Commentary

Most Consumers Do Not Care About Brands

For a few years, media agency group Havas has published an annual index of “Meaningful Brands.” The index measures if consumers could see themselves living without brands X, Y or Z. Turns out they can. And also without A, B, C and pretty much the rest of the alphabet.

The 2015 edition of Meaningful Brands in fact reveals that in the U.S., only 5% of brands would truly be missed by consumers. Other regions of the world fare a little better because apparently brand trust in general is much higher there. So globally about 75% of brands would not be missed, with about 25% is meaningful to consumers.

The survey covered 1,000 brands across 12 industries, and 300,000 people in 34 countries were surveyed. So the data is pretty solid.
All this seems to be quite shocking. After all, we spend close to $600 billion on marketing globally. So forget digital ad fraud, viewability, the demise of Gawker and all the other petty arguments we are having on a day-to-day basis. As an industry, we are screwing up big time, because most of U.S. brands are not meaningful to U.S. consumers to the degree that they would not miss 95% of them.

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And now I am going to invoke the scorn of people who understand research far better than I do. Because I am not so sure that the Meaningful Brands study is all that meaningful itself.

I base my skepticism on (a) the descriptions of the study goals and premise and (b) the findings. Havas says on its Meaningful Brands website that “People want to improve their lives and the lives of people they care about. Brands that focus on improving society and making our lives easier and healthier gain a greater share existence and receive higher levels of engagement in return.”

I say “duh.” Of course people like brands and companies that improve their lives and make things easier. Which is probably why brands like Samsung and Google are number one and two. Samsung is the most widely sold handset manufacturer in the world, thus making the lives of millions of people easier by putting a powerful computer in their pockets. And Google helps those people find answers to everything they can possibly think of.

But then it gets more curious: Nestle is number three, Grupo Bimbo is number four, and Sony rounds out the top five. According to the Havas survey, both Nestle and Grupo Bimbo score high on the Marketplace growth, Personal Wellbeing and Collective Wellbeing parameters. But Nestle and Grupo Bimbo are ranked as companies, and not with their individual brands, while other brands that score lower, like Dove, Gillette or Ariel, are ranked as individual brands and not as their parent company.

I think that if people were asked about, for instance, Unilever or Yum Brands, they would say “who”? That may also be true for Nestle and Grupo Bimbo. So why are the latter in the top five and others only with their respective brands?

In the end, Havas’ work is interesting in that I do believe that we marketers assign far greater value to the importance of brands than the average consumer navigating a cluttered supermarket aisle. But I’m not sure that simply adding “meaning” to your brand is the answer to consumers’ indifference.

6 comments about "Most Consumers Do Not Care About Brands".
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  1. JD Norman from Digitas, July 27, 2015 at 12:08 p.m.

    Thanks for this, Maarten. I think your points on mechanics of the survey are spot on. The other thing that surveys like this miss is that, while interesting, I don't think they capture the urgency and effect of context on a consumer and their interaction with a brand (or not). We're asking them to trust their memory of whether or not a brand is meaningful or not absent the immediate relevance of what led them to seek a solution that a particular brand can — or can't — satisfy. All of these things are complicated matters, ripe for speculation, more research, conversation, etc. No time for that now. I just liked your post and perspective. Thanks. 

    JDN

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 27, 2015 at 12:57 p.m.

    In some categories---often those that consumers see as commodities or those with negative connotations---there is relatively little brand loyalty as most of the contenders are seen as being about the same in efficiacy or quality. However, to conclude that "most consumers don't care about brands" is simply not true. In many categories individual brands have staked a claim on quality or other positive attributes and many consumers have bought into their positioning to the point where they are extremely loyal users.

    I also believe that it is extremely misleading to compare brand equities across product or service categories. Each category has its own dynamics as is true of many individual brands....we're really comparing apples vs. oranges when we start to rank brands across categories using a generalized scaling system.

  3. Claudio Marcus from Visible World, July 27, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

    While some marketing thought leaders preach a greater focus on engaging with brand loyals, we must remember that it takes two to tango. Marketers who understand and accept that there is little if any brand loyalty, realize that efficiently reaching as many potential category consumers is key to being considered whenever they may be ready to buy or use the related product or service. It is less about earning their loyalty and more about being top of mind when they are ready to buy.

  4. Steven Osborne from Osborne pike, July 27, 2015 at 1:46 p.m.

    Thanks for this perspective, Maarten, with which I agree. It's also the fundamental tenet of the seminal modern marketing text 'How Brands Grow', which debunks most of the myths about consumers and brand 'relationships'. I start presentations with the statement that 'consumers have better things to do than think about your brand', before explaining how we might go about changing that just a little. Of course consumers would be very upset if there were no brands, but we're drowning in brands so it's no surprise that 95% of them appear redundant. A large proportion of these, and much of the marketing that props them up, have become boring and transparently inauthentic. Of course there are thousands of very bright people trying to figure out how to rise above the clutter to reach and engage newly digitised and hyper-informed consumers, but all that will probably achieve is a temporary shuffle of the top 5%. As for the research, I agree that 'respondent' is a rather artificial state of affairs neurologically speaking, but it sits at the centre of a highly profitable industry and will remain there until big data makes our opinions, however obtained, redundant as well as unreliable. 

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 27, 2015 at 1:52 p.m.

    When you say brands do you mean the name of the product by the manufacturer or owner of the brand or the company itself ? Lean Cuisene is owned by Nestle which now gets crossed of the list to buy. In so many cases, people have to label search to find out what the brand is if they really take the time. Who owns many of the name brands, LVMC (hopefully didn't mess up the intitials) ? So is a brand a label ? A manufacturer ? A conglomerate ? What defines a brand specifically ?

  6. Mark Scott from Sage Projections, July 27, 2015 at 6:26 p.m.

    These types of headlines remind me of the tabloids that scream "Man bites dog".  It gets attention but I am not sure it is really a serious commentary.  I don't know the research methodology that was used to arrive at these conclusions. It could be like  when people are asked if they watch TV. How many say "no" or just "PBS".  Most are reluctant to admit they do select what they buy by what they are familar with or know.  This familarity, whether you like it or not,  is driven by branding. Just like anything else people fear the unknown and gravitate towards the familar. Furthermore, most companies brand products not their corporations. How many people know Crest and Pampers versus P & G.  It is the brands not the companies, with some exceptions, that people come to know and trust.

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