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New Oliver survey: does this mean brands might just as well shut up?

In-house agency specialist Oliver Group has been asking 1,000 UK consumers what they feel about the world’s biggest brands brands and the answer (mostly) is: they don’t give a toss.

Actually the most frequently chosen emotion (if such it be) is “indifference.” This was the number one emotion generated by all but three of the brands in the survey, the exceptions being Amazon, Google and Disney. For these ‘happiness” came top; 34 per cent, 30 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. We’re most indifferent to IBM and American Express (both 35 per cent).

The top brand for “excitement” was Apple although only 15 per cent of the sample thought so.

McDonald’s was the most hated brand, provoking ‘hatred’ among eight per cent, closely followed by Facebook (seven per cent) and Coca-Cola (six per cent). The number one company for “frustration” was Facebook again but only five per cent of the sample thought so. McDonald’s topped the list for creating feelings of anger with four per cent.

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Aeons ago Lord Leverhulme, founder of Lever Brothers, was said to have remarked that he knew half his advertising was wasted, he just didn’t know which half. If you take this survey at face value it looks like most of it is.

Oliver Group UK CEO Sharon Whale says: “Brands try to reach people through our emotions, but they may not be achieving that lofty goal: even top-ranked Amazon only makes around a third of us happy, while Apple is number one for generating excitement but still only does that for one in six consumers. Brands invest heavily – both monetary and physical – in delivering emotional advertising and branding. But our research suggests a lot of that is actually accomplishing very little.

“Brands must accept that they need to do more. It’s no secret that food and drinks brands are trying to draw attention to their healthier options for instance. Young people in particular are favouring responsibly-sourced produce and healthier diets, which explains the move away from brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It’s also reflected in the significant rise in veganism in the UK, up 350 per cent in the past decade according to Ipsos MORI. This trend is being driven by younger generations, with almost half of all vegans (42 per cent) in the 15-34 age category.”

Which may account for why a small number of respondents to this survey hate McDonald’s so much. It’s hardly likely to appeal to vegans.

In truth it’s difficult to work out what role advertising does or doesn’t play in people’s view of brands. If you look at the happiness trio here it probably means that people like Disney animated films (which we knew) and find Amazon and Google useful. Advertising doesn’t have much to do with it.

Would we feel even more indifferent to brands if they didn’t advertise? Or better about them if they advertised in a different way? The rush to digital surely means that big, believable messages about brands are diffused in a blizzard of micro-targeting. If the late Lord Leverhulme was confused about advertising a hundred years ago (even though it played a huge role in building his business) he’d be even more perplexed now.

Which is a bit ironic given that we’ve got all this wonderful data…but let’s not go there.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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