Don’t believe everything consumer surveys predict

There has to be a better way of predicting how people are going to behave than simply asking them.

That thought comes to mind after reading research, conducted by market intelligence firm RoperASW, which claims to show that

US brands are in trouble because of a rising tide of anti-Americanism.

For five years, RoperASW has produced an annual report for corporate clients, based on hour-long interviews with 30,000 consumers in 30 countries.

This year’s survey found that of the top ten US brands, only one saw its brand power increase. The others - including McDonald’s and Disney - suffered a decline in brand power for the first time since the survey began.

At the same time, the survey showed increases in brand power for the largest non-US brands.

Several experts called on to comment on the brand power survey drew the obvious connection between overseas perceptions of US foreign policy - unilateralist, arrogant, etc - and consumer perceptions of US brands.

Unfortunately, halfway through a story in The Independent, reality reared its ugly head. Nike suffered a decline in brand power across Europe, with 29 per cent of German consumers telling researchers that they regularly use Nike products, down from 49 per cent the previous year. Yet Nike reports that its revenues from Europe were up 24 per cent in the three months from March to May.

It seems some consumers are using the survey to vent their frustration at the US without giving up their Nikes or Big Macs.

There’s nothing surprising about this. We’ve all seen surveys showing that 75 per cent of Americans would buy products that were environmentally friendlier than those on the market, or that 80 per cent would buy products that donate a portion of sales to charity. But those numbers are a reflection of what people like to think they would do rather than of the way they really behave.

It’s possible that the Roper survey is a leading indicator, and that people will begin to turn away from US products. It’s also possible that the survey exaggerates a real trend, and that one or two per cent of respondents will follow through on their threats.

But if we expect these surveys to be taken seriously, we need to present their findings more sceptically, and find some way to predict behaviour based on their subjects’ stated intent.

Paul Holmes is editor of

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