Consumers entering age of cynicism with brands – Havas report

cynicism - haveas meaningful brands report 2021

In its 12th year, Havas’ landmark study of brand value, surveying over 395,000 people around the world, uncovers deepening cynicism, alongside a growing expectation gap in consumers’ relationships with brands and businesses. 

Cynicism and search for authenticity

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% of brands could disappear overnight and most people wouldn’t care, or would easily find a replacement.

Growing lack of trust

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% of people having little faith that they will deliver on their promises. 

What’s worse, only 34% 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% of brands are seen as trustworthy with trust metrics around the world in decline – only 39% of brands are trusted in North America, while only 24% are trusted in East Asia.

Mark Sinnock, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Creative Group said: “This year’s report shows us that consumers have entered an ‘age of cynicism’. 

“They are surrounded by what they perceive as empty or broken promises – at all levels of our society – and we are starting to see the impact of this mistrust on brands. 

“Historically, companies have been looking after people’s functional and personal needs, but brands now face a bigger challenge. 

“The more claims they make to be delivering change at a collective, societal level and the more these promises are left unfulfilled, the wider the gap between what we expect and what we actually get, and the deeper the cynicism.”

Despite the growing cynicism, our expectations of brands are at an all-time high, creating a significant expectation gap. 

Some 73% of global respondents believe brands must act now for the good of society and the planet and 64% 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%) 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. 

Pandemic priority shift

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.

Greg James, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Media Group said: “With less than half of brands seen as trustworthy, this report should act as a wake-up call. 

“It’s no longer enough to show up on one metric. Delivering the biggest difference to the lives of customers at all levels – functionally, personally and collectively – needs to be at the top of every brand’s agenda. 

“Our job is to help our clients understand where they can have the greatest impact and help them show up authentically with the right content, in the right context.”