Outside the Harlem Café in Belfast, scrawled across a sidewalk chalkboard, is the message: ‘Come in and try the worst salad one woman on TripAdvisor ever had in her life.’ Would you take this establishment up on the offer and give it a go?

It’s likely that you’re charmed not only by the cleverness of the sign, but also by the straightforward nature of its claim. The café’s calling out its own flaw instantly gives it a perception of fallibility and friendliness, and you might step inside to see for yourself if that salad isn’t so bad after all.

This observation perfectly encapsulates Mintel Trend ‘Accentuate the Negative’ which sheds light on the opportunity for brands to turn negatives into positives by highlighting their mistakes and shortcomings all in the name of trust and transparency. The ubiquity of information – especially online reviews – means everything companies do is thrust into the spotlight and often begets backlash. Thus, getting ahead of negative revelations, commentary, and reviews puts them ahead of widespread repercussions.

What’s more, in an era of political upheaval, fake news, highly publicized brand missteps and general distrust, Accentuate the Negative takes on an entirely new meaning and importance. Brands, politicians and celebrities alike can sincerely endear themselves to people by being upfront and truthful, going against what seems like the mainstream of today’s post-truth world. Consider these three approaches:

1. Be human

Customers will accept mistakes accompanied by an apology and a resolution to improve.

  • In 2016, Starbucks turned the previous year’s holiday cup concern into a wide-scale customer collaboration. After the coffee chain faced backlash for removing iconic Christmas décor such as snowflakes and reindeer from its holiday cups, it opened up and called attention to the issue by asking consumers to submit new designs to help rectify the situation.
  • Domino’s apologized to customers for charging higher prices on the weekends and is now offering bargain pricing every day of the week.

2. Be positive

Negatives – from past corporate mistakes to unhealthy foods – can be converted into campaigns celebrating improvement or indulgence. Acknowledging the imperfections that are inherent to a product or industry can make consumers feel like the brand is on their side.

  • Australia-based Jetstar launched a promotion in Southeast Asia that allowed passengers to switch flights for free in order to stay behind with loved ones during the Lunar New Year.
  • Malaysia-based telecommunications company Maxis launched a Mother’s Day ad that paints a future scenario where artificial intelligence becomes, among the positives, invasive and frustrating. The ad highlights the irreplaceable nature of human interaction and touch.
  • In order to promote healthy living, Mars Food announced that it will update its website and packaging globally to distinguish whether its food products should be consumed ‘occasionally’ or ‘every day.’

3. Be honest

Consumers are wary of highly paid actors, famous faces and meticulously planned PR pieces; they have learned not to trust them. They want interaction, not PR.

  • In Switzerland, Swiss Post, which delivers both conventional mail and advertising material for brands, is offering 300,000 households a monthly free gift to tempt them into accepting ‘junk mail.’

As we continue to witness the humanization of brands, it’s arguable that no action humanizes the brand – and therefore builds a connection with consumers – more than the elements of honesty and truth.

Stacy Bingle is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

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