The more we learn about the world, the more we learn not to trust organizations and brands.
So Volkswagen created a clever software algorithm that could understand when a diesel engine was being tested and would falsify the data. And seemingly this is standard practice in the car industry. At the same time as Volkswagen was spewing out noxious fumes at 40 times more than its advertised limit, it was aggressively pushing its eco-friendly credentials. Just like BP did when it changed its logo to green and advertised that it was going ‘beyond petroleum” at the very time it was divesting its alternative energy assets. Brands must truly think they can advertise day as night and night as day because customers are emotional idiots.
Customers are idiots. Customers are emotional, and are driven by instincts that they neither understand nor control. And too many brands have preyed on these human weaknesses. There are consequences, though. Because of the web, customers are becoming less idiotic and better educated. And the more aware customers become, the more cynical they become. And the less they trust.
“Decades ago, a company’s market value was nearly equivalent to its tangible assets — buildings, machinery, materials, financial capital and so on,” writes Andrew Winston for Harvard Business Review. “In 1975 intangible assets were just 17 percent of the market value of the S&P 500. But today those proportions are flipped: intangible assets now make up 84 percent of the market value of the S&P 500.”
Trust is one of the key intangible assets. However, as the importance of trust to a brand’s value has grown dramatically, the reservoir of trust in society is shrinking at an alarming rate.
“In 1986, almost 80 percent of US car buyers bought the same car as their household had historically owned,” according to CNW Research. “By 2009, that figure had dropped to just over 20 percent.” According to DrivingSales, “Ninety-nine of 100 automotive shoppers begin their purchase journey expecting it to be a 'hassle' driven in large part by their experience, and that of friends/family, with retailers seeking to control the buying process to the retailer's objectives.” However, despite all that, more people trust car salespeople than trust members of the US Congress. Trust in religion is in decline. Trust in the media is at an all-time low.
One response by brands to this collapse in trust is ‘native advertising.’ They know that their traditional marketing and advertising is increasingly seen as untrustworthy, so their response is to create ads that pretend to be editorial content. That’s exactly what Volkswagen did as it ‘sponsored’ content stating "how diesel was re-engineered," and how it had become “cleaner and more future forward.” And it placed this content in Wired magazine for the gullible to read and believe.
A consequence of untrustworthy brands is growing disloyalty and switching. Brands and organizations in general will become less and less listened to even when they have something valuable to say. The best way to re-establish trust is not through marketing and advertising, but rather through being trustworthy.