Do We Really Want Brands To Be Our Friends?

It's been an interesting week and not just for the latest installment of the UK kicking the Brexit can down a very long Brussels alley, which now seems to finally have an end in sight -- or rather, make that two ends, a month apart.

The terrible news coming out of New Zealand has led to several brands saying they are boycotting Facebook and YouTube for allowing a video of the massacre to be uploaded to their services. It set many a keyboard rattling along to the usual arguments around brands needing to align values with customers and ensure that they stand for something.

It coincided with me needing to carry out some desk research around the same topics and there was quite a lot to go with, particularly from advertising agencies. A Wunderman study, for example, finds that nearly nine in ten consumers entrust their loyalty to brands that share their values. Similarly, a Disney and ABC study, with Omnicom Media Group, found that three in four consumers are loyal to brands that reflect their own values.

This is always the part of me that tuts in a conference or whenever I'm reading research. First off, I think brands are a little like cars now. I was talking with a well-known racing driver who reviews cars for a tv show now for a living. He reckons that while some cars are a little better than others, the problem reviewers have is that nobody makes bad cars any more. I'd suggest this is how brands are. Nobody stands for anything other than orientating themselves around the customer and offering products and services that responsibly sourced.

The only thing is, we kind of know this isn't always the case. We kind of suspect a T-shirt that costs less than a cup of coffee probably comes with some guilt attached to it, but then again, it's a bargain.

When you think, in particular, of the retail brands that are doing well, you might find there's a tiny bit of head-scratching going on. Amazon is where most of us probably go to first to buy online, and yet do we all agree with its values? It has had a lot said about whether or not it pays its full share of UK tax, and so now makes it clear that it accounts for all UK income through the UK. 

I took my son to a Sports Direct the other day for football boots, but it's a brand I loathe. The owner's tough tactics are so infamous that he was on the wrong end of a parliamentary enquiry, which led to him to being accused of taping a conversation inspectors were having through a microphone hidden away on a tea trolley. 

Why do we all go for Amazon -- why do we go for the retail brand on the high street we have the least respect for? Convenience. Amazon understands ecommerce better than anyone else. Make it simple to find what you want, offer it at a low price and recommend appropriate additions with free delivery (for Prime members) and we're all queuing up to log in. Same with Sports Direct. Pile a showroom high with cut-price products and put them near a car park and, again, everybody is happy. 

It's the same online. Facebook is the world's most popular social media network, but is daily in the press for potential privacy abuses and today, security lapses. The same goes for Google. And yet who are the big driving forces of digital marketing? The two brands the evidence would suggest we should trust the least. 

There is something to be said about aligning brand values with customers, but what marketers should never forget is that some of the biggest brands are not always fully aligned with our values, and yet our custom makes them leaders in their game.

We like brands because they offer us something we need at a price that is competitive and accessible in the most convenient form.

Sure, values are great. Nobody wants to fraternise a retailer that throws plastic into the sea -- but ultimately, it's not the be and end all it is often positioned to be.

We drink tea with friends, we transact with brands. 

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