In its 12th year, Havas’ landmark study of brand value, surveying over 395,000 people around the world, has uncovered deepening cynicism, alongside a growing expectation gap in consumers’ relationships with brands and businesses.
It also reveals a significant long-term trend towards consumers desperately seeking authenticity – meaningful and sustainable action for the good of society and the planet – but feeling sorely let down by empty promises.
For the first time, the survey maps its proprietary metrics to align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to help brands deliver transparency and tangibility for the future.
Since the bi-annual global survey began in 2009, brand meaningfulness has consistently declined. The 2021 study, which measures brand ‘meaning’ in functional, personal and collective terms, shows that 75 per cent of brands could disappear overnight and most people wouldn’t care, or would easily find a replacement – a two point increase in the past two years.
But the 2021 survey, carried out in mid-2020 during the height of the pandemic, also shows a growing lack of trust in brands -– with 71 per cent of people having little faith that they will deliver on their promises. What’s worse, only 34 per cent of consumers think companies are transparent about their commitments and promises.
Brand trust, as measured in the Meaningful Brands study, is at an all-time low. Only 47 per cent of brands are seen as trustworthy with trust metrics around the world in decline – only 39 per cent of brands are trusted in North America, while only 24 per cent are trusted in East Asia.
Australian data is currently being analysed and the full Australian Report is due to be released in July.
Olly Taylor, Chief Strategy Officer, Host/Havas and Havas Labs said, “this year’s report shows us that consumers have entered an ‘age of cynicism’. Across the globe consumers are surrounded by what they perceive to be broken promises – at all levels of society – and we are starting to see the impact of this mistrust on brands.”
“Consumers expect brands to play a more positive and collective role in society, however, the more brands claim to play this role and leave promises unfulfilled, the deeper the cynicism grows. With only 39 per cent of brands in Australia being seen as trustworthy, compared to 47 per cent globally, the only way to rebuild this trust and positively stand out, is with action not words.”
Despite the growing cynicism, our expectations of brands are at an all-time high, creating a significant expectation gap. 73 per cent of global respondents believe brands must act now for the good of society and the planet and 64 per cent of people – an increase of 10 points since 2019 – have entered their own age of action, preferring to buy from companies with a reputation for purpose as well as profit.
More than half (53 per cent) of people will go even further, saying they are willing to pay more for a brand that takes a stand.
Which issues to authentically take a stand on is something the Meaningful Brands ‘collective’ benefits analysis begins to probe. Priorities shifted during the pandemic – with public health, the economy and politics at the front of consumers’ minds, and the environment close behind.
Globally, consumers increasingly expect brands to strengthen this collective pillar, but it comes with a significant risk. Making promises that you don’t tangibly deliver can lead to a trust deficit and accusations of a new form of ‘CSR washing’ – effecting reputation to a level that it can be hard to recover from.
Danni Dimitri, Head of Strategy, Havas Media Group, Sydney said, “with brand trust in Australia sitting at 39 per cent, this report should act as a wakeup call. 73 per cent of people think brands must act more for the good of society, but there’s a perception gap in how well brands are delivering on this.”
“Many brands are in fact doing good in society, however, to date, they have been reticent to tell these stories – deeming them not important enough as opposed to other, more functional messages. In actual fact, this research proves the opposite is true.”
“Our role is to work with clients to unpack the positive steps they are taking – whether they are regarding the environment, responsible business practices or gender equality – and ensure these stories are being told in a way that is authentic and delivered in the right context, to the right person.”
“With 64 per cent of people [+10 per cent vs. 2019] preferring to buy from companies with a purpose other than just profit, doing this will not only help brands be perceived more positively, but also drive business growth.”
Meaningful Brands 2021:
THE OPPORTUNITY FOR BRANDS
- Demand for MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES
There are opportunities for brands in the 2021 report. It shows that 66 per cent of consumers want more meaningful experiences from them. It also found that retail, home entertainment and technology companies have most improved their brand value in the eyes of consumers during the pandemic. This is likely due to people seeking fast, affordable deliveries of groceries and other essentials, and experiencing constant engagement with content via tech devices in the home.
- Help in times of CRISIS
77 per cent of consumers expect brands to show support to people in times of crisis. There are immediate opportunities to forge meaningful connections in the short term across personal benefits; namely, to decrease life’s stressors. However, this past year brought an increase in expectations in three specific areas: more connection, more care for the planet, and more monetary savings and growth.
- Diverging CULTURAL FACTORS
Cultural intricacies matter (East Meets West): ‘We’ vs. ‘me’ mentality influences expectations across personal and collective benefits in different regions and cultures around the world. USA and Western Europe are most distrustful of brands, while Latin America and Asia believe more in the value brands add to society.
- Gen Z expect INCLUSION
Gen Z aren’t afraid to question the ‘rules,’ seek individuality and expect inclusion. This generation is particularly focused on reducing inequalities (across areas including race, sexuality and opportunity) and have more love for brands that take a lead on social issues and embrace diversity.
- Demand for HELPFUL CONTENT
Compared to pre-Covid times, ‘helpful’ content is on the rise as consumers figure out how to navigate their personal new normal. It is important to note, however, that almost half (48 per cent) of all content provided by brands is judged not to be meaningful to consumers.