Consumers distrust brands over virtue-signalling - report
As consumers become more eco-and diversity-aware, brands have fallen over themselves to show they’re also on the same wavelength, but there's a high level of distrust among consumers about hair and beauty brands claiming connections to ‘woke’ causes, a new reports claims.
The Pull Agency said as many as 68% of consumers feel uncomfortable about ‘green-washing’ and ‘woke-washing’ by which brands fake their sustainability credentials or their interest in social issues like Black Lives Matter. They see such brands as inauthentic. And 14% “deliberately avoid the brands they see as behaving this way”.
The figures come from a nationally representative survey of 2,000 UK consumers commissioned by the creative agency that specialises in healthcare and beauty brands.
Yet while these consumers feel uncomfortable about brands trumpeting how ethical they are, it doesn't mean they don't care whether they’re ethical or not. Quite the reverse.
The survey found that when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), what most people want is for health & beauty brands to “pay their taxes, treat people fairly, respect the environment and not use it as a PR opportunity”. The message seems to be, make sure that you’re green, diverse and generally ethical, but don't keep telling us about it.
As many as one in four consumers “think ‘woke-washing’ brands are inauthentic” and “58% of people want health & beauty brands to be a good, ethical corporate citizen first”.
Meanwhile, consumers also feel disabled, older and larger-sized people are still under-represented in advertising.
That's bad news for brands as they're clearly getting a lot of their messaging wrong, although it's difficult for them to know exactly what to do given that when communicating their virtues, many consumers don't want to hear that information.
The Pull Agency said: “Being an ethical corporate citizen is what consumers want most from health & beauty brands, rather than the in-vogue focus on ‘brand purpose’, such as showing support for a social justice purpose like climate change, LGBTQ+ rights or diversity and inclusion. In fact, the study highlighted that only 22% of UK consumers are familiar with the term ‘brand purpose’, while 37% think they’ve heard of it, but admit they don’t really know what it involves.”
And its head of brand strategy Kathrin Rodriguez-Bruessau added: “While the marketing world would have us believe that a grandiose brand social purpose is paramount, consumers don’t seem to care as much or really understand the concept. According to most people.
“Trying to be more than an ethical business actually carries risks. Several healthcare and beauty brands have got in trouble for perceived woke-washing and superficial attempts at brand activism. People are getting much smarter at identifying what’s real and what’s not and clearly irritated by inauthentic looking claims.”
So what are the positive actions that consumers think brands should be taking? Well, given that women at 41% are almost twice as much in favour of brands promote promoting social causes than men are, it's clear that female-focused friends might have to think slightly differently from those targeting men.
Also, more than half of all consumers (58%) want to see support for climate change, 56% are eager to see support for female body positivity and 52% want brands to back diversity and inclusion. Just be careful how it’s communicated.
Rodriguez-Bruessau added: “We’re certainly not suggesting that brands shouldn’t promote social purpose, but if they decide it’s the right path to take, they must consider how it’s reflected in their ads, taking into account the consumer viewpoint. It is also important to take the time to check their company’s past and current code of conduct across all their procedures – including a quick check on any brand ambassadors.
“No matter how well intended their chosen social cause, if they fall short of people’s expectations on the basics it’s evident that news around a campaign could turn from worthy to inauthentic woke-washing in the blink of an eye.”
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