Even as the world watches to see if BP's new cap can continue to contain the oil spill, market researchers are struggling to get a handle on how deeply "gulf despair" is working its way into the consumer psyche.
New data from Kantar Retail show that a majority of Americans -- 56% -- feel they have been affected by the spill, many of them in multiple ways. The survey, part of its ongoing ShopperScape research, finds that sadness -- even grief -- and helplessness are among the most common feelings. So is anger, aimed not just at BP, but also at Democrats, Republicans, and President Obama.
Interestingly, for all the credit Gen Y gets for its green sensibility, they are also the least concerned. Some 51% of Gen Yers say the spill "is not affecting me at all," versus 40% of seniors, 41% of the Baby Boomers, and 47% of the Gen X respondents. And overall, women are far more likely to be concerned: Only 42% say they are unaffected, compared with 53% of men.
The intensifying anger at BP doesn't surprise Mike Lawrence, EVP/ Chief Reputation Office of Cone, a cause-related marketing firm based in Boston. Cone fielded a study earlier this spring that found that a staggering 92% of consumers think companies should be telling consumers more about how they do business, and 75% give companies a "C" or below on how they are engaging consumers around social and environmental issues.
"Trust in big companies and institutions has been eroding to extremely low levels, and that was before the oil spill," he tells Marketing Daily. "Since then, BP has reinforced every consumer's worst fear about why they can't trust a company in this daily soap opera."
While Lawrence believes it is still early to see how the trust deficit will affect the way consumers interact with big-business brands, "all of them, not just BP, should understand that this is going to be a multiyear thing. It doesn't take very much time for people to lose trust, but it takes a long time to earn it back."
He also thinks -- as the new Kantar data suggests -- that the emotional toil is getting worse. "It's like having a problem in your life that won't go away -- every day you wake up and it is still there. It's really debilitating, and it's wearing consumers down."
He says it's also worth noting that a wide swath of people feel strongly affected. "It's not just people who care deeply about the environment, but people who love to eat seafood and people who love animals and people who love Florida. And the sense that there is no end in sight, and that this may be unfixable, is wearing."
Certainly, comments collected by Kantar during its research reinforce that. "My distrust of big companies has intensely increased, and I'm waiting for gas prices to go through the roof," said one. "It's affecting the entire economy," commented another. "Every time we seem to start making headway it gets bad again."
Another added: "It will affect everyone in some way for many years. I expect prices to go up; I expect taxes to go up, I expect food prices to go up, and possibly it will be difficult to obtain certain fish and seafood products. More people will be unemployed in the affected states, which puts an additional strain on the economy and social services."
"It's scaring the hell out of me," said another.
Kantar's ShopperScape is based on a survey of 4,000 adults.