We Are All Frauds: The Way We Advertise Does Not Work (Says Havas)

Havas has issued a piece of research called “Meaningful Brands,” which it has done every two years since 2008. Shockingly, every study has shown that consumers around the world couldn’t care less if the majority of brands disappeared overnight.

The methodology behind the survey is solid. It looks at three brand pillars: Personal Benefits, Collective Benefits and Functional Benefits, and then adds in 13 dimensions like environment, emotional, social, ethics, etc. and 52 attributes such as “save time,” “makes me happier,” “deliver its promises,” etc. It is also a truly global and quantitative survey, covering over 350,000 respondents across 31 countries and 1,800 brands.

The results for 2019 show that consumers would not shed a tear over losing 77% of the world’s brands, which is an increase of 3% over 2017. To make matters worse, 58% of the advertising and promotional output of the world’s leading 1,800 brands is deemed poor and irrelevant. 



There are of course brands that do well. The top five for 2019 looks like this: (1) Google, (2) PayPal, (3) Mercedes Benz, (4) WhatsApp, (5) YouTube. Absent from the Top 30 are stalwarts such as Apple, Coca-Cola and other “Most Valuable Brands” as measured by Interbrands. 

The top five seems to indicate a specific love for utility. Four of the top five allow me to accomplish something (i.e. search, watch, share). Yeah, I can’t explain Mercedes Benz either.

And there are other surprises, such as the inclusion of Johnson & Johnson as the 6th most meaningful brand (I would think that their individual products might be better known than J&J as “parent”) and Michelin cracking the Top 30. 

The Meaningful Brands survey shows that brands that are “meaningful” score almost twice on overall impression of a brand, on purchase intent, advocacy and justification of a premium price. Repurchase scores are even three times higher versus the least meaningful brands. So having a meaningful brand comes with benefits.

The other important question to ask is if advertising can even help to create a brand, meaningful or otherwise. To me, this study shows that “utility” and “delivering on what you say you are/have” is more important than anything else.

 I think we all agree that having a strong brand probably helps, and perhaps today even more so than 20 or 30 years ago. But we are mostly still operating on the premise that building a powerful brand will help along the AIDA funnel (attention, interest, desire, action), whereas most purchase journeys follow a wildly different path.

The AIDA model is attributed to American advertising and sales pioneer, E. St. Elmo Lewis, who died in 1948. So it has been around for a bit! Author Joseph Jaffe added ADIA to this funnel in his book “Flip the Funnel” (Wiley, 2010). ADIA stands for Acknowledgement, Dialogue, Incentivation and Activation of the consumer, post AIDA. I think adding ADIA to your funnel already gets you closer to being meaningful. 

Obviously, Havas’ agenda is to convince brand marketers that, in todays cluttered and fragmented world, brands are more important than ever, and that they can help get you such a brand. But what the research really shows is that, as an industry, we kinda suck at creating meaningful brands. And we have been sucking at it measurably since 2008.

6 comments about "We Are All Frauds: The Way We Advertise Does Not Work (Says Havas)".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 25, 2019 at 7:35 a.m.

    Had this study been conducted in 1965 I would assume that the general findings would be about the same. Mixing all sorts of product/service categories together creates an apples vs oranges situation. What really matters for each brand is how it is perceived within its own category against rival brands and, at the same time, where the category, itself, is heading. I doubt that a deoderant brand cares if it is deemed less "meaningful" than Paypall or Mercedes Benz. It would care if a well designed study asked users and former users of each brand in its category to rate it against others and it came out a poor last. Even then, I question whether "meaningful" is the right description to focus on. I would think that boring down to find out what aspects of product performance---efficacy, packaging, pricing, etc. ---are at play is more important. At least such measures tell us not only that a brand has or does not have an issue----but why.

  2. George Parker from Parker Consultants, February 25, 2019 at 8:56 a.m.

    As Ghengis Khan used to say... "I know that 50% of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. Unfortunately, I don't know which 50%." Actually, Havas just proved it's 58%.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA) replied, February 25, 2019 at 10:22 a.m.

    Hey Ed - they actually have meaningful brands by category, but to unlock that section you'd have to buy the research, or be a (potential) Havas client. I assume that some brands are better than others at "being meaningful" than others within each category. But... I think, at the same time, that most deodorants or crackers or hand soaps will struggle to be meaningful, no matter how hard they try. 

    What struck me is that 4 of the top 5 are pure "every day utility/convenience" choices. And that tells you probably more than anything else about what consumers truly find meaningful!

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 25, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    George, I thought it was Hitler who said, "50% of my generals are traitors, but I don't know which 50%".

  5. George Parker from Parker Consultants replied, February 25, 2019 at 5:20 p.m.

    Ed... It was actually De Trumpf that said it, just before he flew off to Vietnam to meet with "Young Un" where they could compare Red Buttons. MAGA - Make Aresholes Get Arseholier. Honestly... You can't make this shit up.

  6. PJ Lehrer from NYU replied, March 1, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Actually that would be John Wanamaker.  And why would people care deeply about brands?  Research shows that people who spend money on experiences are happier than those who spend money on things.  And people may finally be getting it.

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