In an age of fake news, fake lips and even "deepfake" software, it’s no wonder that the Edelman Trust Barometer released this week showed that just a third of consumers trust the brands they buy – further corroboration that trust in brands is at an all-time low.
Yes, it’s unfair that advertisers have found themselves in the blast radius of bots, trolls, Trump and the more sinister forces of the internet. But the unfortunate truth is that the ambiguity surrounding the use of big data by advertisers, the lack of transparency around influencer marketing and programmatic, and our more sophisticated and constant use of data targeting have all contributed to a general sense that brands are hoodwinking consumers into purchase.
With all this suspicion, it has never been more important to consumers or more influential on their purchase decisions that they trust the brands they buy. So with trust rapidly ebbing away, what can brands do to reverse the tide?
Some say to shift this perception of brands as the embodiment of Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland, we need to suddenly transform into Gandhi or Mother Teresa. The Edelman report suggests that 53% of consumers want brands to be supporting a social goal.
But jumping on the purpose bandwagon to swing back the pendulum isn’t the solution. In fact, brands that find tenuously linked social causes, or hijack societal goals such as feminism to sell, are simply fanning the flame of fake news. Consumers can sniff out these vacuous attempts to curry favour from miles off.
Instead, brands would be much better-placed tapping into five core principles: be honest, be transparent, be relevant, be scarce, be real.
Find genuine truths at the heart of your brand. Incontestable reasons to believe that you can hang your hat on. And your advertising. Some 20 years ago, in the era when consumers genuinely liked the advertising better than the content, most ads were simply emotional amplifications of good old-fashioned USPs. Tap into these truths, rather than mining for purpose on the periphery.
In short, be more obviously advertising. With content creators such as Netflix investing billions in production of their content, let’s not make ads that try to be the next Game of Thrones (pictured, top). We’ll fail and consumers will pity us, not trust us. The rise in the more meta approaches of the likes of BrewDog, Tide’s Super Bowl ad or Oasis, to be more unashamedly obviously advertising, demonstrate the power of flattering the audience’s intelligence by owning up to commercial aims to actually achieve commercial results.
Interrupt with caution. Use data to be more relevant, not more annoying, to consumers. We should be using our knowledge of consumers, data and artificial intelligence to tailor our creativity to make it more useful, more helpful. Not to follow people around the internet like some kind of creepy ex who knows what we ate for breakfast last Tuesday and tries to sell them avocados every time they send an email.
Similarly, we would do better to adopt a "less is more" approach to our communications planning. Yes, some brands – retailers especially – need to maintain always-on approaches to driving short-term sales. But as brands such as Supreme have shown, building hype and scarcity value is a business model that pays dividends. Brands that are able to tap into this "firework" approach – creating flares of fame driving acts, product launches or promotions – would do well to douse their always-on bonfires.
Let’s stop using "compensatory consumption" techniques – making consumers feel bad about themselves for not being slim enough, young enough, rich enough, funny enough, and to make them feel they have to buy our brand’s products to make up for non-existent shortcomings. Instead, let’s use diversity and inclusion to make them feel reflected in the advertising they see, feel flattered by it and to actually want to buy into the brand. With consumers craving authenticity, why be fake when you can be real?
In a communications climate where it is increasingly difficult to decipher fact from fiction, it’s our duty to draw a clearer line and be seen as bastions of authenticity and truth while others incite, inject and invent fakery. Because to regain trust we have to earn it.
Kate Nettleton is a former group strategy director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty