Brand trust is on the decline as consumers enter 'age of cynicism'

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 1 June 2021

Consumers' lack of trust in brands has continued to grow, according to Havas' 12th Meaningful Brand Report.

The survey of 395,000 consumers around the world finds cynicism is at an all-time high with less than half of brands seen as trustworthy (47%) and 71% of consumers have little faith that brands will deliver on their promises.

The 2021 survey, carried out in mid-2020 during the height of the pandemic, revealed that only 34% of consumers think companies are transparent about their commitments and promises.

“This year’s report shows us that consumers have entered an ‘age of cynicism’," Host/Havas and Havas Labs chief strategy officer Olly Taylor says.

"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% of brands in Australia being seen as trustworthy, compared to 47% globally, the only way to rebuild this trust and positively stand out, is with action not words.”

It also found that 75% of brands could disappear and most consumers wouldn't care or would easily find a replacement - a two point increase in the past two years.

Despite this cynicism, consumers are desperately seeking brands that will make a meaningful difference with 73% saying brands must act now for the good of society and the planet.

Consumers have entered their own age of action with 64% of people – an increase of 10 points since 2019 – preferring to buy from companies with a reputation for purpose as well as profit.

More than half (53%) of people will go even further, saying they are willing to pay more for a brand that takes a stand.

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 the brand doesn’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.

“With brand trust in Australia sitting at 39%, this report should act as a wakeup call. 73% 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," Havas Media Group Sydney head of strategy Danni Dimitri says.

"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% of people 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.”

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