The truth about global brands—political pessimism making brands more powerful

by | Jun 11, 2018 | Public Relations

Consumers around the world are reporting sharply rising distrust in institutions and are generally more pessimistic and more distrustful of their own fellow citizens, according to a large-scale new study from McCann Worldgroup—but the firm’s new research reveals surprisingly positive attitudes towards global brands, with consumers believing that global brands can play a valuable role in contributing to local cultures.

The study The Truth About Global Brands 2: Powered by the Streets, finds that 72 percent of people believe that global institutions like the World Bank and the UN don’t understand the needs of their country. It also reveals an increasing preference for local culture and perspectives, along with an increasing distrust of information sources, including social media.

The truth about global brands—political pessimism making brands more powerful

McCann Worldgroup Truth Central launched its initial study, The Truth About Global Brands, in 2015. The new Global Brands follow-up study also incorporates findings from McCann’s Truth About Street initiative that sent all 20,000 of the agency network’s employees out last October to interview consumers—and shows a rising cynicism and pessimism on both an institutional and individual basis.

Conversely, the study found that attitudes towards brands have not suffered from the same negativity affecting people’s overall views, and in fact represent a counterbalance to political and institutional distrust.

The inaugural 2015 study showed that 82 percent of consumers on a global basis believed that global brands can play a powerful role for good in the world, which remained essentially the same (81 percent) in the 2018 study. They also maintain that global brands that contribute to their local culture and society are viewed with the same favorability.

At the same time, the conditions affecting brands have changed

A majority of consumers around the world (56 percent) say they now trust local brands over global brands—up sharply from 43 percent in 2015. This presents brands with both a strategic challenge and a great opportunity to connect with consumers in a meaningful way.

The truth about global brands—political pessimism making brands more powerful

“The key takeaway about people’s attitudes on a global basis is that consumers still believe in the power of brands and companies to act in a positive way—and they in fact trust global brands and corporations more than institutions, political bodies or other organizations,” said Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer of McCann Worldgroup, in a news release.

McCann coined the phrase “Deep Globality” to describe this phenomenon—”the awareness of and efforts to thoughtfully spread a brand, idea or movement…while actively enriching the receiving culture.”

Powers explained that for global brands to tap into this Deep Globality, “They must be mindful that they need to understand, respect and support every local culture where they operate—that they must, in fact, behave like local brands.”

Another critical data point, in the age where news sources are being challenged, is that consumers across the globe believe that “truth is the most valuable currency” in all conversations—public, private, across social media and anywhere in the economy. But on average, consumers believe they need to review five information sources in order to feel like they know “the truth” about any subject.

The truth about global brands—political pessimism making brands more powerful

“This study provides a roadmap for global brands to follow,” said India Wooldridge, director of McCann Worldgroup Truth Central, in the release. “Despite the tremendous upheavals in politics, economics and social media, consumers still see brands as conduits to change. In fact, they trust brands more than their own institutions. Brands can bring joy, happiness, change and meaning into the daily lives of consumers. Brands can bring about change for good in society. Brands can play an important role in cultural leadership. But they must act honestly and truthfully.”

The detailed findings generally showed a more wary attitude among consumers across the globe that can be divided into three broad categories:

Local over global: Global brands continue to face hyper-local marketing pressure

While consumers increasingly trust what they perceive as local brands more than those seen as global, 72 percent of consumers are open to brands playing “a bigger role in society.” This includes opportunities for all brands to engage people in a hyper-local way by respecting local culture, helping people get access to products and services on the local level, providing jobs in markets where they operate/are sold, and operating sustainable businesses.

The erosion of trust: Consumers question everything in their lives today

Most people agree that the number one thing that would make CEOs and politicians better at their jobs is “if they had a better understanding of ordinary people like me.”

The empathy gap: Intolerance and pessimism are rising; more people are “retreating” and becoming more selfish

However, while intolerance and pessimism are on the rise in all regions, people unexpectedly report being more positive about their personal lives.

The truth about global brands—political pessimism making brands more powerful

According to Powers and Wooldridge, the research also contains perspectives and guidelines for global brand marketers on how to remain effective in reaching consumers around the world even as people embrace preferences that are more local.

  • Despite rising levels of distrust about global brands vs. local brands, brands still maintain a relative position of trust—in part because trust in institutions has dropped to historically low levels. People still have double the amount of trust in corporations than in politicians.
  • The rise in intolerance among groups provides brands with a powerful opportunity to serve as a bridge across the empathy gap.
  • The world is becoming more diverse. And diversity is a broader concept than is commonly understood. Diversity can mean very different things to different people, depending on the country, culture and context, amongst multiple other variables.
  • Modern brands can learn from local brands and behave in ways that engage and increase trust.
  • Powerful ideas that bridge cultures can spread the appeal of a brand if it actively enriches the “receiving” cultures.
  • Only brands that truly understand the granular, local reality of a culture can connect with its people.

The study explores both the macro cultural forces, and the deeply localized nuances impacting brands, people and the marketing landscape today. Conducted by McCann Worldgroup Truth Central, the organization’s global intelligence unit, this large-scale quantitative study surveyed more than 24,000 people in 29 countries.* For the qualitative component of the research, McCann Worldgroup’s entire global network took to the streets over a 24-hour period to deeply understand local culture in over 70 markets. This unique consumer research methodology resulted in a one-of-a-kind roadmap for how global and local brands can respond and thrive in today’s complex and ever-changing landscape.

*US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, Nigeria and South Africa.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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