Helping marketers get it right with consumers.
As consumers increasingly talk about brands and tell brand stories online, the need to bridge this gap and rekindle trust between marketers and consumers has never been greater. By talking to consumers about how they expect brands to act in the digital age, we wanted to develop some guidance that could be used by marketers around the world to help bring the two sides together.
Project Reconnecthelping marketers get it right with consumers
The relationship between marketers and consumersis complicated. People are often sceptical aboutcompanies’ motives and believe they are onlyinterested in selling their products and services tothem. Marketers are not always in sync with whatconsumers want and expect from brands and theproblem is global.As consumers increasingly talk about brands and tellbrand stories online, the need to bridge this gap andrekindle trust between marketers and consumers hasnever been greater. By talking to consumers abouthow they expect brands to act in the digital age, wewanted to develop some guidance that could be usedby marketers around the world to help bring the twosides together. The Research Phase 1 - Listening: We wanted to talk face-to-face to people in their capacity as both consumers and parents so we held focus groups in Shanghai and London with social-media aware parents who had children aged 12-18. Phase 2 - Dialogue: Ideablog is an online platform that emulates social media sites, which not only encourages children to express themselves freely, but also provides them with time to explore and reflect, thereby providing richer insights. We set up Ideablog communities of social-media savvy 15-17-year-olds in Brazil, China, the UK and the US. The overall aim of phases 1 and 2 was to understand how consumers relate to marketing by exploring how they connect with brands, how they form their opinions of brands and what media they use to engage with brands. We also wanted to discover which forms of marketing both parents and teens felt were acceptable and unacceptable.
What is importantin people’s lives?Firstly, we wanted to understand the role of brands of importance. There was a consensus among bothin people’s lives. We asked them what was important the parents and teens that kids use brands to helpto them more generally before asking them to name demonstrate who they are, express their identities andsome of the brands they could recall easily. This enabled generally fit in and be fashionable.our respondents to get in the right frame of mindbefore answering more specific questions about brand When asked to name three brands, neither groupcommunications and brand behaviours. claimed to choose a brand on the basis of its marketing alone. More important factors included whatUnsurprisingly, the adults’ priorities were their family’s they deemed the brands to stand for, the productsafety, children’s education, job/income, work/life experience and what they knew of the companybalance and creating a stable financial future for behind the brand. Interestingly, the brands the parentstheir children. When we asked the teens the same and teens mentioned rarely correlated with theirquestion they ranked friends, study, hobbies and favourite brands. The only brand mentioned acrossfamily as the most important. For both groups, brands all countries involved in the study was Apple.and marketing were far from top of mind in terms Wordle from UK teenager responses to brand discussion
Wheremarkets differChinese whispers Skipping school ‘Social-light’In the UK, Brazil and the US, parents use the Email is generally deemed an acceptable way for However, one thing that our participants in theinternet for a variety of reasons including emailing, brands to contact consumers (provided the consumer US, UK, Brazil and China have in common is theirshopping, booking holidays, reading the news and consents to receiving information) but SMS contact limited reported engagement with brands on socialproduct reviews, and catching up on missed TV is an altogether more sensitive issue, particularly in networking sites. They all confirmed, however, theirshows. Although Chinese parents do use email and the UK. Generally, however, adolescents were more regular engagement with brand websites.social networking to a limited extent, the majority accepting of SMS as they understood the trade-of their time online is spent on forum discussions. off between advertising and free content. Younger I never really understood becoming a fan on Facebook orOnline forums (such as Tianya, KDS, Taobao) are respondents did identify certain rules for marketers; Twitter of a brand. They get to use you as a stat (hey, wephenomenally popular in China, much more so than in they preferred to be texted during holiday time or got 50,000 followers) and you don’t get anything fromthe UK, Brazil and the US and are regarded as a trusted only in the evening during school term. Receiving them other than maybe a cheap coupon or an overpricedsource of brand-related information. an SMS during class time was considered a potential advanced sale of an item. Male, 15 (USA) embarrassment by a number of younger respondents!Brand spanking I like a brand’s website more than the Facebook pages Of the respondent nationalities, the Chinese wereThe main reasons people gave for disliking brands because they have more information. The Facebook significantly more tolerant of SMS marketing, providedin the UK were poor customer service (particularly stuff usually has a lot of people posting comments but marketers didn’t bombard them with messages.among utility companies and telecoms), a perceived they are not really useful…. The