DIMENSION 2019: The (in)credible communicators

In an age of the connected consumer’s increasing distrust in media, protecting a brand’s reputation is fundamental, and messaging consistency across all communication forms has never played such an important part in this.

Last year, our DIMENSION study found that brands are increasingly operating an integrated focus in communications planning and activation through a closer working relationship across the PR and marketing functions.

Kantar’s 2019 DIMENSION report, now in its third year, explores issues like the importance brands communicating in an authentic and genuine way – maintaining and building trust among consumers in the process. Here, we look at what happens when a well-intentioned ad campaign is hit with a wave of negative backlash.

Brands: Walking a tightrope

Easy access to information, knowledge and opinion, and the opportunity to share and converse online, has made everyone an expert.

In a time-starved world, many have moved from in-depth reading to a more superficial scanning of multiple articles. And with aggregated news platforms providing easy access to opinions and (apparent) facts, it’s easy for consumers to feel they’re an authority on any subject of interest.

The net result? If a brand is seen to step out of line it can be called out, and its error rapidly shared far and wide.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and a few minutes of cyber incident to ruin it.” Stéphane Nappo, Global Chief Information Security Officer, Société Générale

Sometimes a product backed by strong brand equity may not be completely damaged by a simple ad campaign, but it can create consumer backlash in need of a swift intervention and proper damage control. We saw an example of this earlier this year when Gillette launched a new campaign called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” aimed at tackling the issue of toxic masculinity.

The campaign generated a firestorm of social and news media discussion, and according to our Reputation Intelligence service, reaction to the ad was more unfavorable than favorable, with 36% of commentary from all sources negative, to just 16% positive and 48% balanced.

Twitter dominated discussion, with more than 100,000 posts specifically naming the ad within the first week of its launch. Additionally, a critical tweet by conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens, who is known for her pro-Trump views and criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement was the most shared tweet, with almost 16,000 retweets and over 52,000 likes in just one week.

Gillette Tweet

In addition to criticism about the ad’s message itself and Gillette’s decision to enter into the debate – which some framed as an attempt to capitalize on the #MeToo movement – some also blamed the brand itself for not practicing what it preaches in terms of gender inequality and respect. A number of commentators referenced the “pink tax”, where prices are higher for women’s products than for virtually identical products for men.

Effective reputation management in the face of bad publicity

Our Ad Intelligence monitoring service found that the Gillette ad was only made available online, with no occurrences on television, however, it generated significant media attention, including discussion on CBS This Morning, Fox News, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Though the ad generated tons of free press for the brand, which was likely intentional, this tactic was a risk for Gillette. According to the Authentic Communication in a Mistrusting World portion of our DIMENSION study, the data shows that the wrong story, coupled with the wrong coverage and allied with influential and engaged connected consumers – can impact very negatively on a brand’s reputation.

But Gillette was quick to respond by defending the ad, releasing a public statement saying, “If we get people to pause, reflect and to challenge themselves and others to ensure that their actions reflect who they really are, then this campaign will be a success.”

The razor company also said it was "setting a new standard for our brand ... to encourage and inspire the next generation to be its best."

Combating negativity

News, feature articles and interviews are seen as the most effective ways of combating negativity according to our DIMENSION report.

This is particularly so if the news or interviews are on TV or video. Some 47% of respondents believe this is the best way to reach them – the highest single media channel score.

Even among those who use connected devices heavily, 52% think video news and interviews are effective.

Consumers don’t differentiate between PR and advertising

No matter the intention of an ad campaign, brands, products, their performance and values are subject to constant scrutiny and discussion.

Consumer Opinion

Consumers are going online to seek brand information and place trust on what they find there. And so the risk and opportunity riding on every facet of a brand’s communication increases.

A significant number of consumers say their opinions on brands are influenced by what they see online, whether those messages come from the brand or someone else. With that in mind, brands must be thoughtful of both sides of a discussion when they release controversial messaging of any kind. In today’s age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, brand messages can spread quickly and have heavy implications when misconstrued.


DIMENSION is our latest thinking on some of the biggest communication planning, buying and measurement issues faced by the industry. Uniquely, the study reflects the response and attitudes from twin perspectives: those of the industry’s practitioners and those of the consumers they are trying to reach.

Now in its third year, the findings send a strong message that the recurring issues haven’t gone away, and the imperfect balance our industry finds itself in remains. While data isn’t the answer in itself, it can empower those shaping media and communications planning to deliver insights and drive material outcomes to gain competitive advantage.

Learn more about DIMENSION here

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