Havas’ 2021 Meaningful Brands Report reveals world is entering the ‘age of cynicism’
For the 12th year, global communications consultancy Havas published the Meaningful Brands Report, which measures brand ‘meaning’ in functional, personal and collective terms. This year, the report uncovered deepening cynicism, alongside a growing expectation gap in consumers’ relationships with brands and businesses.
The report also finds a significant long-term trend towards consumers seeking authenticity, meaningful and sustainable action for the good of society and the planet, but feeling let down by empty promises. For the first time, the survey maps its proprietary metrics to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to help brands deliver transparency and tangibility for the future.
The report shows that 75% could disappear and would be easily replaced, while 71% of respondents have little faith brands will deliver on their promises. 34% of consumers think companies are transparent about their commitments and promises.
Brand trust, as measured in the study, is at an all-time low, with only 47% of brand seen as trustworthy with trust metrics around the world in decline; only 39% of brands are trusted in America, with that percentage decreasing to 24% in East Asia.
“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 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,” says Mark Sinnock, global chief strategy officer at Havas Creative Group.
However, despite the increasing cynicism, expectations of brands are at all-time high, creating a significant expectation gap. 73% of global respondents believe brands must act now for the good of society and the planet and 64% of people prefer buying from companies with a reputation for purpose as well as profit. More than half of respondents take it one step further claiming they are willing to pay more for a brand that takes a stand.
Meaningful Brands shows that people’s 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 expect brands to strengthen this collective pillar; however, it comes with a risk as brands make promises they cannot tangibly deliver and can face accusations of ‘CSR washing.’
“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 needs to be at the top of every brand’s agenda,” says Greg James, global chief strategy officer at Havas Media.
The 2021 report sheds light on the importance of making brand experience more meaningful for consumers. It found that retail, home entertainment and technology companies have most improved their brands in the eyes of people during the pandemic, likely due to consumers seeking fast and affordable deliveries and other essentials.
77% of consumers expect brands to show support to people in times of crisis. There are immediate opportunities to forge meaningful connections in the short term across personal benefits.
The report also shows that compared to pre-Covid-19 times, ‘helpful’ content is on the rise as consumers figure out how to navigate their personal new normal. Almost half of all content provided by brands is judged not to be meaningful to consumers.