Why a little bit of brand humility goes a long way

Dylan Kowalczyk
By Dylan KowalczykPaid Media Manager
8 minutes to read

For most of us, popularity dictates trust.

You’re on a website that everyone uses, buying a product that everyone has. The website asks for your bank details. At this stage you’ve already grabbed your wallet without blinking.

Unfortunately, the product arrives a few days late, it’s not as good as the fake reviews said it would be and it’s not quite the same colour as the one your favourite social influencer has. You’re a bit gutted.

What’s actually the difference between a brand that you trust and a brand that you don’t? Many of us will happily share our data with the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp, Uber and Google. But all four of these brands suffered catastrophic data leaks in the past couple of years.

Why our faith is diminishing

We’re often told of major companies facing data breaches or celebrities getting hacked. And we can probably all raise our hand to say that we’ve been tricked into buying something terrible because five John Smith’s said it was a “Great product”.

Statistics give weight to the argument that there’s a lot of reasons consumers should be wary. ReviewMeta noticed that in 2018, 20% of all of Amazon’s 5-star reviews were unverified, which means it can’t confirm if the reviewer bought the product or not. Fast forward to 2019 and this increased dramatically, with nearly 80% of 5-star reviews coming from unverified purchases.

So why the rise? Because fake reviews are a profitable industry for both the seller and the reviewer. The Federal Trade Commission (the US equivalent of trading standards) took legal action against a company called Cure Encapsulations, after finding that it paid $1,000 in exchange for 30 reviews with a star rating between 4.3 & 5.

So who can we trust?

Consumer trends show that buyer’s rarely credit social influencers as the source for their purchase decisions. While certain Instagram sensations may inspire you to buy the same specialist toothpaste, you may be put off by the price of the product and the mere whisper of ‘Sponsored Post’ because it’s not based on someone’s opinion.

Brandwatch surveyed over 8,000 consumers globally to learn what influences them most to buy from a brand. Sponsored influencer posts ranked bottom at just 4% and non-sponsored posts ranked better at 5%. At the top of the list was the experiences of family and friends that took the crown at 33%, likely because it’s based on the opinions of people we know and trust.

It appears that this changing landscape in marketing and consumerism is affecting the way we regard a brand. Many of us have been stung or ripped off. We learn from that and do more research next time. Be more careful. Compare prices and maybe only regard 4-star reviews in future.

Yext surveyed 2,000 consumers in the UK and found that 63% start their online shopping with a Google search, but only 18% actually trust the results. This means that people are now in the habit of doing plenty more research for validation. The survey suggests this is largely down to inaccurate results with 35% of respondents saying they’re left feeling ‘dissatisfied’ and ‘frustrated’.

How can brands deal with this?

Of course brands want to take your money. They want to grow their profits year on year. They want to monopolise the market and build skyscrapers. All sounds rather filthy doesn’t it?

But not all brands have to cheat and deceive because they actually do have a genuinely good product.

But how do you build trust with the public? What can you do to give your customers peace of mind?

There are of course countless ways you can approach this from improving your security to being more socially active. But an approach I’d like to focus on, purely because it interests me, is humour.

A brand with a personality leaves a lasting and reassuring impression. A tone of voice, a style, even a simple mascot can resonate. As ridiculous as it is, the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of Microsoft is a little paperclip with eyes. And Clippy hasn’t been around since at least 2007.

Truth helps build trust. With consumerism, very few things are true. Is KFC finger lickin good? Is Disney Land the happiest place on earth? A lot of slogans are subjective and biased. When a company announces they’re great, that’s both a subjective and biased statement. When a company announces they’re not so great…what the hell is that? You’re caught off-guard.

Self-deprecation in advertising is strange and brilliant. On the surface, it sounds like a terrible mistake; you’re trying to sell your product, why on earth would you tell people you’re not number 1? Because objectively speaking, who is number 1? Now you’ve shown to the world that you can sacrifice a little ego to tell the truth. That you don’t know if you’re the best product but do know you’re pretty close.

A few fine examples

Carlsberg

The most relevant example to start with has to be Carlsberg, famed for its slogan, “Probably the best beer in the world”. Already it’s playing with the grey area of subjectivity - it’s not a lie to say it’s probably the best beer in the world so it’s a perfectly reasonable statement.

A few months back they took a different approach by clarifying that they don’t believe it is the best beer in the world. This is effective because the insinuation is still that it’s damn good beer but it comes across as a modest claim.

Buckley's

By far the least popular brand on this list but the snappy and creative wordplay is too good to ignore. It acknowledges two truths in a humble way and kind of makes you want to try it just to see how bad it really is. Also, probably the most aggressive example of criticising your own product.

KFC

This is quite a unique example. KFC’s chips have been hammered for years so the fast food chain wanted to release a new recipe. The goal was to build a bit of hype and awareness before unveiling the new chips. So KFC used tweets criticising its old chips to get the campaign noticed and to encourage people to talk about how bad they were. This was then followed up with an announcement that new chips were on the way, successfully demonstrating KFC listens and knows its audience.

The complaint ad is nothing unique, with many other brands including Channel 4 using the approach to silence critics and leave people with nothing else to complain about.

Domino’s

Another similar one to KFC and Channel 4, Domino’s took addressing complaints one step further. Patrick Doyle took over as the CEO of Domino’s in 2010 when the company was struggling financially. The first thing he identified was that the pizza wasn’t good enough. He tackled this head on by running the #PizzaTurnaround campaign which put the spotlight on genuine complaints and put together evidence of actual employees acknowledging the criticism and explaining how they’re going to improve.

Volkswagen

While this doesn’t seem like it falls into the same category as the other examples, it’s potentially the one that started it all. But essentially this was a bit of a masterclass in breaking convention. Not only did Volkswagen draw attention to what at the time would have seen as a negative, but they also made subtle tweaks to the formula by having a full stop in the headline, using an uncommon font, loads of white space and also printing in black and white when colour was widely used. Essentially, they did everything wrong in a very right way.

Getting it right

Of course, a tactic like this is a risk and not one size fits all. You certainly need to consider your tone of voice and the characteristics of your brand. Your local funeral directors probably aren’t going to get away with having, “It’s Dead In Here” in neon lights outside. But the right brand with a well-established ability to lighten the mood can use self-deprecation in many ways. Most notably being a way to build trust with consumers but also to raise awareness of change.

Think possible.

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Articles by Dylan Kowalczyk

Dylan has been with Enjoy Digital for two years and is a Paid Media Manager and enjoys working with a range of clients in different industries and different budgets.