“Some 81% Of Brands Could Disappear & Consumers Wouldn’t Care Less!”

“Some 81% Of Brands Could Disappear & Consumers Wouldn’t Care Less!”

In his latest guest post for B&T, regular columnist Robert Strohfeldt casts his eye over Havas’ 2019 “Meaningful Brands” report and, he argues, he can’t find much meaning…

Some 81 per cent of brands could disappear and European consumers couldn’t care! Well, that is according to the Havas “Meaningful Brands” 2019 report. And to add credibility to the results, there were 350,000 respondents across 31 countries looking at 1800 brands. Sounds impressive, at first glance.

Reading through the key findings, I started to wonder what the questions were. When analysing research results, it is mandatory to have the questions at hand, because the answers are heavily influenced by the questions and their context.

Key Findings

Consumers would not care if 77 per cent of everyday brands disappeared. Quite frightening at first consideration. And the reasons for this: “Research suggests brands’ failure to provide interesting and entertaining content, combined with their inability to improve consumers’ quality of life and wellbeing, is making them increasingly irrelevant. (Taken at face value, people look for entertaining content and improved quality of life from brands? “So how was that new breakfast cereal you tried?” “Well is tasted like crap, but wow, my quality of life has improved out of sight.” (Though I am at a loss how a breakfast cereal, apart from being good for one’s health which many cereals already claim, could improve “quality of life”.  And what does “quality of life” constitute? I think it would mean many different things to many different people.)

And: Looking specifically at the UK, while 90 per cent of the British population expect brands to provide content, 63 per cent believe the content being created by brands in Britain is poor, irrelevant and fails to deliver.”

Please excuse my scepticism, but with the average consumers coming in contact with between 13 to 15,000 brands a year, I think people have far better ways to spend their time than “consuming” brand content.

There are always exceptions, such as cars, fashion and other high cost and/or high involvement brands, but for well over 90 per cent of brands, the only people deeply “engaged” are the marketers, advertisers, staff and shareholders of that brand.

They don’t walk around thinking about the brand of tea they had with breakfast (Or the bread used for toast, or the orange juice. The most they can hope for is a cursory glance and quick decision when in the supermarket.)

The final selection comes down to shelf space/visibility, price, competitor promotion etc. It is a difficult concept to grasp as marketers and advertisers, that most people would rather watch paint dry than “consume content” from 99 per cent of brands they come in contact with.

Some items require research – a computer, a fridge, a car, superannuation etc. But this has always been the case. If spending a significant amount of your hard earned, you’d be a fool not to do some research on which brand and model provides your needs the best value and utility. The article gives the impression people are looking to brands to provide content for entertainment, as opposed to information purposes. (Have they been sharing a joint with the mob over at Mastercard?).

People are just not as absorbed in brands in the manner marketers are themselves or believe (hope?), consumers are. So, the figure of 77 per cent is probably quite accurate.

Research Summary

It did not take long to deduct the purpose of the research and how it would be used.

People want brands to deliver content that is interesting, entertaining or offers useful experiences or services that stand apart from the brand’s usual services. (61 per cnet total to 78 per cent Millennials).

Some 68 per cent of the British population believe brands should play a role in improving their quality of life and well being.

Globally, 55 per cent believe companies have a more important role than governments in creating a better future.

Half of British consumers say they prefer to buy from companies being focused on a reputation for purpose. (Love to see how that question was worded. Be the definition of a loaded question).

“The survey, which links brand performance to quality of life and wellbeing, suggests that brands which are perceived to be meaningful and working to make the world a better place outperform the stock market by 134 per cent and increase their share of wallet by nine times.”

If a brand “improved the quality of life and wellbeing of a person” and simultaneously, “made the world a better place” it would probably out perform the stock market by “more than 134 per cent” and increase share of wallet by many more than the nine times stated.

Only one sticking point here though, can you think of any brand or product that would achieve this? Trump recently estimated the value of the Trump brand at around $US4 billion (half his claimed worth!), but for all his grandiose statements about how magnificent he is, I doubt even he would claim to be able to achieve this – then again.

I have tried and tried, but cannot come up with how Vegemite can make the world a better place. Or Bushell tea? A Mars is great for a break and all, but quality of life? I suppose a Ferrari could improve people’s quality of life, but not many can afford one.

