How brands can respond to Canadians’ rising sense of disempowerment

—With so many Canadians feeling they lack control of their life, marketers should find ways to give them more control of their brand experiences, says Crop’s Alain Giguère

Of all the trends we are witnessing this year, one is the most striking—a growing impression that external forces are working against us, leading to a feeling we are losing control of our lives.

This trend has been discussed many times in recent years, but continues to affect more and more people across the country—more than one in two people in 2022, according to our most recent study on the values of Canadians earlier this year. The findings were revealed in a survey of 6,420 Canadians conducted between late February and early April.

This research paints a detailed portrait of how Canadians feel about a wide range of core human and social values and concerns. But it also provides marketers with important clues about how they can shape their messaging and branding to resonate with Canadians in meaningful ways.

As one would expect, recent events including inflation, rising interest rates, the pandemic, the climate emergency, the housing crisis, war, etc. have exacerbated this escalating trend of people feeling they lack control. They have tended to heighten people’s sense of uncertainty and fuel their feeling of disempowerment.

But clearly, the trend has been underway for many years.

For many, the societal changes are happening much too fast. The various aspects of their everyday life seem to be in flux, leaving many people feeling stunned. Which brings us to another theme where we see attitudes are continuously changing. 

The two graphs below indicate the direction these mental postures have been going in recent years.


Apocalypse and cynicism

The impressions of our current situation have resulted in an apocalyptic vision of our collective future. The view that our lives will be totally turned upside down within a few years continues to prevail.

This view also fuels cynicism. Three out of five Canadians (59%) no longer believe anyone from the upper echelons of society. Instead, they believe the elite are trying to dupe them.

This cynicism is fed, in particular, by the impression that the elite are doing nothing to tackle society’s pressing problems; that they are, in fact, benefitting from them—or worse, creating them.

The extreme end of this cynicism is feeding all the conspiracy theories and populism increasingly rearing its ugly head in our socio-political spheres.

A loss of meaning

Another side effect of this feeling of disempowerment in a world in flux is the trouble many are having in finding meaning or purpose in their lives.

One in three Canadians (34%) have admitted to us that their life has no purpose—rising to 44% among people aged 18 to 34.

These data indicate a very serious situation. Faced with a society struggling to offer them some direction, more than two out of five young people are having trouble finding meaning or purpose in their lives. Could we be witnessing the sinking of a generation?

Finally, it should be noted that this trend has been moving continuously upward in recent years, in a highly correlated way with the rise in the feeling of disempowerment.


Opportunities for brands and institutions, despite everything

It is clear that a significant proportion of the population needs help, and this points to a renewed opportunity for brands and institutions.

Brands especially could expand their mission by offering experiences that would address their users’ need for meaning in their lives.


Obviously, brands can’t fix the widespread sense of disempowerment that consumers experience in their everyday lives. But they can certainly give users some control over the experience they have with their brand.

They can create apps that let people personalize and modify their user experience with the product or service (Fizz, Hardbacon and Fitbit are good examples).

Providing advice is also extremely important, since it makes users feel more independent and confident. For example, what financial advisors offer responds perfectly to this need for empowerment by their clients

Offer hope, suggest projects and goals

Brands can also help get their users engaged with social, community or ecological causes.

Such projects can give people a goal or purpose, while also offering them a sense of control over specific issues. The Australian insurance company NRMA, for example, helped customers and the public at large save and restore sustainable habitats for koalas after 2021’s massive forest fires.

Connect people and communities

Initiatives such as these could also facilitate the sharing of user experiences and knowledge while connecting users with one other.

Brands could also become an agora for their users, a virtual public square where they share their thoughts and simultaneously learn to become more independent, confident and engaged.

By addressing these needs, which go well beyond the mere use of their products or services, brands would inevitably see a rise in loyalty. At the same time, they would also be addressing the need for empowerment and meaning among their consumers and the public at large.

Alain Giguère is the president of marketing research firm Crop. He is based in Montreal.