brand’s website hasrole in exacerbating health problems (some food and The UK and China held the most disparate views on a ton of information on new products, finding productsrestaurant companies) and a perceived involvement in the idea of marketing in schools. In the UK, marketing and latest deals. Female, 15 (USA)political issues (media companies and broadcasters). in schools is regarded as a controversial issue; parents However, there are some notable exceptions whereThe reasons given by Chinese consumers for disliking feel with few exceptions that schools should be a people do engage with brands on social networkinga brand were linked to public relations disasters commercial-free area, and that brands could be sites: tech and trendy brands, brands that offer peopletriggered by alleged corruption or low quality, faulty exploiting children as a captive audience. In stark tangible rewards for becoming a follower, and brandsand sometimes even harmful, products. contrast, school-based marketing is not seen to be with ‘superfans’ who truly ‘live’ the brand. problematic in China. Even some food brands, which were perceived as contributing to unhealthy eating For more information on brand fans, read our Value habits in the UK, were welcomed in Chinese schools of a Fan report, which is based on research from more and were seen to be legitimate sponsors of school than 3,500 fans and suggests 10 key factors to help premises, in-school sports events and competitions. drive engagement with fan pages. [www.wfanet.org/ valueofafan]
Insights forDigital MarketersFrom the insights generated in phases 1 and 2 we were 1 2able to develop some basic guidance to help digitalmarketers navigate consumer and parental sensitivities It’s not what you Don’t call me,within the digital environment. say but what you do I’ll call you A brand’s image is determined by more than just Advertisers must be invited to be part of eachMany of these principles may appear intuitive to advertising. In this digital world, everyone knows what consumer’s digital world. In order to be acceptable, allseasoned marketers. But, importantly, consumers your brand is doing, not just what it’s saying. And contact from brands needs to have been specificallyaround the world clearly don’t see the evidence that increasingly, consumers don’t distinguish between the agreed. The consumer needs to feel in control of themarketers are applying these principles in practice. brand and the company behind it. conversation.There is also a significant degree of convergencebetween consumer views across different markets. Even 15-year-old children told us that their image of What I REALLY don’t like is advertising that pops up on a certain brand was tainted by their knowledge of the screen out of the blue. They are inconvenient and the company’s apparent use of child labour, unethical slow down browsing by users. Male, 16 (Brazil) sourcing and perceived ‘green-washing’. 3 What’s in it for me Any contact from a brand needs to offer some benefit I sign up for promotions all the time, as long as they to the customer - the communications need to be unique, look legit, don’t cost me anything and are of interest fun, engaging or offer something in return. to me. I recently signed up for a monthly cash prize Always offer more than the consumer expects from and was willing to give out personal information you. Whether for prizes, promotions, discounts or for that. Female, 16 (USA) anything else. The consumer likes to be surprised. Male, 17 (Brazil) Competitions and games were generally considered by younger audiences as acceptable means of offering They cannot put an advertisement for sanitary pads something engaging. Product placement in games was on a game like ‘Resident Evil’. Female, 16, (Brazil) viewed as something that makes the game even more realistic, as long as the brand fitted with the game itself.
4 6 7What are you doing Don’t fake it What digital advertising?with their data? Be open, transparent and treat people with respect. There is a low awareness of online advertising. WhenBrands need to be open with consumers about storing I like some ads that pop up on Facebook as they are Many consumers will be turned off if they believe it’s pushed, people instinctively think of online advertisingpersonal data. Although most people are open to linked to what I look at online, but this can be very not genuine. Celebrity endorsement that isn’t credible as pop-ups, banners and spam, and are thereforethe idea of tracking if it makes the ads they see more annoying. I have recently been looking for places to can backfire. Cosmetics ads were mentioned for negatively predisposed to the concept of onlinerelevant, they have concerns about how long brands stay in Liverpool and every time I log onto Facebook creating unrealistic expectations. marketing. And when asked to recall examples of onlinekeep the data for. I have ads for hotels in Liverpool. It’s a bit too much. Ads with celebs in are totally misleading. I’m sure they ads, only a handful were remembered - Fruitella,I know that companies track my usage so they can Female, 16 (UK) don’t use those products personally. It’s all about the Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Nike and Kellogg’s. Our teenageprovide me with ads that fit my interests. It’s ok because money. Male, 15 (UK) respondents claim to be “banner blind” and prefer I don’t want companies to collect info on my internet advertising they can simply ignore (such as in thethen I’m not shown ads that I’m not interested in. usage. How do I know what they’re going to do with it? UK, US and Brazilian consumers were more cynical margins of Facebook).Male, 