Trends for 2019: Brands realise the risk of sitting on the fence

With consumer trust in brands falling, companies need to be willing to have a voice on certain topics, failure to do so could actually be more damaging than keeping quiet in 2019.

Taking a stand on a polarising issue can be risky for businesses – you only need to look at the divisive reaction to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad for evidence of that – but with consumers’ trust in brands dropping, many are realising it could actually be riskier in the long-term to sit on the fence. Just 43% of the UK population trust businesses, according to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, down from 45% last year.

More than having a ‘purpose’, this is about brands standing up and adopting a bold stance when they don’t agree with something or want to give voice to a cause. This year, like Nike, Nationwide, McCain and Maltesers joined forces to take a stand – this time against the abusive behaviour of online trolls through their #TogetherAgainstHate ad takeover on Channel 4.

Talking to Marketing Week at the time, Nationwide CMO Sara Bennison (who was named Visionary Marketer of the Year at the Marketing Week Masters) said “it’s time we stand up to hate” and “highlight a growing societal problem” to show it is unacceptable to post hate speech and threats online.

While all three brands were aware standing up to the haters in this way could bring about more hate and turn people off their brands, Bennison was clear she would prefer to lose their business than support such views as that’s “not what we stand for”.

She also said it was crucial for her to know Nationwide would not back down from this issue, showing it’s not only important from a consumer perspective for brands to stand up for what’s right, but also from an employer branding point of view.

More than half (57%) of UK consumers now consider themselves belief-driven buyers – a 54% rise on 2017, according to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, showing a significant change in consumers’ attitudes on brands’ responsibilities.

These shoppers will choose, switch, avoid and even boycott brands based on whether or not they take a stand and, depending on the issue and the brand, will change their buying behaviour as a result.

Meanwhile, data from YouGov shows 52% of British people think brands should be able to express their opinion on certain topics. While this still leaves nearly half the population who are less adamant, the people that do want brands to get involved in societal issues say it’s because they want to know they can trust the brands they interact with. Meanwhile, 54% want to understand who they are giving their money to and 41% don’t want to support businesses which have values they disagree with.

While taking a stand does run the risk of creating division and it won’t necessarily work for all brands, there are certain issues that brands should not shy away from – especially if, like in the case of Nationwide, McCain and Maltesers, they are already involved. Given consumers’ increasing lack of trust in brands, and their desire to know the businesses they spend their money with are on the same page as them, staying quiet in fear of a backlash could actually be more damaging than taking a stand next year.

To read more of Marketing Week’s trends for 2019, sponsored by Salesforce, head here.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here