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What's So Great About Ikea, Anyway? Why No One in the World Likes Brands

What if 70 percent of brands in the world just disappeared overnight? Most people wouldn’t care.

What if 70 percent of brands in the world disappeared overnight? Most people wouldn’t care, according to a new study of 50,000 people in 14 global markets performed by Havas Media, an international communications firm.

Of all the brands surveyed, only 20 percent made a notably positive impact on people’s lives. That means for all the millions spent on marketing and ads around the world, most people could care less which company sells them their lunch, television, or car. “The overall consumption model and the overall marketing model is not working anymore,” says Sara del Dios, the Havas executive behind the survey.

Reflecting demonstrations and disappointment in the global economy, the survey notes that most consumers don’t trust companies, think their efforts to be responsible are largely spin, and that they don’t work hard to fix big problems.

Some brands have succeeded, however, in creating a meaningful image. The top 10 list includes Ikea, Google, Danone (the French diary giant), Leroy Merlin (a global Home Depot), and Samsung. The survey’s results suggest that these brands succeed by convincing consumers that they are working to improve their lives, whether through their products or their responsible business practices.

Take Coke as an example. It’s one of the most well-known global brands, but comes in 20th on this list because only 35 percent think the soda improves their quality of life; others worry about the health concerns that come with sugary soft drinks.

According to the survey, 85 percent of consumers worldwide expect companies to be tackling major problems, whether environmental or social. That fact is reflected in another finding—53 percent of consumers surveyed said they would pay a 10 percent price premium for a product made responsibly, up from 44 percent last year.

There is a huge disparity between how brands are perceived in the developed and developing worlds. In the United States and Europe, far fewer brands are respected than in Latin America or Asia. That’s a reflection of economic reality, too: Growth is happening in the developing countries even as it slows in most established economies.

This, researchers say, is because brands and material advancement are more connected, and consumers reward companies who provide them with transportation (like cars from India’s Tata Motors) or hygiene (like Unilever’s Lifebuoy disinfectant soap). In more developed nations, where basic needs are more frequently met, consumers focus far more on the responsibility of the companies in question. And broader economic trends that have led to a poorer middle class in the developed world are also syncing up with what del Dios calls the “post-materialist society,” as consumers look to brands not just for products, but also for some sense of a richer life.

"Many of the aspirational stories that brands try to communicate are not so true, and what we want is more authenticity," del Dios says.

Whether or not corporations can provide actual meaning in people's lives was not addressed by the survey.

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