Mintel’s latest exclusive consumer research reveals how deteriorating faith in politicians and the media is weakening consumer trust in FMCG companies across Europe. In this final part of our ‘The truth about trust’ blog series, Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope discusses how trust can be won through friendship and by pursuing progressive policies. Read part one and two.

Brands should take advantage of the fact that they are increasingly communicating with their customers on platforms – social media, and especially, social messaging apps – that were previously the preserve of friends and peers. These channels liberate them to be more brash, honest, contrite, fallible and apologetic and operate in a “post bullshit” advertising landscape.

This approach has been embodied by Coca Cola-owned Oasis’s ‘O refreshing Stuff’ ambient campaigns using slogans such as It’s Summer. You’re Thirsty. We’ve Got Sales Targets. Facebook’s Safety Check notifications conceptually take the ‘brand-as-friend’ idea to a whole new level of trust, emulating a friend or relative by relaying reassurance by loved ones.

Most brands can settle for winning trust by appearing more human and operating along the lines of Mintel Trend ‘Accentuate the Negative’ by highlighting their mistakes and shortcomings. This is supported by social science studies proving the appeal of a “blemishing effect” whereby consumers prefer brands and products slightly compromised by negatives to wholly perfect ones, but it can also be delivered in the form of a simple apology.

One such recent case came from Brazil, where beer brand Skol invited female artists to revamp its pilloried sexist ads in a bid to demonstrate that it had moved away from such values.

Brighten the gloom and be progressive

Recent events don’t just translate in to distrust, but also depression and it is here that brands can play a role in being positive and brightening the gloom. A literal example of this precedent is to be found in the warehouse that constitutes Warsaw’s Neon Museum, housing numerous examples of post-war neon and ‘Electro-Graphic Art’ – signs that once showcased, celebrated and illuminated consumer experiences, products and services.

According to Warsaw’s Neon Museum, after Stalin’s death, neon was chosen to be the new socialist medium – “burning away all traces of Stalin-Era gloom and grey” – bringing back excitement, glamour and symbols of prosperity. Subsequently neon was increasingly used to promote national industries and brands, so that “ordinary lives were increasingly lived in a brandscape”.

Brands can bring optimism and they can also use their power to govern, progress society and appeal to the next generation of dominant consumers (today’s 16-24s), almost one third of whom want advertising that represents social diversity (eg different ethnicities/sexualities) and a quarter of whom want advertising that promotes company’s own environmental efforts.

Progression pays, according to Alibaba’s Jack Ma (“If you want to win in the 21st century, empower others”), ethical beauty brand Lush (sales at $877m and counting) and McKinsey’s study showing that the best companies for ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have better financial results than their competitors.

Consumers might not be proactively ethical, but they increasingly expect brands to be ethical on their behalf. What’s more, they will warm to companies that sponsor innovations as radical as the Pouncer – a food-filled drone, made of baked, edible materials, designed to reach and feed people in disaster areas – or FoPo – a German start-up that freeze dries unwanted fruit into a powder that retains 90% of nutrients.

If consumers had to choose one progressive cause to support it would most likely be feminism. Any cosy notions that we’re almost at the end of the feminist rainbow are quickly dispelled by taking a look in the direction of Russia and its effective decriminalization of domestic violence, or the UN’s assertion that at current rates of progress it will take another 70 years to achieve global parity in earnings and employment.

Let’s take a cold-hearted look at the commercial sense behind progressing feminist causes to win consumer trust: 51% of people in the EU are women and they outlive men on average by 5.5 years. We mentioned Skol’s feminist about turn in Brazil and another beer brand, Stella Artois, is also advocating change. It is striving to end women’s roles as ‘water carriers’ in developing countries by providing access to clean water through the sales of its limited-edition Chalices and by directly donating to water.org.

With the emergence of a younger, less nationalistic, more idealistic generation of consumers, it will pay to be more brave and progressive around sexual orientation, gender and nationality.

Richard Cope is Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel. He works as a trends analyst, consultant, presenter and facilitator on bespoke client projects. As a globally recognised leading trends commentator, he is regularly called on by media worldwide to provide insight and analysis into consumer trends.

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