Cynicism runs rampant among consumers

Canadians feel like the system is working against them. And brands, you're part of the system.

Canadians, despite all the polite stereotypes, are actually a cynical bunch.

That’s according to the latest study by National Public Relations, which found consumers have a “deep cynicism” towards governments and businesses, which leaves us “reluctant to trust leaders or brands.”

This is cause for concern, since trust remains a key factor in consumers’ purchase decisions. In fact, the majority of Canadians feel they have little influence over the choices of key decision makers, and that they are let down by “the system,” the study found.

The report, which analyzed 44,000 conversations on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, as well as on blogs and news sites, posits that the cynicism stems from feelings of disenchantment, that consumers have little control over the bigger picture.

More than 91% of conversations analyzed had strong expressions of cynicism. This view was consistent regardless of age or gender. Unaffordable housing, poor job rates for youth, and downward income mobility all contribute to the feeling that life is out of the control, and all that is contributing to a deeper mistrust of those people (politicians primarily) and businesses that seemingly benefit from others’ misfortunes.

High-profile product recalls and blunders, like that of Volkswagen’s emission saga last year, further contribute to the idea that businesses are only in it for themselves.

Like many buzzword-heavy reports, fairness and authenticity were found to be key “lenses” through which consumers want to see the businesses and people they support.

In particular, Canadians are more likely to place their faith in organizations they view as “fair,” (that those in power will act in the best interest of Canadians, rather than just out of corporate self interest), and authentic (that companies are doing things for the right reasons, not just to sell things).

The report recommends businesses undertake the barbecue test: would people invite your company to a family barbecue (as a beloved cousin, not a reluctant neighbour people don’t actually want around). It also recommends that businesses tackle this cynicism head on, saying they need to recognize that stakeholders aren’t just customers, employees and shareholders, but any individual affected by an organization (such as people who might be negatively affected by the way an organization grows its footprint, or can’t afford the price point set by the industry), and it’s important to engage these groups to build back trust. Empathy (seeing a situation from someone’s disenfranchised viewpoint) is also a key factor in fixing cynicism.

Photo, courtesy of Shutterstock.