There is a very clear narrative to this research. Starting with content and leading into Brand Purpose. Call me a cynic and paint me yellow, but I bet it will be shown to their clients to talk them into wasting money on Brand Purpose – “And have we got some great ideas for you”.

It is a piece of research whose primary objective is to provide Havas agencies with a competitive advantage. It has nothing to do with genuinely understanding consumers’ A&U of brands or making the world a better place.

It would not be hard to “twist” research to obtain such results. The “not for Profit” sector relies on three sources of funding

1)     Government (huge variance)

2)     Fund raising activities (from the general public)

3)     Corporate sponsors/support

Businesses have always been supporters of the wide variety of “not for profit” organisations. (Philanthropic businesses are as old as commerce itself). You would be hard pressed to find a successful business that does not support at least one of these organisations – it is an unwritten compact that businesses support the communities who have made them successful. A generation or two ago, this was not publicised. It was seen as “commercialising” their support. (e.g. Corona’s role in supporting anti-littering of the reef and foreshore) This attitude has changed. But there is a major difference between supporting “Beyond Blue”, “Cerebral Palsy”, “Women’s Shelters”, “Meals on Wheels”, etc. and a Brand Purpose which takes one side of a debate that has polarised society.

Yes Minster/Prime Minister

This is a wonderful British comedy, of which there were only a limited number of episodes made (as per Faulty Towers). And several more episodes where the Minister becomes Prime Minster (Yes Prime Minister). It is about the on -going clash between the bureaucracy and the parliament. The Civil (Public) servants are full time employees. Their “masters”, the Government ministers come and go with elections. As one of the leading characters, Sir Humphrey Appleby says, “If I believed in all my ministers put forward, I would be a socialist, a capitalist, a Keynesian a Monetarist, a Hawke a Dove and a total schizophrenic.”

Not that long ago, newly elected politicians were told to watch the box set of Yes Minster/Prime Minster. Very funny, it also painted an accurate picture of what to expect.

A clip from one episode shows how a pre-determined result can be achieved by what and how market research questions are asked.

The problems with market research today

There has been some wonderful, insightful research conducted in the recent past, from which great ideas were generated. But generally, there are three major issues which make the research of 2019 far harder to conduct and gain results that are true indications of the population you wish to examine

1)     The Sample: When I first joined a Market Research firm in 1981, the field force/interviewers went door to door to conduct face to face interviews. We used Census data – Collection Districts to ensure quality sampling. Door to door sampling became too expensive and too many interviewers were attacked by dogs (and householders) , thinking they were either there to rob or sell them something. So, we moved to telephone surveys. But telemarketers stuffed that up for genuine researchers. Now we have panels. Large panels or groups of people are managed by various research firms, from which the desired sample is taken – these people are recruited based on “getting paid for their opinion”. So, they could not be called random samples. Panels are not the only way, but by far the most popular method of recruiting research respondents. So, compared to 40 years ago, when someone thought it novel a company wanted their opinion, today the quality of research samples has fallen drastically.

2)     Level of Interest: If you are getting paid for you opinion, then you better have one. But being blunt and honest, people doing give a toss about most products they buy. Sure, if you are into fishing, or music, or art etc. then you can talk about the brands, how you rate them on value, performance etc. But really, Lipton’s tea bags? Out of the thousands of products you come in contact with a year, only a handful generate any genuine interest. So much rubbish comes out in research, both qualitative and quantitative, because the respondents are being paid.

Q “What brand or brands of jams do you have in your refrigerator at the moment?

Thinking to themselves, “I can’t say ‘fucked if I know’”. So, the one they saw most recently advertised somewhere is given “Cottee’s” they say. But how accurate is this?

3)     Easily led.  As highlighted by the Yes Minister research on National Service (Conscription), respondents can be easily led. If you were asked “Do you think brands have a responsibility to the communities they sell to?”, you can hardly say “No”. Not all researchers act in such a manner. There are some highly ethical and insightful researchers around. But it is easy for a research study to be designed to give the answer you want before a question is asked.

Should agencies be doing their own research? Not on their work. An impartial third party is required. Not that an agency will deliberately skew results but being seen to do the right things is almost as important as doing the right thing.

For many years now, large agencies have been conducting and publishing their own major research studies.

The Havas study is a good example of why social research conducted by ad agencies with a vested interest, can lead to questions being asked about the objectivity and accuracy of the results.

Just ask Sir Humphrey Appleby.

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Robert Strohfeldt

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