Edelman Trust Barometer: consumers put brands on notice over coronavirus behaviour

Consumers have warned brands that their actions during the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on future purchasing behaviour, according to a special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

O'Neills sportswear staff making NHS scrubs. A quarter of Britons are more likely to buy from brands helping out. (Photo: Getty Images)
O'Neills sportswear staff making NHS scrubs. A quarter of Britons are more likely to buy from brands helping out. (Photo: Getty Images)

Consumers are demanding that brands act and communicate differently during the COVID-19 crisis, with nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) saying how brands respond to the pandemic will have a ‘huge impact’ on their likelihood to buy their products.

This was a key finding of a poll of 12,000 people across the world’s leading economies last week by Edelman in a Trust Barometer Special Report for the Coronavirus Pandemic.

One in three respondents said they had already stopped using a brand that was not acting appropriately in response to the public health crisis, a figure that rose to 76 per cent of consumers in Brazil, and 60 per cent in India.

Globally, 62 per cent of consumers said they did not think their country would make it through the crisis without brands playing a ‘critical role’ in the fight against the coronavirus. Ninety per cent wanted brands to partner government and relief agencies to address the crisis.

The first thing that consumers demand of companies is for them to protect the wellbeing and financial security of their employees, even if it means suffering big financial losses. Fifty-two per cent of respondents said brands ‘must’ do this to earn or keep their trust, while a further 38 per cent said they ‘hoped’ brands would do this.

Secondly, 89 per cent of consumers said brands should shift to producing products that help people meet the new challenges presented by the virus, and/or offer free or lower-priced products to health workers or other high-risk individuals.

In recent weeks companies such as LVMH have switched at least part of their production capacity to making hand sanitisers, while seven UK-based Formula 1 motor-racing teams, including Mercedes-AMG Petronas, have switched to engineering breathing aids for vulnerable patients as part of Project Pitlane. The F1 project is itself part of a UK industry-wide effort to make respiratory devices to help meet the national need.

In terms of communications, about 90 per cent of customers expect brands to keep the public fully informed of changes to how they are now behaving and operating. 

Eighty-four per cent of respondents now expect firms to focus advertising on how products and services can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges, and the vast majority expect brands to show they are aware of the crisis and its impact. Interestingly, 57 per cent advise against advertising or comms that is too humorous or light-hearted in tone.

As for channels of communication, consumers prefer brands to communicate virus-related issues via traditional media (45 per cent) or email (42 per cent) to social media (19-31 per cent).

Edelman carried out the research between 23 and 26 March 2020, in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and US; 1,000 responses were collected in each country.

Edelman, the world’s biggest public relations firm, recommended that brands should “show up and do their part, but not act alone. Brands should solve, not sell. They should communicate with emotion, compassion and facts.’

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