Consumers will ‘resist’ brands that fail to live up their expectations: UM study

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of online consumers agree that brands play a significant role in social good, according to a recent study by IPG Mediabrands’ UM network. And brands that fail to live up to their expectations are being held accountable on social media.

This so-called “Resist” trend is one of the key trends shaping contemporary consumer behaviour according to UM’s Remix Culture study, a culturally focused iteration of its Wave X study tracking social and digital media usage and motivations. The study, conducted across 81 countries and 44 languages represents 1.73 billion active internet users.

The emergence of the “Resist” trend dovetails with a growing emphasis on brand purpose in recent years. While the effectiveness of brand purpose remains a matter of debate among marketing pundits and branding experts, Richard Fofana, vice-president of strategy for UM Canada, says it’s “undeniable” that purpose-led brands are more successful in today’s culture. The UM study found 59% of respondents “actively seek out brands that support the social causes” they believe in.

“Every brand absolutely has to stand for something and carve out a distinctive space for itself—this really hasn’t changed since the invention of marketing,” says Fofana. “The difference today is that consumers are increasingly looking for greater meaning in the decisions they make.”

Modern consumers will “actively avoid” brands that disappoint them, with more than half (53%) taking to social media to voice their displeasure, says Fofana. This trend is growing year over year. “When it comes to brand purpose, it’s equally important for a brand to have a handle on where to play and where not to play.”

The report also notes that the trust between brands and consumers has been “breached,” which Fofana ascribes to the rise of “active skepticism” among consumers, coupled with the ability to research and compare. “It’s led to greater exposure of brands that deliver—and those that don’t,” he says.

Other agency brands have been exploring similar issues. Kantar Consulting, for example, found that purpose-led brands have seen their valuation increase by 175% over the past 12 years, compared to a median growth rate of 86%.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, meanwhile, found that trust of institutions such as government, business, media and non-profit organizations is hovering around 74% among the so-called “informed public” (people 25-64, college educated, in the top 25% of income in their age group and reporting “significant” media consumption) compared with 54% for the general population. The gap is the highest it’s been in the 19 years Edelman has conducted the study.

Everything old is cool again

The study also notes the emergence of the “Retrograde” phenomenon, with consumers increasingly gravitating to culture from previous decades and brands that are embracing nostalgia.

The study found that more than two-thirds (68%) of consumers like listening to music or watching movies from previous decades, while 57% say their family practices the culture/traditions of their ancestors and 55% enjoy watching old TV shows.

“You can see it in everything from Gen Z’ers devouring old shows like Friends on Netflix,” says Fofana, noting that contemporary shows like the 1980s-set Stranger Things is a perfect example of the “Retrograde” phenomenon.

Brands, too, are acknowledging the trend, with Coca-Cola reviving its failed “New Coke” product for a limited time to coincide with the launch of season three of Stranger Things. Another high-profile brand, Pottery Barn, recently announced the release a Friends-themed collection to coincide with the show’s 25th anniversary (which featured a Pottery Barn-inspired episode).

The study indicates that while older generations tend to identify with specific decades, no single decade stands out as more influential among people 16-24. “Young people are drawing on multiple decades—they often connect just as readily with the 80s, 90s, 00s and current cultural touch-points—to help shape who they are,” says Fofana.

The root cause, says Fofana, is the ready availability of TV, film and music content from previous decades across streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Spotify.

The rise of “reglocalizing”

The research also suggests that modern consumers’ desire for local inspiration appealing to their sense of individuality is more prevalent than ever. More than half (57%) of respondents agreed with the sentiment that local brands and products are more authentic, although consumers are fusing local with global trends, thinking and styles to better fit their needs. (UM is calling this “reglocalizing.”)

“Canadians are moving away from the binary state of ‘us and them.’ They are
redefining what local means,” says Fofana. “There is opportunity for brands to both consider the expanded mindset of their audiences and their continued desire to ‘live and celebrate local.'”

Chris Powell