Magazine article Marketing

Mitchell on Marketing: Face It, Your Cons Umers Hate You

Magazine article Marketing

Mitchell on Marketing: Face It, Your Cons Umers Hate You

Article excerpt

Research suggests that the image of marketing is in dire need of a makeover as consumers have fallen out of love with advertising en masse Alan Mitchell asks how the sector can demonstrate its value to society.

Take a look at this recent quote. 'Advertising is facing a problem. Favourability has evaporated. The public's trust and confi-dence in (it) has fallen through the floor and the industry has missed a trick by failing to properly renegotiate its deal with the society in which it operates: its (implicit trust) with the public has broken down.'

This is not some pressure group speaking, but Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association. His strongly worded wake-up call, originally written for the RSA Journal last winter, is based on longitudinal research by the Advertising Association, showing a secular decline in favourability, from 50% 'for' and 20% 'against' in 1993 to about 35% 'for' and 25% 'against' in 2012 (see overleaf: Advertising falls out of favour).

If that trend continues, the industry is threatened. As Lefroy points out, media criticism of advertising is mounting, and the number of people wanting more regulation is rising. Advertising isn't alone with this problem. Brands are struggling, too. When Promise, the innovation consultancy, brought brand managers and consumers together in a recent forum, it was surprised by the 'them and us' mentality that emerged.

'There is quite an antagonistic culture. Consumers are ready to assume the worst about brands and have fallen out of love with them,' warns Nick Coates, research director of Promise. 'Brands tell us things like 'Impossible is nothing', 'Just do it' and 'Because you're worth it'. But what consumers are experiencing is smaller pack sizes, bankers' bonuses, and weasel-worded small print. It isn't an honest dialogue.'

Big brands tarnished

Further longitudinal research by GfK Roper supports this suggestion. In 2011, only 22% of UK consumers agreed with the statement: 'It's better to buy well-known brands because you can rely on their quality.' That compares with 37% globally, and 50% in BRIC countries. While 54% of UK consumers said they have switched from named to less-expensive brands in the past 12 months, the global figure is 30%. Moreover, only 20% of UK consumers agree that 'owning nice things tells the world I made it'. That compares with 50% in BRIC countries, where the figure is rising fast.

If consumers were ever really 'in love' with brands in the UK, these figures suggest they are not any more. So what's going on?

We can't ignore social context. Bankers' bonuses, MPs' expenses, journalistic ethics - not much has happened recently to build public trust in institutions. Many of advertising's problems, though, are of its own making. Qualitative research conducted by Wendy Gordon for the Advertising Association reveals five main consumer gripes about advertising: bombardment, intrusiveness, poor creativity, irrelevance and condescension.

From the consumer's point of view 'advertising' embraces any time anybody tries to sell them something, notes Gordon. Within this very broad spectrum there's not just one bad apple 'but lots of them'. 'Charity chuggers, midnight cold calls, online tracking, door-drops. It's the sheer volume of stuff people have to deal with,' she says.

Thanks to the internet, attitudes and behaviours are also changing. Lefroy highlights two key factors. One way or another, he says, today's crisis 'can be seen as a function of the revolution in consumer power and media plurality'. Consumers are using new technologies to take more control of the ads they are exposed to (and to pillory the ads they disapprove of). Meanwhile, an ongoing media revolution is making advertising ever-more 'ubiquitous'.

'The commercial world's relationship with its customers changed,' adds Lefroy. 'Advertising needs to strike a new deal with the society it serves. …

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