17 (USA) Just like I don’t want anyone to follow me around all of celebrity endorsement than their Chinese I hate pop-ups. They are annoying, interrupt what I day either. Male, 16 (UK) counterparts. am doing, put me in a bad mood and need me to close them. Male, 15 (China)5 I have not seen any decent ads online and would notConsumers think there is a time send any friends any ads. They would think I was crazy;and place for commercial messages we are not into things like that. Female 15 (UK)Email contact is OK (if agreed), but SMS marketing Communicating via SMS is ok as long as the companyis often rejected (in Brazil, UK and US but less so in don’t send too many. It would be nice to be told of theChina). Younger respondents universally preferred latest deals or fashions, perhaps via picture, but only in 8 9being contacted during school holidays rather thanduring school time. Don’t pester; brands need to be the school holidays. Female, 16 (China) Age colours consumer What’s unacceptable onlinewilling to be ignored if it’s not convenient as it shows Given the reality of today’s commercial world, perceptions of online advertising is also unacceptable offlinemore respect. respondents in all markets found sponsorship of shows Teens instinctively feel that they have control over Parents apply the same principals online as they doI get really fed up when people text me with ads and and sports to be one of the most acceptable practices their exposure to advertising online, whereas parents offline when it comes to issues such as safety andthings. I use my phone to keep in contact with friends as long as the association between brand and event/ find it harder to engage as many do not regard the permissibility. They use the same filters to decide whatand my parents and I don’t want other stuff coming show didn’t feel contrived. online space as a communication channel. Although is acceptable and what is not. Marketers need to usethrough on it. What if it went off when I was in school? both groups struggle to specify what is acceptable a good dose of common sense and apply the sameFemale, 17 (UK) and what is not, they all condemn pop-ups, spam and advertising standards everywhere. anything that interferes with their online experience. Companies should apply the same ethics online as they do on TV. Female , 17 (UK)
10 12There is a triangle of trust between Keep perspective:parent, teen and regulator Brands aren’t that importantParents generally feel that kids spend too much time My parents accept that I am mature enough to decide Brands help people identify themselves and feelonline and understand that they can’t control what what I do and don’t watch and believe that I should comfortable. They are a means to an end, rarely antheir kids look at. However, on the whole, parents decide whether something, whether it be an advert, is end in themselves. Marketers need to ask themselves:trust teens, and teens know they shouldn’t abuse that appropriate to watch. Female, 17 (UK) does my brand serve, enhance and empower - does ittrust. This trust is buffered by the regulation, which help people live their lives better?parents find reassuring. However, parents feel younger The most important thing is studying. My parents planchildren - some specified under the age of 12 - need to send me to study abroad, now this is my importantmore protecting and take greater control over what moment. Male, 17 (China)they see and experience. Music, my interests, family and school are all things important to my friends and I, it defines who we are ... what we are like and why - plus it gives us something to talk about. Female, 15 (UK)11 13Consumers understand It’s good to talkthe advertising trade off People enjoy talking about brands and advertising andConsumers, and children in particular, understand I do play online games and if there were no ads on want the opportunity to be heard. Too often, they feelthat online advertising allows them to get free these sites some games would not be free as most of marketers talk at them and not with them, so anythingcontent and so they tolerate the ads as a means to an these sites are sponsored. I rarely notice the ads while thing that counters this is well received.end. Conversely, they don’t expect to see ads when actually playing games. I would not mind if the ads I think it is my duty as a teenager to get my opinion outwatching paid-for content. While many children claim were actually in the game or product placement as I there and SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD! I want to beto be “banner blind” and able to filter out advertising, think they would blend into the game but I think they able to do this. Male, 16 (USA)parents are less capable of doing so. should only be relevant to the games being played. Male, 15 (USA)
These findings are just the first stage of the WFA’s long- Project Reconnect was conductedterm goal of facilitating an ongoing, open discussionbetween consumers and brands. by Alice Moss and Caroline Bright at Firefly Millward Brown for theWe hope over time to be able to agree on a set of clear World Federation of Advertisersground rules for marketers based on what consumersaround the world think is acceptable. (WFA).We have started with digital marketing For more information,communications but the conversation is likely tobroaden to a number of areas. please contact Will Gilroy at WFA at email@example.com
It is really nice to be asked to give an opinion,especially when you are asking for the opinionof teenagers. It will be interesting to see if theadvertising companies take note. Female, 17(USA) These are some of the teenagers who helped us with our research