The distrust data shows there's no political downside to hammering Facebook
Roy Morgan Research's quarterly update on most trusted and distrusted brands also offers an intriguing overlay of the political dimension
Welcome to Unmade, written while you were sleeping on Wednesday morning. Is it really December already?
Happy Bifocals at the Monitor Liberation Day.
Today: The brands the Australian public do not trust, and - on the day the government announces an inquiry into social media harm - the reason why there are no votes in defending Facebook.
If you‘ve got 21 minutes to spare, then I’ve a suggestion for just how to use it. At the time of writing, the video I’m going to recommend only had 63 views since being uploaded on Monday, so you’ll be ahead of your marketing counterparts.
It’s Roy Morgan Research’s quarterly update on its ranking of Australia’s most trusted and distrusted brands. It’s uses a sample of more than 60,000 members of the Australian public, which is massive for this type of survey.
For major, consumer-facing brands, it strikes me that trust may be every bit as important a metric as the net promoter score. Trust is also quite a good proxy for brand likeability.
One of the fascinating things about this set of data, which covers the 12 months to September, is that it represents a snapshot of how brands emerged from the Covid crisis.
Everything, including brand trust, can be seen through a political lens. And that’s highly relevant as we edge towards the next election. It’s useful for politicians to know which potential targets to go after without alienating the voters.
In the video presentation, social scientist Ross Honeywill makes the key point that while trust is a passive property, distrust is much more active - and threatening for brands when consumers become activists.
The first big lessons in trust come when RMR highlights individual sectors. Those in green are more trusted than distrusted by the public. Those in red have a net negative score.
Look to the right of that table, where the most distrusted sectors are highlighted. The Royal Commission into misconduct in the finance sector might be two years in the past, but the public is yet to forgive or forget. Banks are the most distrusted sector.
In the year that Facebook unfriended Australia, social media scores nearly as badly. We’ll come back to Facebook in a moment.
The third least trusted sector is the telcos, while the traditional media comes next, surprisingly less trusted even than the resource sector.
At the other end of the chart, sits the supermarket industry, then the wider retail industry, both emerging from Covid with their trust enhanced.
Woolworths is once again Australia’s most trusted brand. Coles is second, and Bunnings third.
I find it fascinating that Qantas can spend a year-and-a-half mostly grounded and still retain its position as the country’s sixth most trusted brand.
And the biggest mover in that top 20 was the ABC, which recovered ground, up from 19th to 14th. But there are big variations for the ABC depending on political sympathies which we will come on to.
But let’s go back to the most distrusted.
You might have been puzzled why the Coalition government has been going so hard against the digital platforms. We’ve seen the News Media Bargaining Code, and the wider attempts to regulate Google’s grip on the programmatic advertising chain. Then there was the weekend’s promise to strip the social media platforms of defamation protection. And today comes the announcement of an inquiry into the harms caused by online content. That will put the Facebook-aligned Instagram in the cross hairs, along with Twitter.
There’s simply no down side in any of this for the government - the public does not trust Facebook, the RMR data suggests.
It’s a pity that the survey has only been going for three years so there’s not a point of comparison to a decade ago. Back then, I reckon the likes of Facebook and Google would have been among the most trusted.
Trust in Google has been falling too. It’s gone from fifth to third least trusted brand.
And my point on distrust being a proxy for likeability comes into it too. I suspect that the reason Harvey Norman has fared so badly (now the ninth least trusted brand) is as a result of its legal, but ethically questionable, decision to hold on its JobKeeper millions despite healthy profits. The social contract counts for something. And worryingly for Harvey Norman, RMR says that the most negative opinions come from premium consumers.
The brand whose performance most surprises me is Telstra. I suspect that in this case, distrust also represents a poor net promoter score. I find myself thinking of my own recent months-long saga of transferring my mobile number. A decent network is let down by inadequate customer service.
Reading the forums on the Executive Traveller website, I suspect that unless Qantas can get its call centre resourcing in order before the country starts flying again, it risks a similar fall to Telstra, once customers begin experiencing the long phone waits at first hand.
Where the latest RMR data becomes absolutely fascinating is when it examines different attitudes to brands based on political allegiances.
Woolworths and Coles are most favoured by both Labor and Coalition voters.
One of the most astonishing stats is that BHP has leapt up from 85th among the general population to tenth most trusted brand amongst Coalition voters.
The comforting voice of Ted Horton (and a huge TV spend) might have helped.
Worryingly for the ABC, amongst mainstream voters of the Coalition and Labor, it is yet to break back into the top ten for voters of either party alignment. Yet Greens voters place the ABC second. What that says about green perceptions of the ABC agenda is perhaps best debated on another day.
But here’s the main game. This morning’s news that the government is set to announce an inquiry into harm created by social media content will play well with voters of every persuasion. The distrust of Facebook is universal.
Among voters of every persuasion, Facebook is Australia’s most distrusted brand.
At first glance the inquiry looks like something of a PR move, set up as a parliamentary inquiry, led by Liberal MP Lucy Wicks, rather than an independent commission.
Nonetheless the inquiry bodes badly for Facebook (and its competitors) as it faces multiple legislative battles. With so few Parliamentary sitting days until the next election, it still seems unlikely that the Coalition’s other front of attack - which would force social media platforms to reveal the identity of users or be liable for defamatory comments - will make it onto the statute books. But there certainly won’t be any resistance from Labor.
There are also hard questions for News Corp though. Even among Coalition voters, the company is the fifth least trusted brand in the country. Would the company engender more trust from its heartland audience if its editors tried harder to tell the news first and prosecute a case second?
As usual, please do tell me what you think to email@example.com or via the comment button.
My thanks for the various emails offering feedback on yesterday’s Unmade progress update. They were tremendously encouraging. There’s something of a divide between those who see value in a well curated daily digest, and those who would prefer longer, less frequent analytical takes. All of the advice is useful as I figure that one out.
And if you haven’t done so yet a reminder that in a few days, the major discount on the paid tier of Unmade will expire. You’ll never get as competitive a price again. Use the button below to unlock the offer,
Have a great day.
Proprietor - Unmade