Can brands spearhead the post ‘post-truth’ era?

What role do brands have to play in what has been termed the ‘post-truth era’ and how can they address the inherent unease that accompanies it? Honesty has often been used as a buzzword for businesses, but, whereas in the past, this might simply have been lip-service, those values are starting to be examined more closely. Brands who don’t live up to their own billing are being found out.

At Propaganda, we search out the ‘brand truths’ of all the businesses we work with. Every company will have strengths, and weaknesses, and our job as brand strategists is about making sure a business lives up to its ‘truths’ and communicates them in the best way possible. It should never be about papering over the cracks, or giving misinformation.

The information now available to us as a society means that businesses with something to hide are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. There have been many high-profile cases of large corporations being called out through investigative journalism, or even social media campaigns by customers. An issue that once may have been brushed under the carpet, could now spiral out of control, whipping up a storm of negative publicity. Recent corporate controversies, such as BT’s write-down of their Italian business operations, or Rolls Royce’s bribery accusations, have had effects that are far-reaching.

At a more relatable level, we’re seeing more board-level executives wanting to empower their own brands to have purposeful, relevant values, that live up to a business’s ideals, but also serve a clear role in progressing their ambition. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Altruism is still lacking in some areas (and viewed skeptically in others), but we’re lucky enough to work with some clients that are true leaders on this. Businesses need to consider their own bottom line – after all, their growth and success is crucial for job creation, and putting dinner on the table – however, there’s always a need to look at the bigger picture.

We’ve helped a number of clients who have found their industry in a time of change, or challenge. In one award-winning campaign for automotive client, FMG, we turned their market on its head, recognising industry pitfalls but celebrating their own, unique approach. Under an articulation of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ we were able to reflect honestly on the reputation of an industry, and appeal to an audience with an authentic and heartfelt message. This in turn led to a period of significant and sustained growth, sector recognition and ultimately acquisition.

 More recently, we’ve worked with commercial gas supplier, CNG. The energy industry as a whole has suffered from a poor reputation, and CNG were being dragged down by the behaviour of others. Through an extensive piece of consultative work, we were able to articulate CNG’s difference through ‘Power Up’. Whereas energy users were feeling a lack of control, and even in some cases, fear, CNG were genuinely giving power back to their customers. It’s all about recognising these ‘brand truths’, celebrating them and placing them on a pedestal for all to see.

 Technology, and an evolving business landscape have emboldened smaller brands to take on bigger business, regulators, legislators or government. Brand strategists should be able to give their clients the courage to take on the establishment, whether that be in the sphere of business, politics or convention. It’s a brave new world out there, and the opportunity is greater than ever for brands to take a lead in addressing the ‘post-truth’ problem.

To read our comments in The Drum article, click here.