There are certain moments in life that suddenly make you question whether the whole thing has been a lie. The revelation about Father Christmas being one of the first that springs to mind.

But I did not expect to experience such a moment at Matt Haig’s recent talk for his new book, Notes on a Nervous Planet, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Following on from his bestseller, Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig discusses the impact the digital world is having on our minds. I thought I knew what to expect – social media, constant access to news, an always-on mentality to work… But then there it was… the ‘M’ word… marketing.

Marketing, he said, is also contributing to the anxious state of the world.

Suddenly, my palms are sweaty, knees weak and my arms are heavy. Could Haig somehow see through the giant pillar in front of me and sense that I was of the marketing world?

He referred to the concept of ‘FUD’ – where marketing plays on fear, uncertainty and doubt. To make people feel like they want a product or service, they are made to feel like they are lacking in those goods in their life. Marketing collateral, therefore, plays into this, creating a further feeling of lacking, allowing the brand to say: Don’t worry, we have the answer!

I, internally, laughed it off. That’s not how marketing works, I scoffed. But I still haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head. Are us marketers really contributing to a more anxious world? Can marketing happen without fear? Surely there are other ways brands interact with customers?

Growing distrust from consumers

Whether the marketing world is based on fear or not, this is clearly a notion that consumers hold. And perhaps this is why there is a growing issue of distrust.

As Marketing Week discussed, people are becoming increasingly cynical of brands and advertising. Research by Trinity Mirror found that nearly half (42%) of consumers distrust brands, while 69% distrust advertising.

And that’s not the end of the bad news – 37% trust brands less than they used to and 43% trust advertising less than they used to.

So, it seems brands and marketers are facing a distrusting and increasingly nervous world, with each issue feeding into the other. What are they to do?

You can’t simply tell your consumers that you’re trustworthy or that you care about their wellbeing and the general state of the world because, clearly, they aren’t going to believe you. Now is the time to do. Take action, stop simply adding to the noise of the online world, change how you interact with your customers, and create an atmosphere of honesty and trust.

Morally-driven marketing

Meaningful Brands found three quarters (75%) of consumers expect brands to contribute to their wellbeing and quality of life, while two thirds (66%) of respondents to Sprout Social research said they feel it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues and to make it known to the public.

If there’s an appetite for corporate social responsibility, why shouldn’t marketers start leading the way with morally-driven marketing? And if one of the biggest social issues is the impact the world is having on consumers, then brands need to help rectify that.

Acceptance is the first step. If we can become aware of the impact marketing is having on consumers, then we can start to recover and push marketing into a new direction, one that fosters trust and doesn’t simply add to the burden of their busy lives.

If you’d like to discuss how to use content to create a more meaningful conversation with your customers, speak to M2 Bespoke today.

Ben Hollom

July 25, 2018