Famous brands faced a series of controversies during 2015 – added together it’s clear the institution of brand is at crisis point.
As marketers we should be at the forefront of rebuilding public trust in the concept of brand. But the fear is, according to Catalyst magazine this month, that this is becoming an impossible job. Consumers, customers and other stakeholders mistrust “brand” to such an extent that what brands do and what they promise to do must fundamentally change. Are brands in crisis?
It seems that each month there’s news of a major global brand felled by revelations of bad behaviour: Volkswagen cheating emission tests, TalkTalk’s data breaches, Tesco’s horsemeat scandal and tax avoidance by Amazon, Google and Starbucks. The negative impact of all these and many others can be immense. According to Neilsen, 41% of people say they will shun a brand caught doing something they don’t like. The real source of anger amongst the public, says the consultancy Brand Union, is hypocrisy. People know when they buy something very cheap there will be a trade off but what they resent is being told a brand is behaving in a certain way, setting a good example, and then finding out the opposite is true.
Brands are there to simplify things for us so we don’t have to think so hard about making choices. When a brand is embroiled in a scandal we are suddenly forced to rethink – the trust has gone. Volkswagen had it all: a trusted, reliable environmentally-conscious global brand. To find out that the company had cheated emissions tests and had therefore lied to customers, employees and stakeholders was seen as a great betrayal. Of course Volkswagen could recover from this as Toyota did before. But whether public trust in brands as a whole can be rebuilt is a completely different matter.