November 26, 2014

In Brands We Trust

The folks at the Yankelovich Monitor recently revealed that a majority of Americans have confidence in only two, yes two, “institutions of American life”—the military (69%) and the high tech industry (53%).

What about the Supreme Court? Nope. Congress? You’re joking, right? National news media? Sorry. Big banks? Big business? Don’t make me laugh.

To further validate these findings, the three most admired companies in America—Apple, Amazon and Google—all reside within the high tech arena. A sea change from just eight years ago when GE, FedEx and Southwest Airlines claimed the top three spots.

In many ways, stunning.

For this young writer, who came of age in the turbulent 60’s and early 70’s, times scarred by assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate, it’s a powerfully reflective comparison to see that no fewer than a dozen “American institutions” in that time had the confidence of a majority of Americans.

A dozen to just two—scandal, greed, investigative journalism, terrorism, partisan politics, decade-long wars, 24-hour news cycles and smartphones have apparently all taken their toll.

What to do? If you believe, as we do, that trust in many ways is a zero-sum game, that citizens and consumers will look to place it with other “institutions”, then these sobering times also spell opportunity for certain brands.

I was introduced to one such brand while serving as a Jury Chair for the 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards for Strategic Excellence—PBS Channel 13 in New York City and their “TV Gone Wrong” campaign. This brilliantly conceived and executed work took home a gold medal and a Grand Prix finalist award by turning the “institution of television” into a compelling and motivating weapon for the local PBS affiliate. The threat to television, and to Channel 13 specifically, was actually television itself.

A print, out-of-home and social media campaign depicted what appeared to be new reality TV shows—“The Dillionaire,” featuring a pickle empire tycoon; “Married to a Mime” and “The Tanners,” a show featuring a family obsessed with backyard tanning. With each, a startling accompanying message—“The fact that you thought this was a real show says a lot about the quality of TV.”

PBS membership and fundraising have hit record levels.

Closer to our home and our hearts is an “institution of a brand”—Union Pacific. Signed into existence by President Abraham Lincoln, Union Pacific has been providing the way for America’s will for over 150 years.

The “Building America” campaign has contributed to Union Pacific’s standing as one of America’s most admired corporations and an economic performance few companies have matched.

Our latest television campaign, underscoring Union Pacific’s vital contribution to our economy and the pride of carrying the American flag, and the honoring of the continued service of thousands of military veterans as Union Pacific employees, has been met with initial superlatives and accolades.

In the land of “institutional malaise,” opportunities exist for brands able and willing to exploit and leverage their “institutional” qualities.


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