- Speaking at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Unilever CEO Alan Jope warned that "woke-washing" — brands running purpose-driven campaigns, but failing to take real action — threatens to "infect" the advertising industry. "It threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it's already in short supply," Jope said in a statement shared with Marketing Dive.
- True to Jope's comments, consumers expect brands to be socially responsible, and yet trust in brands doing so is down, per Edelman's 2019 Trust Barometer Special Report, a global study released at Cannes this week. While 81% of consumers said they consider brand trust in their purchasing decisions, only 34% actually trust the brands they buy from. Plus, 53% of consumers think brands "trustwash," or aren't as committed to society as they claim.
- The report revealed that 63% of consumers trust the insights shared by social influencers over the messages that brands create themselves. More than half (58%) of those surveyed had made a purchase in the past six months after an influencer recommended the product. Meanwhile, 41% of consumers admit to distrusting brand messages and 73% use ad blocking tools, up 10 points from last year's survey, MediaPost reports.
Whether it's dubbed "woke-washing" or "trustwashing," the ability of brands to "walk the talk" of their purpose-driven campaigns seems to be a top concern at this year's Cannes Lions festival. Despite industry heavyweight and longtime CMO Keith Weed's retirement, Unilever continues to set the agenda for the advertising world at Cannes, just as it has in years past. The push comes just days after Unilever revealed how it used DNA analysis to reduce stereotypical thinking among marketers — its Unstereotype initiative in action.
Reinforcing Jope's comments, the Edelman study finds a huge gap between consumers' desire for brands to be socially responsible and their belief that brands can actually be trusted to act in a responsible manner — a worrying sign for brands that have doubled down on purpose and cause-driven campaigns in the past few years. Brand trust is no longer just a nice-to-have metric, but is growing more important to consumers' purchase decisions. As consumers increasingly adopt ad blockers, delivering marketing messages becomes more challenging, so building trust can help influence purchase decisions.
The Edelman study illustrates the continued importance of social influencers in the marketing ecosystem. While major marketers have suggested that influencers are not always what they promise to be, the fact that more than half of consumers are making purchases based on the opinions of influencers suggests they aren't going anywhere soon. This is particularly true as consumers admit to distrusting brand messaging and the fact that almost three-quarters of consumers are blocking ads. The report's claims about influencers follow similar research that found that 44% of social media users follow an influencer, and 34% have discovered a brand based on influencer posts.
The report follows others that have demonstrated how consumers want to make purchases from trusted brands. A recent Brand Keys report revealed that brands that can find the right mix of emotional engagement and trust can build loyalty, which could boost lifetime profits per customer.