From a global perspective, the ‘Meaningful Brands’ report, now in its fourth year, presents a dim picture of the role of brands in people’s lives. Just 20 per cent of brands have a tangible positive impact on the lives of consumers overall.
The majority of respondents to the study also indicated that they would not be troubled if 70 per cent of brands ceased to exist altogether. Continued scepticism towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) was also apparent: more than 70 per cent felt most companies only engaged in CSR initiatives to improve their own image. Just 12 per cent said they trusted company activity in the area of CSR.
However, in China for example, 57 per cent of participants said that brands made a “notable positive contribution” to their lives. In addition, 84 per cent of respondents in China and 74 per cent in India said they felt companies had greater responsibility than the government to solve social and environmental issues.
With regard to CSR, 74 per cent of respondents in China and 62 per cent in India said they would pay 10 per cent more for goods from brands deemed to be genuinely socially and environmentally responsible; and 95 per cent of respondents in China and 85 per cent in India said they were more inclined to trust companies with responsible or social profiles more than those without.
Yet the level of empowerment among consumers was shown to have declined on last year in China and remained static in India: 64 per cent of Chinese respondents and 71 per cent in India said they felt they could make a difference to company behaviour.
Vishnu Mohan, chief executive of Havas Media Asia-Pacific, said the aim of the survey had been to identify and correct the disconnect between brands and consumers. He pointed to a correlation between brands that were deemed to be of genuine value by consumers and positive stock market performance. However, he outlined the best advice for brands as being "to move from being of [financial] value to having [strong cultural and ethical] values".
Mohan said the findings in Asia were encouraging, and predicted that Asian consumers were unlikely to become cynical as long as brands continued to move in the right direction as becoming socially responsible in the holistic sense. However, he cautioned that while Asian consumers were more likely than those in the West to reward "meaningful" brands, they also had a higher propensity to punish those that behaved in an unethical manner or failed to add meaning to their lives.
The research was conducted last year across a total of 14 markets, canvassing 50,000 consumers via online panels. Further research on the Japanese market is expected to be released in March.