Consumers are often sceptical about brands that tap into societal issues, with a recent survey showing more than half think this is merely a marketing ploy rather than evidence of any genuine conviction.

It’s a problem that Unilever chief executive Alan Jope has described as “woke-washing” and which, he warned this summer, is not only “polluting purpose” but “threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply”.

Research by Edelman (a survey of 16,000 respondents in eight markets, including China, India and Japan in Asia Pacific) found that 81% of consumers consider brand trust when making purchase decisions, but only 34% trust the brands they buy from.

Additionally, a 53% majority of consumers think brands “trust-wash”, meaning they aren’t as committed to society as they claim, Michelle Hutton, Edelman’s managing director/global client strategy, told the recent Advertising Week APAC conference in Sydney.

And she suggested that the advertising and marketing sector “can do a better job of advising our clients, and the businesses we work for, when it comes to the whole concept of social purpose”. (For more details, read WARC’s report: Edelman’s tips for meaningful brand purpose and restoring consumer trust.)

Before brands explore social purpose, they must get the fundamentals right, she advised. While brand trust is an important factor for many consumers when they consider a purchase, it comes into play after the core considerations of quality (85%), convenience (84%), value (84%) and ingredients (82%).

“You’ve got to get that product experience, right,” she said. “But, equally, and more importantly, in today’s world, you've got to get this customer experience right.”

Societal impact considerations are also crucial, but it is when all three elements – namely, product, customer experience, and purpose – are combined that it “starts to get interesting” for brand custodians, and the impacts of their work begins to multiply.

The study found that when a brand is trusted on product, customer service and societal impact, the percentage of consumers who will buy first, stay loyal to, and advocate for/defend it (68%) is 21 points higher than consumers who buy on product trust alone (47%).

Sourced from WARC