John Lewis and Tesco most-discussed brands over Christmas, new PwC index reveals

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PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP UK (PwC) today published insights from the PwC Trust Index tool, after analysing fluctuations in corporate and brand reputations over the 2017 Christmas period. PwC’s Trust Index assesses how corporate and brand trust fluctuates by analysing online data including news, journals, blogs, investor reports and social media. The PwC Trust Index can track brands based on 12 core drivers of trust, which then roll up into three key trust measures: Competence (does the brand do what it says it will do?), Experience (does the brand do what it says it will do consistently over time?) and Values (do the brand and its consumers/users share the same beliefs?).  Trust is a proven lead indicator of business performance, so quantifying, measuring and improving brand trust should be a key objective for any organisation.

Based on a sample of over 1 million news, social and other online sources, PwC has ranked the brands that generated 23,000 Christmas conversations from 1 November 2017 to 31 December 2017. During this period, Christmas advertising was a significant topic of conversation, particularly in UK news and social media. PwC’s analysis showed that the “blockbuster Christmas ad” is a uniquely UK phenomenon: over 50% of all English-language online news data for Christmas ads is generated from the UK alone.

These Christmas ads are obviously partly intended to boost short-term seasonal sales, but they are also intended to contribute to long-term brand-building – given the production values and costs of production, they have to be seen as more than simple direct response campaigns.  And since they are at least partly about long-term brand health, the ads’ impact on brand trust is crucial.

John Lewis led the online news and social media conversations leading up to the launch of Christmas ads, and its own ad was the most anticipated of the Christmas season. The Tesco Christmas ad caused the most controversy over the meaning of Christmas, since it was deemed to be lacking in “Christian imagery” by some sections of society. Despite outrage and threats of boycotts, Tesco’s trust scores bounced back almost immediately thanks to the company’s timely response – it released a positive and open official statement within a couple of days via news media, stating “everyone is welcome at Tesco”. Tesco was subject to further negative attention over Christmas Day and Boxing Day as consumers took to social media to complain about their “rancid” turkeys, but the volume of conversations on social media was significantly lower than those relating to Tesco’s Christmas advertising.

Neither the threatened boycott nor complaints about the food quality appear to have affected Tesco’s bottom line, as the company’s sales over the Christmas period were positive, particularly for Tesco’s food business, as reported by Kantar.

Other brands who featured heavily in online conversations over the Christmas period were:

  • M&S – online media and social media conversations were mostly driven by the ‘hidden F-bomb’ in its Thinkbox-award-winning Paddington Christmas ad, which had no significant impact on the M&S trust score.
  • Amazon’s trust rating declined after parents complained that the Christmas ad implied Santa doesn’t exist. In addition, the company’s alleged tax avoidance remains a topic of online conversation.
  • Greggs’ novelty advent calendar featuring a sausage roll “Jesus” caused a minor social media backlash, although there were considerably fewer negative conversations triggered per PwC’s trust taxonomy than by the Tesco Christmas ad.
  • Poundland’s “elf behaving badly” caused a spike in social media commentary, although the ad seemed to offend a different audience to that offended by the Tesco Christmas ad.
  • Aldi’s “Kevin the talking carrot” created hashtags on social media and continued a steady online conversation.

Alan McGill, PwC’s leader on Trust, and Sam Tomlinson, PwC’s leader of Media & Marketing Insight team, commented: “Our PwC Trust Index tool, developed over many years by leading trust academics and practitioners, is a robust method for tracking trust in real time and understanding changes in trust over time. Our analysis of Christmas ads revealed that the blockbuster Christmas ad is a uniquely UK phenomenon and that any impact on brand trust appears to be short-lived. This perhaps begs the question of whether the time has come to re-think the approach to Christmas advertising. The next step will be to look at the longer-term impact of brand advertising on brand trust.”