If the truth doesn’t matter to politicians, why should it to consumers?

Back in 2016 (or as it will be described in history books as ‘the previous political era’) we learnt what the public really thinks of the truth. To many of us the answer was a surprise. To some of us it was a shock. To a few of us card-carrying members of the liberal metropolitan elite (for the record I live in a tiny village in an immigrationally sensitive corner of the UK) it was a kick in the teeth.

We know that in both the brexit and Trump campaigns there was a *ahem* fluid approach to facts (Nigel Farage was reneging on a campaign promise about the NHS the morning after the brexit result, and Trump hardly maintained a consistent line on anything, especially immigration), and that in both instances, it was a case of ’whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

People, it seems, don’t have to believe you they just have to believe in you.

But what does the post-truth era mean for brands? Does our new, looser relationship with accuracy stretch to what we buy and consume? Can brands now make promises they don’t have to keep? Is it time for post-truth branding?

Emphatically, no.

If anything it’s the opposite: now more than ever, brands are scrutinised for a chink in their armour, and since so many of the brands we consume are global (or at least national), the stakes are higher than ever. A big brand exposed as flawed can have a huge impact, just ask VW.

When you launch brand on the public, you are writing a contract that says ‘this is what our name stands for’. If you break a promise in that contract (whether it’s honesty, reliability, value for money, etc) the dent in confidence will never be repaired, no matter how many times you try to knock it back into shape. Again, look at VW.

The fact that we are selective or ambivalent about the truth points to a darker trend, but there may be a mitigating factor where brands are concerned.

About a year ago we did some work for an insurance company, who were launching a product aimed at the millennials market. Their research found that the characteristic young people were looking for above all others in a brand was authenticity. They (18 – 30 year olds) aggressively reject brands they feel don’t keep their promises, or patronise them, or have overblown marketing precepts. In short they don’t accept being sold a lie, and they have highly attuned polygraphs.

And if you look at how different age categories voted in both the EU referendumand the US election, it does suggest that older people are skeptical of facts if they are contrary to their opinion (ie ’we’ve had enough of experts’).

So are we seeing a division across age lines: young people (with their access to an hunger for information) need the to hear truth but old people (who grew up with authoritarian brands) don’t care?

I doubt it. But if a post truth brand can exist, sell it to your grandparents, not your kids.