5 pieces of research you NEED* to know about

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I don’t know… the continuing tale of Brexit, Donald Trump’s trade war, the plight of UK train commuters, another runway at Heathrow… I am just not feeling particularly inspired nor motivated at the moment.

So the obvious antidote to such gloom? To spend some time looking around on the web of course. Here are 5 pieces of recent research you really need* to know about (*when I say need I may well be stretching the truth a little).

In no particular order…

1_ WHSmith = worst high street retailer.

You won’t have missed that the high street is in a tricky place at the moment. Just yesterday we heard bad news about House of Fraser and Poundworld.

Which? magazine has recently published results from its annual 10,000 strong survey of the best/worst high street retailers.

WHSmith is voted worst – described by one customer as a “horrid shop“. It has been in the bottom two for the last 8 years. Things are not looking good for WHSmith.

Mary Portas has also picked up on this story, highlighting that the business actually does ok financially due to its ‘retail engineering’ approach and being held up by the performance of its airport and station outlets (with those ridiculously high prices!).

It would seem to be difficult times ahead for a retailer that doesn’t have anything unique to sell and has little or no voice. In fact if you read the article from Which? you could suggest it’s maybe bad news ahead for many of those listed in 90-100th place, some having already shown signs of failure.

2_ Britain’s most scenic bus routes… revealed

Yes, this one pricked my attention as well!

Bus Users UK spent three long months collecting 15,000 votes for this one. You can literally experience the winning route by clicking here. I am on my way to Leeds right now. Maybe a good follow-up for BBC Four’s experiential bus ride TV (one of my very favourite BBC Four programmes).

Look out later this year for a Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Routes website. I’d like the organisers to also consider some urban routes which are equally spectacular.

3_ 1.6m UK workers opt for the gig economy

That might be impressive but what stands out for me from research carried out by WeMa Life is that it would seem a huge 7.3m UK workers would like to leave their job try the gig economy but don’t have the confidence they would source enough money to support their lifestyle.

One of the biggest issues holding people back is not knowing how to issue invoices or take payments. Another reason is not knowing how to connect with potential customers.

If I could charge them £1 each for this information I would be a very rich man. Hell, there’s a ton of information for free on this subject. My advice? (The advice that was given to me), just go for it.

4_ Passengers from hell are smelly and have out of control children

The long-awaited Passengers from Hell annual survey from www.airlineratings.com is in.


I think we can all relate to this from our trips on a plane. This year I will try not to commit all 10 fouls (I really can’t see myself doing number 8).

Ranking the 10 worst passenger types, readers voted in this order…

  1. Smelly passengers
  2. Those with out of control kids
  3. Prolonged seat recliners
  4. Armrest hoggers
  5. Passengers with too much carry-on luggage
  6. Those with a weak bladder
  7. The chatterboxes
  8. Passengers who exercise in the aisles
  9. Arrogant and demanding passengers
  10. Window hoggers

5_ Global brands are really (really) good

Research by McCann Worldgroup (that’s the McCann Worldgroup that earns $bn’s from working with global brands) reveals that 81% of consumers believe that global brands “can play a vital role for good“. No way, who’d have thunk it??

Interesting when you consider the recent behaviour of the likes of Volkswagen, FIFA, Samsung, United Airlines, Apple, News International, Dove, Uber, Pepsi, Oxfam and Facebook.

What the research does show is a growing trust in local brands – 56% now trusting local brands over global ones, up from 43% in 2015. That is interesting and has big implications for marketers.

Also, (certain) global brands beware… the research reveals that consumers believe “truth is the most valuable currency“.


[Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash]

What’s with all the racism from brands?

It certainly isn’t ‘new’ news that brands sometimes get it wrong – a poorly thought through new product launch, a campaign or event which ends up causing a level of offence or embarrassment is, and always has been, pretty commonplace. These moments can range from slight egg on face through to full existential crisis.

Remember the disastrous change that Coke made to their formula? It was to better compete with the ‘great taste ‘ of Pepsi but ended up in them changing it back to the original formula. More sinister, the Volkswagen diesel deception, which rightly ended up in a hefty fine. The Samsung issues around the Galaxy Note catching fire, the allegation that Apple deliberately slow down older iPhones. None of this seems to matter though, right? People will still buy iPhones and drink Coke.

