42% of US consumers believe brands are 'less truthful' than 20 years ago, says study

By Laurie Fullerton | Freelance Writer

April 4, 2017 | 3 min read

Fresh research has indicated that conservatives are more likely to trust Walmart while liberals are more trusting of Google – highlighting the challenges faced by advertisers navigating the political landscape in the US.

A report from McCann Truth Central – the global agency's thought leadership unit – has found that many brands are landing on one side of the fence or the other, and that some consumers believe brands are less trustworthy in the current climate.

The Truth in America study was based on a survey of 1,000 adult Americans aged 18 and over. Further, 42% said said they believed brands are "less truthful" today than they were 20 years ago, while 70% admitted to being mistrustful of politicians.

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As the widening political gap in the US is truly affecting most aspects of American life, including attitudes about brands and core values, It is a difficult call for advertisers. Any form of cultural expression—whether it comes in the form of nostalgic songs, TV shows or ad campaigns seem to ‘pick a side’ and resonate with political meaning or moralistic symbolism.

The sharp divide runs across all categories with regard to values, institutions, brands, foreign countries, American symbols, or news sources. But the study also identified the iconic American symbols as the ”glue" as well as the "gaps."

"America's increasingly pervasive polarization is creating a new kind of challenge for brand marketers. They have to decide how much to align with values favored or opposed by one constituency or another," said Steve Zaroff, chief strategy officer of McCann North America who conducted the study. "But what we found in our Truth Central study is that there are also areas of common ground with regard to positively viewed values and institutions."

The space program NASA emerged as the most-trusted overall in the study, while conservatives favored the US Army and liberals the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Amazon also emerged as a brand that is favored by the majority, while conservatives favored Walmart, and liberals trusted Google.

When asked what was the most iconic American aspect of the country, baseball as well as hamburgers, French fries and a coke are still trusted symbols of the American ‘brand’ while conservatives named bald eagles and liberals jazz and blues music as very American.

"To be effective, advertising needs to be in tune culturally with the mood and trends of the country. This research shows how critical it is for advertisers to get out and speak to consumers; data is not enough on its own," said Nancy Hill, president and chief executive of the 4A's.

"While there is a divide—which we are all aware of—there are also shared viewpoints that can be uncovered and leveraged to reach target audiences."


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