How Brands Who Play It Straight Can Hit It Out of the Park
Life was good, until suddenly, it wasn’t. In 2008, the economy collapsed, life savings had vanished and it felt as though no one would get a new job ever again. Even worse—steroid scandals quickly became clichéd news, as batter after batter fell from grace and Lance fell hard off his golden bicycle stand.
Faith in professional athletes crumbled.
The Millennial generation desperately wanted to believe the best in these athletes—that these super-human individuals were capable of feats worthy of the resulting fanfare, much the same way we wanted to believe the apparent economic red flags weren’t there. Why couldn’t a man come back from a life threatening disease to win seven straight Tour de France races? Why couldn’t a man with forearms the size of batting helmets completely demolish a 40 year record?
In the beginning, these scandals felt less like a violation of trust and more like a game of intrigue. My generation followed the clues to the next doping superstar, intrigued and seduced by our new guilty pleasure.
Today, that intrigue is displaced by disgust, distrust—and mostly, disappointment. The fallout for celebrity athletes has been tremendous. According to BAV data, Armstrong now sits in the bottom 1% on BAV attributes of Authentic, Esteem and Trustworthy.
The result has impacted not just athletes, but brands at large. Millennials are wary of false claims put on products—from GMOs to false organic claims, making it much harder for brands to truly earn our trust. BAV data tells us that since 2008, the number of brands rated as “highly trusted” has fallen 13% among Millennials.
Now we as consumers are playing the role of cynics, rather than blind believers. Post-recession, we place huge weight on a brand’s ability to be Authentic, Straightforward and Trustworthy. And for brands that are able to do this genuinely, it works. Consider Patagonia, whose trust skyrocketed 346% among Millennials after their 2011 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad campaign, which in turn contributed to a 22% increase in Millennials’ preference for the brand. Or Chipotle, which has been fully transparent about their farmers, cultivation processes and which foods on its menus include GMOs, which received growing trust and emotional commitment from consumers over the past seven years (38% and 17%, respectively).
And while the string of doping charges has obliterated trust in athletes, ESPN, the “inside man” in all of these scandals, has risen as a trustworthy news source, performing 23% better today on this metric than over a decade ago.
As this macro shift of “trustworthiness-via-transparency” continues to rise, we as consumers reap the benefits. It’s helped consumers make more educated choices and feel more engaged with their brands. Perhaps some athletes should take notice. Andy Pettitte and Brian Roberts, both accused of wrongdoings, decided to immediately admit their mistakes instead of denying them. As a result of their genuine nature, they received a free pass from fans. Innovators in the sports world, maybe, but something branders have seen for a long time coming.