But more worrying are the recent examples of brands ‘appearing’ to be making oversights which have racist implications. Consider the following for a moment:

  • October: Dove remove an ad from Facebook showing a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath. The ad was for bodywash.
  • January: H&M feaure a black child on their UK website wearing a hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle”
  • January: Italian cosmetics brand Wycon release a black nail polish called “Thick as a N****”
  • March: Heineken pull their “sometimes lighter is better” ad which shows their light beer slide along a bar past three black people before being received by a woman with lighter skin.

There are other examples here.

Some people within the industry now claim these kind of activities are done on purpose to create publicity.

Can this actually be true? If so this is truly shocking.

But then again is not even 17 years since Robertson’s decided to remove their Golly character from their jars of jam and marmalade.

So what’s the problem here? Too many white people in positions of power and authority?

Invariably the answer is ‘yes’. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be non-prejudiced might need to re-think this position.

There is clear evidence out there that white people are intrinsically biased against non-white people and therefore these clear instances of negligence are less likely to be spotted.

We see this thanks to research by Harvard using a technique called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test aims to uncover our unconscious preferences – you can take the race test by clicking here. The results (you’ll see them when you complete the test) both for the individual and overall are really quite shocking. Personally I consider myself to be completely non-prejudiced but my results tell me otherwise.

So what’s the fix here. If there is so much intrinsic prejudice out there, if some brands are actually seeking publicity though this kind of activity then how should this be tackled? Regulation? Consumer action? True diversity in the workforce? All of the above.

When brands deceive us, why don’t we care?

Apple are under fire for allegedly slowing down our handsets and creating a greater need to upgrade to the latest models – a scandal that has broken over the last couple of weeks and shows no signs of going away. A question worth asking ourselves, however, is – will it matter? Given Apple’s prominent position in the marketplace, die-hard global following and colossal advertising funds, will this fresh allegation have any impact whatsoever on Apple’s bottom line? If history tells us anything, it’s that it’s doubtful. Let’s look at why…

In 2013, Apple earned approximately 70 per cent of the worldwide profit in smart phone sales. In the same year, they sold over 150 million iPhones, (a figure that has since peaked at 231 million), at anywhere between £400 and £1000 per unit depending on the model. Let that sink in for a moment…

You’d be right to assume that Apple have made big money – Over the last six years, they’ve averaged an annual net income of 43 billion US dollars, placing themselves quite firmly as industry leaders in smart technology. According to recent reports, if Apple were a country it would be the world’s 17th largest economy.

With millions of disciples across the planet, trust in Apple has always been consistent. In fact, a survey conducted in 2014 showed that the majority of people confess to having ‘blind loyalty’ towards Apple, claiming they’d switch to the latest Apple product without considering major rivals like Blackberry and Android.

People increasingly report they can’t live without their iPhone and that their phones play a role in every aspects of their social and private lives. If that weren’t extreme enough, an experiment involving fMRI imaging demonstrated that participants’ brains responded to images associated with the iPhone similarly to the way they respond to religious imagery – indicating the depth of the relationship that has emerged with these handy devices.

But while Apple continue to be the holy grail of technology companies, multiple scandals have broken over the last decade that, in theory, should have deterred consumers from purchasing from them. For example, in 2015, two Miami residents publicly sued Apple over a software update that had been installed onto all iPhones, resulting in storage space shrinking by over 20 per cent. Without notifying consumers of this, the plaintiffs argued that the company were mis-selling iPhones on the basis they feature more storage than is actually available to the user. Another lawsuit filed against Apple alleged they had allowed advertisers to illegally track users’ movements, and now, Apple are back in the spotlight after it came to light that batteries were being slowed on older iPhone, forcing users to abandon their handsets and opt for newer, more expensive ones.

So what did Apple have to say about the latest allegation? Well, they didn’t exactly take full responsibility for the problem. Instead, they said that iPhone batteries naturally age and slow over time, and, in a nut shell, tired batteries would be less likely to handle the latest software updates in the same way new batteries would. They did, however, attempt to remedy the situation by offering a reduced battery replacement price to those affected (not free, just reduced), better visibility in regards to battery health and an ongoing commitment to excellent customer service (we aren’t quite sure what that means).

Should users take Apple up on their reduced-cost-battery-swap deal, Apple are set to lose approximately $10 Billion – not an insignificant figure, but also not a deal breaker for such a large corporation. Lawsuits are, of course, mounting – so it’s more than likely that there’s a larger financial loss on the horizon, even if it is just in lawyer fees. What’s more interesting is the impact on customer loyalty and, consequently, future iPhone sales.

