Havas Media Group has published the latest edition of its annual Meaningful Brands survey, which presents some uncomfortable truths about the faltering relationship between big business and the consumers they serve.
For the 12th year on the trot, the survey uncovers a further decline in the value most consumers ascribe to brands, to the extent that now 75% could not care less if brands disappeared tomorrow.
A deteriorating relationship
Mounting malaise defines today’s relationship between brands and the consumers they serve according to the report, with 71% fatigued by empty gestures toward activism – even as 74% want brands to act on social and ecological issues.
These dismal results reflect the impact of political and social unrest, disinformation and distrust, all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic and which are now leaking into commercial relationships in what Havas terms ‘the age of cynicism’.
This has fueled a feeling of crisis around the world, with around three-quarters fretting over the state of public health (78%); the economy (77%); politics (72%) and the environment (72%).
Rather than be part of the solution, however, brands are increasingly seen as part of the problem, with only 47% seen as trustworthy.
If the gulf between expectation and reality does not close, Havas warns of the corporate social responsibility equivalent of greenwashing, in which brands engage in marketing to bolster their image in a way that runs contrary to their actions.
Brands are dropping the ball
Putting their money where their mouth is, 53% of consumers surveyed expressed willingness to pay more for a brand that took a stand on these issues, with 64% relying on brand purpose to guide their purchase decisions.
Both percentages mark a 10-point increase since 2009 and reflect the increased importance of long-term value from businesses and brands by society.
A further 66% of customers are striving for more meaningful experiences – good news for Google, PayPal and WhatsApp, which ranked as the most meaningful brands of 2021.
Away from the few standard bearers the picture is much less rosy, with 48% of the content produced by brands failing to deliver meaningful interactions with consumers.
Turning the tide
Rather than jump on the bandwagon to be seen supporting the latest on-trend cause, Havas recommends brands focus on what is most authentic to them, with the biggest brand deficits identified as poverty, food waste/security and health and wellbeing.
Trust can also be regained through greater transparency and a commitment to place purpose over profit.
Showing support to people in times of crisis is also a fast track to connecting with 77% of consumers, showing that short-term measures can have an immediate impact.
Conducted over the third quarter of 2020, the Meaningful Brands 2021 report is drawn from responses of over 395,000 citizens and 2,000 brands collected from 21 industries across 30 separate markets.