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 part one of our ‘The truth about trust’ blog series, Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope discusses how trust can be won through transparency.

A year of distrust hurts brands

America’s 2016 Presidential Election served to crystallise ill-feeling towards global politicians and the media, riding on a rolling sea of facts, fakery, claims and counterclaims.

The year 2016 was the peak of faithlessness, with the Oxford Dictionary making ‘post-truth’ its word of the year and the Edelman Trust Barometer recording that trust dropped across all four institutions of government, business, NGOs and media, the latter by a record 5 points.

In UK politics, we saw Vote Leave’s claim that Brexit would redirect £350m a week from the EU to the NHS swiftly retracted after the referendum result, whilst in America, the ‘birther’ movement (claiming that President Obama was not born in the US) continued to dog the White House (a full five years after Obama, himself, satirically shot down the accusations by screening The Lion King as his ‘birth video’ at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner). Meanwhile, then presidential candidate Donald Trump was also the victim of the wholly fake viral story alleging that he had slapped someone in the audience who disagreed with him at a campaign rally in North Carolina.

We saw the emergence of Veles, Macedonia as the “world capital” of fake news, being the registered home of 100+ pro-Trump sites, earning its propagators thousands of dollars in automated advertising revenues and leaving us in a situation where the UK’s Channel 4 news revealed that fully 96% of viewers can no longer distinguish between real and fake headlines.

The toxicity of this has contributed to a scenario, where, according to Mintel’s latest research, just 53% of UK consumers trust the food and drink industry to ensure food and drink is safe for consumption, plummeting to 39% amongst beauty and personal care consumers.

So, how can companies win back trust? In this new blog series, we explore some possible options.

Just the facts

We’ve seen a popular perception, expounded by faux populist politicians, that expertise has expired. The evidence is all around us, from Mintel’s own research which shows that fully 36% of UK 7-15s “wouldn’t listen to anyone else’s opinion” when it came to choosing a treat or a snack, to Pew’s revelation that two-thirds of Americans get their news via social media, where a story’s prominence is determined by its popularity rather than its veracity.

Slovenian cultural critic Slavoj Žižek foresees an “awakening” in politics with the advent of the Trump presidency. It’s possible to see something similar happening in the media with a resurgence of professional – that is paid for – journalism, with the Wall Street Journal (+25%) and New York Times (+46%) both enjoying an increase in readers in 2016, whilst the Young Turks online news agency recorded 3 million subscribers (that’s more than CNN).

There’s also an argument that journalistic and political accountability is in the ascendancy, in part, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and automated fact-checkers. In the UK, we saw UKIP leader Paul Nuttall fall foul of fake facts about his links with the city of Liverpool on his own website, causing him to lose a by election and be ridiculed by memes of him as the ‘Fifth Beatle’. In the US, we’ve seen the emergence of Digital Democracy, a searchable platform of state legislature hearings, made possible by AI transcriptions and facial recognition software. Facebook launch its very own fact-checking tool warning users of “disputed content”.

What we know is that facts sell, especially in markets not renowned for scientifically-proven efficacy. Politicians and the media have created doubt, distrust, amateurism and confusion, but we are seeing evidence that professional authority is returning in paid-for news and fact-checking services.

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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