Consumers will walk away from brands who go against their values – but brands have their heads in the sand

It’s time for brands to shape up or ship out when it comes to ethics with two in five consumers already having walked away from organisations which have violated their personal values, according to a new industry report.

The study from agency Hotwire, which alongside Sapio Research polled more than 6,000 consumers, as well as more than 1300 CMOs and business decision makers, argued that while consumers are willing to start afresh, business leaders are adopting a more head-in-sand approach.

Consumers are most likely to leave brands if they did not show enough – or showed the wrong – interest in the environment and Brexit, while a general lack of transparency was another bugbear, the research added.

Less than half (47%) of marketers said they were either ‘very’ or ‘quite worried’ about a potential crisis event. While a more respectable number (63%) said they understood poor communications around crisis situations would lead to customer loss, only 53% of business executives felt the same way. The report noted this disparity. “It’s time for business leaders to recognise the criticality of communications in a crisis environment, and this requires PR teams to have a seat at the table when proactive communications, reactive responses and remedial changes are being agreed,” Hotwire said.

Regular readers of this publication will by now presumably have a stack of options available to them should a crisis hit – and it is worth noting disaster can strike at any time. Take the recent revelation that many leading advertisers, including McDonald’s, Nestle and AT&T, pulled their ad spend from YouTube after ads were found running next to videos including comments linking to pornography. As Nick Welch of ADmantX put it at the time: “Perception of a brand by the consumer, positively or negatively, is influenced by the content it sits alongside.”

Naturally one of the key stories of 2018, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica furore, had ramifications across various industries. Damien Bennett, director of business strategy at NMPi, said in September that the digital advertising industry had its fair share of blame to shoulder. “We need to educate people on the huge benefits using their data in responsible ways has to offer them as consumers,” he wrote. “As the amount of consumer data continues to grow, it is an inevitability that the use of that data within advertising would come under scrutiny.

“For an industry that ploughs so much money into lobbying, the digital advertising industry seems glorious inept at defending itself against the onslaught it now faces,” Bennett added.

The research however found that on certain topics, brands were woefully underprepared. While just under half (46%) of UK marketers polled said they had direct experience reactively managing crisis communications, only a third (35%) said they worked with a PR agency which specialised in crisis management.

According to the report, UK business leaders did not rank sexual harassment even in the top 10 crisis issues their organisation should take a stand on. Matt Cross, UK managing director at Hotwire, noted that this was “so out of sync with what consumers want to see.”

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Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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