Diverting slightly, it’s worth looking at other brands that have been hit by their own scandals, and whether or not their companies folded or thrived during turbulent times. For example,  just three years ago Volkswagon were hit by a huge emissions fixing story that led to 17,000 complaints and a 2016 loss of over $18 Billion. But as of 2017, Volkswagon were still the second best selling car manufacturer, sandwiched between Ford and Vauxhall, and remain one of the biggest manufacturers in the world. While there was a dip in sales in the immediate aftermath to the emissions fix, sales began to rise again in no time.

So can brands just get away with this stuff pretty much unscathed aside from a financial hit or two? If so, why is this – is it just about consumer apathy? Are brands personified in such a way that their human-ness allows them to be forgiven for ‘mistakes’ made? What would it take for the public to take action? Perhaps it is testament to the fact that brands such as Apple, Volkswagen, Dove and Pepsi as well as the many others who have faced recent scandals are strong enough to withstand… anything?

What can brands learn from Populism?

Populism: a political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people (one of the definitions of ‘populism’ from Dictionary.com).

A little under two weeks into the new US Presidency and the world already appears to have turned upside down.

If you are in any way ever-so-slightly left of the new Alt-Right regime then it is likely that waves of fear, anger and regret have been passing over you daily.

Now let us sit down and work this stuff through. Trump’s rise and eventual win were both on the back of capturing hearts and minds of ordinary Americans via Populist policy and rhetoric. Some commentators describe Trump’s victory as a result of his ability to use Populism as a brand.

Whatever your views, it is clear from Brexit and the rise of UKIP in the UK, the Trump presidency etcetera, that huge segments of Western society feel they are overlooked by those in charge; those they believe are the political ‘elite’.

Indeed, it is not just politicians that have left people out in the cold. Look at the way we market and communicate within Western economies. We have become completely obsessed with consumers we might label as Millennials and more lately as Gen-Z. Individuals who represent a minority of their populations. If not these young, trendy careerists then marketeers target affluent segments to sell their products, whether these people are a fair representation of consumers or not.

Of course, I am talking generally and making accusations which are not wholly applicable in every case. But I think you get the point?

Just take a look at some recent advertising. To make these a more relevant choice, let us look at Superbowl 2017 ads, ie those which will be viewed by huge swathes of American people and, therefore, millions and millions of Trump supporters.

Just before we do – a BIG caveat.

I am about to be overly critical, I do not wish to cause offence to any, I firmly acknowledge that these are beautifully crafted films which took a huge amount of effort, and I absolutely appreciate the conventional wisdom of advertising about showing beautiful people and creating aspirational scenes. Also, I am not a marketer so not really in a place to judge.

Here is one from Adidas called “Unleash Your Creativity”. Click the image to watch

How – as an ordinary American – could I relate to this? What the hell does it mean and why would it make me want to switch from buying Nike?

Ok, now try Febreze. A product bought by everyone, a product for everyone. Surely a prime example of a populist product.

Except most of the ‘ordinary Americans’ depicted are obese.

It is not just marketing that is open to criticism. In my discipline – market research – we rarely (for many ‘never’) want to talk to those over the age of 60, who are DE or who fall into lower-income brackets. We are guilty of excluding huge swathes of the population and so our findings and our insights must be less likely to show the full spectrum of attitudes. How exactly did pollsters in the UK miss the Brexit result and the 2015 General Election?

Look, the point of this post is not to criticise marketers and researchers. The point is to suggest that Populism – a movement we are all going to have to get used to whether we like it or not – is a wake up call for all of us who sell goods and services and build brands.

Indeed, it may even present some clear opportunities?

Jumping on the Trump band-wagon, for example, will likely bring short-term gain for any number of brands. Just imagine the possibilities that are out there for the new Populist ways of communicating your Populist messages about all things from toilet cleaner, beer, cars, finance. It is likely the case that the temptation for some will be to mock this ‘new world’ via their communication, but I think that would be an opportunity missed.

Longer term, perhaps we should all be mindful of being more inclusive in the work that we do to make sure we stay relevant and the brands we work on are able to fulfil their potential.

Who knows, perhaps you could argue that the rise of Populism has actually (in part) been a direct result of excluding ordinary folk from our brand strategies and creative executions?

Time to wake up to Populism and (as the Donald would say) grab it by the *****.

Gideon Barker is founder of Profundo Research & Insight, a UK-based insight consultancy.