shared? And if you are a brand about love how have you loved?

  3. Explicit geo-targeting to replace implicit geo-targeting: Of-course most brands are not London centric. But that doesn’t mean that consumer perception recognises this.

    Explicitly demonstrating to your audience that you are talking to them - on their turf - will go a long way to dispel the London and establishment prejudices that exist.

 Originally published in Mediatel on 11/7/17

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