The Conversation

There's a trust gap waiting for brands to fill

With trust in institutions plummeting, brands can show their inherent decency

By Sonoo Singh

The issue of decency has rarely been more pertinent than it is at present. The rise of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, as the global icon of decency shows us that common decency is not a minority pursuit - Bojo, Will Smith and Peter Hebblethwaite (the P&O Ferries CEO) notwithstanding. It’s a theme that also reverberates through the latest McCann Worldgroup Truth About Britain 2022 study, where consumers are asking for decency in an age of indecency. And isn’t that what advertising has often aimed for? To be honest, decent, and truthful? The best brands are the ones that are built on trust. The rest is just noise.

The loss of trust in institutions - government, news, finance - has long been documented, but what’s becoming clearer is the potential for brands to fill that gap. According to McCann’s report, retailers are trusted more than any other public or commercial institution: they have responded empathetically to the cost-of-living crisis, and are widely praised for reliability, ethics, fairness, and transparency.

Now is the time for brands rooted in truth and culture to step up. A great example is Tesco and its beautifully executed Ramadan billboard, created by BBH London and developed with diversity and inclusion consultancy The Unmistakables. The digital billboard features a collection of empty plates during the day, which fill up with food as the suns sets, to signify Iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan. Read the feature below to find out more about how truth and decency were indispensable ingredients for Tesco and its creative process.

Talking of truth and decency - let’s not forget Asda and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe. Full marks to the retailer for responding to Jack Monroe’s campaign for making its Smartprice range cheaper and putting more products in stores as cost-of-living crisis worsens. The campaigner had gone viral after writing a Twitter thread to warn official inflation figures "grossly underestimated" the impact that the cost-of-living crisis was having on Britons with low incomes. Asda said it had taken her comments on board - and vowed to stock its lowest-price range in all 581 stores and online.

It takes years and many millions for brands to build their reputations, but it's obviously an investment that keeps on giving. And a lesson that while marketing itself has become more complex, the fundamentals remain the same. Brands that show up consistently, listen to their consumers, and keep their promises while going beyond being simply functional, will continue to connect. In that context, I have to give a shoutout to the latest Dove campaign using Deepfake technology to highlight toxic beauty advice on social media, from Ogilvy. More than a campaign, it is a movement and part of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, which aims to address the issue that one in every two girls have low self-esteem as a result of idealised beauty content on social media.

I will finish with a note from a book I have just finished reading - Humankind by Rutger Bregman. It’s a book about a radical idea: most people, deep down, are pretty decent. It has compelling stories about our better natures. And in businesses and brands? Much the same. Becoming beacons of decency is, and should be, the ultimate truth.


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