Understanding the importance of trust

When I joined the advertising business, there was a new buzzword called ‘marketing’. Few knew what it meant. At Ogilvy & Mather, where my career was born, we had a guy – yes, one person in the whole agency – whose job was to explain this new concept to our clients.

Now, some people argue, everything is marketing.

In his wonderful, intelligent lecture on screenwriting, Charlie Kaufman said:

‘They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this. Corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this…. it has all become marketing.’

In this sense, within the space of my career, marketing has gone from nothing to everything.

That’s some journey.

Now, it seems, there is another word that is commonly used and little understood. It is the word brand, the application of which is called ‘branding’.

What is branding?

There is no easy answer for, as David Ogilvy said, ‘brand image is an amalgam of many things – name, packaging, price, style of advertising, and, above all, the nature of the product itself.’

‘The nature of a product’ can be defined in terms of ‘rational’ and ’emotional’ benefits.

If your clients tell you the truth, rational benefits are easy to identify. The trouble is the rational benefits of a product are often the same as its competitors. Commercial success depends on the identification, and often creation, of emotional points of difference.

I love this part of my job because, to define the emotional values of a brand, you need to understand how human beings think and behave.

And, as I hope you find in all my posts, people are interesting aren’t they?

This is why the best way to understand a brand is to think of it as a person, a human being, replete with a complex blend of rational and emotional characteristics.

In life, the way we behave influences other people to like or dislike us on a sliding scale. If you are nice, people like you. If you are horrid, they don’t. You may or may not care about this.

But brands do care whether or not you like them, particularly if they want you to buy them.

So what is the one thing brands must do to make you like them? Again, David Ogilvy has the answer. He called it a consumer promise:

‘A promise … is a benefit for the consumer. It pays to promise a benefit which is unique and competitive, and the product must deliver the benefit you promise.’

To deliver a promise, a brand must tell the truth.

And people must trust the brand to do so.

Sadly, it seems, trust is an evaporating characteristic in society today. As I pointed out in my last post, although you and I trust our doctors, politicians don’t.

Who, in my life, have I trusted but trust no more?

I won’t name individual brands, but here are some of the sectors they are in:

I don’t trust cyclists.

I don’t trust horse racing.

I don’t trust food companies.

I don’t trust supermarkets.

I don’t trust loyalty cards.

I don’t trust marketing.

I don’t trust newspapers.

I don’t trust banks.

I don’t trust business.

I don’t trust priests.

I don’t trust the police.

I don’t trust politicians.


About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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