Better the devil you know

May 16, 2011, 2:23 AM GMT+0

Could top brands have a significant role to play in public policy?

If Apple can get thousands of people to queue all night for the latest igadget, could it persuade smokers to quit? Could McDonald’s encourage people to have their five a day? Could top brands have a significant role to play in public policy?

YouGov’s PublicIndex tracks the performance of public services and BrandIndex tracks consumer brands. The data shows that many brands are viewed more favourably than the Government. Taking the Government’s healthy living campaign Change4Life as an example, we see that its national sponsors have a much higher impression rating than its sponsoring government department. An impression rating is the net score of people who think positively about a brand minus those who think negatively (scale of +/- 100).

  • The Department of Health (DH) has an impression score of 2

By comparison:

  • Mars has a score of 78
  • McCain’s score is 58
  • Asda and Tesco both have a score of 48
  • Pepsi’s score is 32

The pattern is similar when we look at other indicators such as reputation, value and consumer buzz. So if brands are more trusted than government and more effective influencers, why not give them a more prominent role in delivering government policy?

The issue is that it is likely the Change4Life partners outscore the DH because they are providing consumer goods and services. They are not making decisions about where the health budget should be spent. These are hard, often unpopular, decisions where there are winners and losers. And herein lies the rub. The Change4Life partner brands score well within the context of their own markets. Once they become more associated with public policy the context is altogether different and there is a danger that they might find that their BrandIndex scores move closer to those of government departments.

The Cultural Dictionary defines guilt by association as: 'The attribution of guilt because of the people or organisations with which they associate, rather than because of any crime that they have committed.' To avoid such associations, the questions that brand owners operating in the area of public goods need answers to are:

  • What association, if any, is there with wider government policy?
  • Do consumers understand, and credit, the brand role?
  • Would traditional, commercial brand opportunities provide a
    more secure ROI?

The private sector clearly has a positive role to play in public life, but brand equity, so expensively built up, must be used carefully in these public spaces.