The Blue Planet effect: Who can you really trust?

Blue Planet II: Raised awareness of plastic pollution (Pic: BBC)
Blue Planet II: Raised awareness of plastic pollution (Pic: BBC)

Jodie Stranger, chief executive UK group and president global clients EMEA at Starcom, on why the BBC's recent nature documentary series has piled the pressure on brands.

Our society is built on trust - from bonds with friends and family to our relationship with politicians, journalists and businesses. Brands, too, play a huge part in this.

Advertising and marketing is undoubtedly a major part of British culture. We tweet about the latest TV ads or act upon the billboards we see in the streets. As a result, brands need to build a relationship with consumers on the understanding what they are telling us is true. In many ways, this has always been the case but in a world with more complexity and uncertainty, building trust with consumers has never been so important.

Levels of trust in UK government, media and business have plummeted in recent months. Our trust in the media fell sharply from 36% to 24% in 2017. The "fake news" epidemic that came to the fore in the 2016 American presidential election is partly to blame. And brands are taking a hit too. A report by Trinity Mirror and IPSOS found the public’s level of trust in brand claims is "almost nothing", while 42% distrust brands and 69% distrust advertising. 

Statistics and jargon from "experts" often conflict with how people act in day-to-day life. Validation from "people like me" therefore becomes more compelling.

When Blue Planet II aired towards the end of 2017 we found yet another reason to distrust the world we live in. Many of us were unaware of the impact plastic was truly having on our oceans and it was shocking to watch.

Since then we’ve seen big names making new promises. Coca-Cola pledged to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50%, amid pressure from environmentalists. ASOS has also committed to increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled materials used to make its clothes.

Although Blue Planet has encouraged some brands to change the way they use resources, there’s a wider issue. As brands continue to position themselves on the moral high-ground - can we really trust they will stay true to their word?

The tension

Humans are naturally a trusting species and our society would not function without it. But in a world where trust is declining sharply, brands have an opportunity to become beacons of credibility - the Blue Planet effect shows just that. Brands are trying to regain the trust of consumers. There’s a clear business benefit: once we trust a brand, we buy into it.

The challenge here is when radical promises are made, we are more likely to disbelieve what we hear. Simply talking the talk can only go so far and it’s a tension that needs to be addressed if brands want to forge a trusting relationship with the public. Demonstrating the claims they are making is a more powerful and persuasive message.

For example, Amazon’s ethics are routinely questioned, but their impeccably reliable service, aggressive prices and constant innovation demonstrates how fiercely consumer-centric it is. And it’s clearly working as in 2017, according to Mintel, Amazon was the most trusted brand in Britain.

Building trust

Understanding what is being said about your brand and what your consumers actually care about is essential to building trust. Lidl ran a TV campaign featuring a member of the public visiting one of its turkey farms. The idea was based on engaging critics from social media and showing them how its turkeys are really bred. Airing this for viewers to see created a powerful ad combating the issue.

Using data, advertisers can match audiences with social influencers or micro influencers to build a new form of trust through a true value exchange. Live media streams, such as YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram’s ‘Stories’ go a step further and deliver a raw unedited version of your brand experience, creating a more authentic feel. French supermarket U used the 24hour Snapchat feature to highlight the freshness of its fish, taking followers on a journey from catch through to being sold in store.

Essentially, brands must follow through with their promises if they want a longstanding, credible relationship with consumers. Jumping on the activism bandwagon may seem like a good idea at a time when it’s a huge talking point in society, but this shouldn’t just be for the sake of it.

Marketers will need to build a relationship through communicating a real and meaningful message. Thanks to technology there are many new ways to do this - but the pressure is on brands to prove to consumers they can really put their trust in them.

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