4A's Conference

Hey, Brands: Almost Half of Americans Don't Find You Honest

McCann Survey Uncovers Hard Truths About Advertising

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The 'Truth About America' report from McCann found consumer distrust for brands -- and demands. from them.
The 'Truth About America' report from McCann found consumer distrust for brands -- and demands. from them.  Credit: McCann

In case there was ever any doubt, the country's political divide is making life difficult for marketers.

Some 42% of Americans find brands and companies less truthful today than 20 years ago, according to a survey presented by McCann at the 4A's Transformation conference on Monday. At the same time, 84% of respondents to the survey, conducted by McCann's Truth Central unit, said they believe brands have the power to make the world better place. Some 48% said brands need a strong identity and clear role.

So what are marketers supposed to do?

Panelists discussing the study advised steering clear of politics unless they relate to a social cause that's integral to your brand identity. Marketers' compass should be purpose, not politics, they said. And they should speak to similarities among consumers, which McCann called "glue."

The survey asked 1,000 participants which institutions made them most proud to be from the United States. Conservatives cited the Department of Defense and liberals chose the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. But there was an institution on which they both agreed: NASA.

Both also said inventors and scientists best exemplify American values.

Which brand would they vote for? Conservatives chose Walmart and liberals Google and Microsoft, but both liberals and conservatives would elect Apple and Amazon.

Steve Zaroff, chief strategy officer of McCann North America, said the original intent of the study was not to focus on politics but "the people in America would not let us" ignore it. Politics has "risen to the level of popular culture," he said.

Kathleen Hall, corporate VP-brand advertising and research at Microsoft, said during the panel that advertisers totally misread the election, taking its result as a foregone conclusion and forgetting that New York City is "not the USA."

But it wasn't just the Rust Belt supporting Donald Trump, she added. "I know a ton of people who voted for Trump and that is not who they are," Ms. Hall said.

She urged unity going forward. "Let's stop indicating it was some kind of idiot mistake" that he was elected, she said.

The last word of advice for brands to win back consumer trust? Mr. Zaroff offered a three-point formula: Choose culture, not politics; positivity still wins; and be prepared for unexpected feedback in a world where marketing can often take on unintended political overtones.

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