Trust in big tech and CPG brands is dropping

The latest Gustavson Brand Trust Index shows data privacy and treatment of workers are having big impacts on perception.

The latest Gustavson Brand Trust Index (GBTI) reveals that Canadian consumers are more wary of big tech and CPGs than ever before.

The eighth edition of the study from the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business solicited data from 9,189 Canadian consumers about 402 national brands, assessing their levels of brand trust.

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) again tops the list of most trusted brand, followed by a surging Band-Aid (up from 19th place last year). Costco, Home Hardware and Lego tied for third.

Consumers ranked many brands in the grocery store category highly as they continue to gain residual goodwill from how the industry responded to consumer sensitivities quickly in implementing health and safety measures during the pandemic. But Costco performed particularly well as – with work-life balance being a top consideration for many respondents – it gave its workers a raise at the same time other grocers cut their pandemic pay. Costco’s reputation for being a good place to work – the average hourly wage at the retailer in Canada is $23.71 – also became more common knowledge among the general public over the last year. Being perceived as treating employees well also contributed to Home Hardware and MEC’s scores.

Rounding out the top ten are Bose, President’s Choice, Dyson, Interac, Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix and MEC. Though outside the top ten, Zoom, Aviva Insurance and Walmart had the biggest gains in trust, while Kellogg’s and Facebook lost the most points.

Brand trust seems to be eroding across the board. CAA, Bose and Band-Aid are the only top ten brands whose scores went up – scores for Home Hardware and Shoppers stayed the same, while the remaining six brands made it to the top despite losing points. But Kellogg’s and Facebook’s dips are emblematic of bigger issues brands are facing, both in their categories and out.

Kellogg’s trust score plummeted by 20 points and dropped to 271st place from 19th in a year when negative perceptions surrounding a U.S. labour dispute spilled over the border. Kellogg’s was preparing to axe 1,400 striking employees and permanently replace them with non-union workers, a plan that was dropped when a deal was reached to end the two-and-a-half month long strike.

But even outside labor disputes, packaged food brand trust overall is eroding. President’s Choice’s pandemic boost was big enough to keep it in the top ten despite its dip in 2022, but Quaker dropped to 43rd place after it surged to seventh last year. After benefiting from home seclusion and pantry loading at the onset of the pandemic, the perceived high sugar content of packaged foods combined with emerging demand for fresh ingredients and a greater focus on health and wellbeing is leading to the slip.

Facebook’s dip is among steep declines in trust among almost every other big tech company, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple, as well as social media brands like Snapchat and TikTok, which are also at an all-time low. Traditional media has also had a dip in trust, but still remains much higher than social media.

According to the report, for tech, a growing amount of power concentrated in these brands can generate distrust among some consumers. One of the big factors in this also privacy. Between 2017 and 2020, Apple has lost 15 points in its ranking for how it treats customer data and privacy, including seven points this year. The top ten list of brands “most distrusted” with consumer data are all tech and social media brands, with Google, YouTube, Craigslist and WhatsApp all topping the list.

“Our research reinforces the notion that Canadians have an acute awareness of whether a brand is truly responsive to the needs of both their consumers and employees,” says Saul Klein, dean of the Gustavson School of Business.

Tech and social media companies also made up seven of the ten “most distrusted” brands when it comes to treatment of employees. They include TikTok, Facebook and Amazon, but also “gig economy” companies like DoorDash, Lyft and Uber, which the report points out categorizes workers as independent contractors and could be seen as precarious employment in the eyes of Canadians.

For the third year in a row, A&W is being named the most trusted brand in the restaurants/takeout category. The QSR’s focus on packaging innovations that reduce waste, sustainable food practices, water and energy conservation, and giving back to the communities is paying off, according to the report. By contrast, Keurig lost trust after the Competition Bureau took the company to task for misleading claims about the recyclability of its coffee pods.

Trust in Canadian airlines is also eroding after an initial, short-lived optimism in the outset of the pandemic, while WestJet’s scores have slowly but surely declined since 2018.

In terms of how controversy impacted brand trust, the report found that Rogers lost eight trust points following its public board battle last year, the sharpest drop among telcos. While Spotify gained trust with older respondents, it reached a new low with those under 35 following its lack of action on podcast hosts like Joe Rogan, who were accused of spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines.