Brand purpose can reach ‘Disunited Kingdom’ betrayed over Brexit, says Edelman study

HSBC's 'We Are Not an Island' caused a stir

Seven out of 10 Brits believe society and the government have made them angrier ever since the nation voted to exit the European Union in 2016. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 paints a picture of a nation that is “deeply divided and uneasy” in the year it is supposed to be exiting the EU.

The report outlined that this is a time for brands to take leadership with a strong message or even social purpose. The UK study sampled 2,000 respondents to measure the pulse of the UK public to give marketers a useful indication of how they should approach potential customers. It learned what issues are points of friction for the British public and documented their trust in institutions such as the government and the media.

HSBC last year ran seemingly brave work outlining that the UK is ‘not an island’. The bank denied the creative was about Brexit after negative feedback from some elements of Twitter. Nonetheless, the work outlined a trend we could be more accustomed to seeing in 2019: brands trying to reach out to an angered UK populace.

Asked which of the institutions were the most broken, 44% said the government, 8% said the media and only 4% a piece responded business or NGOs. More than three in four said that chief executives should drive change, rather than waiting for government leadership, up 19% since 2018.

Since the Brexit decision, four in 10 Britons said they are more likely to take part in violent protest; 69% said they feel that fellow citizens are angrier about politics and society since the referendum. Even a sixth said they have fallen out with relatives or friends over the issue of leaving the EU.

Showing that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is not satisfactory to remainers or hard brexiters, two-thirds said the country is on the wrong track. Six in 10 Britons said government doesn’t listen to “people like them," 70% said life is unfair and half agreed that the socio-political system is broken.

Ed Williams, UK and Ireland chief executive and vice chairman, EMEA, made the bold claim: “We are a Disunited Kingdom — a country that is seen as increasingly unfair, less tolerant and headed in the wrong direction. Brexit has exposed fractures that have split families and divided friends made us meaner and angrier as a society, and stoked fears of violent protest and civil disorder.

“The divisions exposed by our decision to leave the European Union are not binary. They are far more complex. But the consequences are clear – as a country we see our politicians and our political leaders as out of touch, and we lack faith in their ability to heal the divide. Instead, we are looking increasingly to business and to our employers to lead and to act with social purpose.”

Since the referendum, nearly a third (29%) of respondents say they read political news more than they used to, and nearly a quarter (23%) are more vocal about politics. Six in 10 are fed up with hearing about Brexit; nonetheless, they continue to tune in. More than a third of people said there were reading, watching or listening to more news than before. During this period, news engagement was up by 22%.

More broadly, Edelman polled 27 nations. The report found the largest gap in institutional trust between the mass, and the informed public was in the UK. Only 40% of the mass public said they have trust in institutions, compared to 64% of the informed public; this 24% gap dwarfed even Trump’s America, which only noted a 13% gap.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.