Trained in Graphic Design and a Copywriter by trade, Larner has worked for some of the world’s biggest agencies, including WWAV Rapp Collins and TMP Worldwide. He’s enjoyed spells as Creative Director at The Black Hole and ripe design(UK), leaving one agency after its best financial returns in its 16 year history and the other having won the UK’s best independent agency in its sector. Larner now freelances, offering copywriting, conceptualising and branding services to a wide variety of agencies and direct clients throughout the UK and internationally. His personal blog is at

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Europe’s 22 most trusted brands of 2011…

…and one I’ll find harder to trust in future.

Consumers these days have more power than ever before. Competition for your cash is fierce and thanks to social media, you have a bigger, stronger, more urgent voice – not just because you can talk to brands directly but, also because we can all listen in to your feedback.

Given enough momentum, that feedback, if in the negative, can seriously erode the trust we all have in brands. As in the case of The News Of The World, it can stop that brand in its tracks.


And it’s not just the big, unspeakably bad things that start to erode brand trust. Every communication a brand makes is a potential pitfall in terms of keeping our faith in those names we know – or thought we knew.

When brands lose trust

You may not think you need to trust a brand to buy from it. Strange as it may at first sound, I don’t go for a brand when shopping for travel insurance; I go for the absolute bare-bones cheapest deal. that’s because it’s a total commodity to me and I know, as long as I check out the key facts that apply to my needs, there’ll be a legal requirement of that company to honour my agreement. Others may totally disagree with that and I’m fully aware that others may choose a huge name like Aviva to cover their loved ones away as they’ve been around for years – not to mention the fact they won’t want any bad, trust-eroding press that may come out of a wrangle over not paying out on little Toby’s tyrannosaurus rex mauling in Tenerife.

But you will have your own personal list of the brands you regularly buy from as do I. And many will know from past experience that it could only take one false, failing move from that brand and they’re off your Christmas card list forever.

I’m also guessing there’ll be a fairly common theme of the brands we all need to trust before we buy from them for the first time – for example, medicine brands, financial brands… laser eye surgery brands.

The reason I’ve thrown laser eye surgery brands into the pot is not just because you probably don’t want to be irreparably damaged when opting for corrective surgery – you’d no longer be able to read this lovely post for a start – but also because I actually came across this ad yesterday when pooling about on the big electronic library:

That’s the first stage – words life ’safe’ and ‘affordable’ ticking my YES box – all fair enough.

But then came the second stage:

Ah, the beauty of online ads: interactivity. An ad in the form of a very quick survey. But here’s the thing: start speaking to customers as a brand and you immediately put that trust on the line; attempt to interact with those same customers and you lay that that trust bare on the rail track – just waiting for any old credibility train to come along and smash that trust to smithereens.

Which is exactly what this does.

One question. Two options. 50/50.

Couldn’t be more #000000 and #FFFFFF if it tried.

But click on either one of those so-designed buttons (they’re not buttons really) and you arrive at the exact same page.

The one you see here. The sell. The conversion. The data trawl.

But then you knew that didn’t you.

I could scarcely believe my eyes.

Brand ambition: get the customer to answer a ‘question’ to suck them into the form page.

Customer perception: you’ve been disingenuous. I’ve been done. If not out of hard cash, but certainly out of respect.

And there falls another little crumb from the biscuit of trust. Hard to swallow but true.

I’m not even in the market yet for laser eye surgery. But you can bet your spectacles that when I am, I’ll be that little bit more wary of surgeons firing lasers into my eyeballs if their Marketing Department can’t even be straight with me in the first place.

Can brands ever regain trust?

Well, depends on what they do. If it’s as something as appalling as The UK’s once best-selling newspaper’s recent antics, then no. And quite rightly so.

But take a look at this list of Europe’s most trusted brands in 2011 – a poll conducted by The Reader’s Digest with 33,000 contributors - and you’ll see it gives some interesting insight.

* Nivea (skin care)
* Nokia
* Visa
* Canon
* HP/HP Compaq
* Ariel
* Kellogg’s
* Nestle
* Miele
* Nivea (cosmetic)
* Nivea (hair care)
* VW
* Avon
* Head & Shoulders
* Toyota
* Aspirin
* Bosch
* Centrum
* Orange
* T-Mobile
* Yves Rocher
* Sony (cameras)

Firstly, it shows that despite being behind a number of tragic deaths due to malfunctions in their products, a brand such as Toyota can regain consumer trust.

But how?

Whilst the brand certainly received initial criticism during the early stages of its faulty braking system crisis, it did eventually combine culpability with direct communication from the heads of the corporation. The message was clear that the buck stopped at the top. Indeed, as this article on Mashable points out, due to clear and direct communication, Toyota’s Social Influence Marketing (SIM) score saw an upsurge during some of the perceived darkest days of the crisis.

And what of Nestle? A brand that never seems to be out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons - not least the sourcing of palm oil from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian company accused of illegal deforestation of rainforests.

Yet the Nestle name is still up there, along with Toyota, in Europe’s most trusted brands. Is it because it has ramped up its CSR programme and is now helping develop farms and villages in places as far afield as India?

Yes. But not entirely.

Remember, the list above concerns Europe and European consumers. It’s because Nestle, despite one or two social media disasters, has talked to be people about what they’re doing.

Communication is key.

Am I defending either brand? Certainly not.

But when it comes to trust and the rebuilding of that trust, the most important thing is to have a good honest dialogue.

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