Is public opinion, like the mythic Penelope, undoing in the night of the crisis what it reluctantly had accepted to weave in the light of growth? Has public opinion thus unmasked the cupidity of the princes who were waiting for the woven fabric to become the new masters? Where is Ulysses? And will he return in time to restore order on the public arena?
One of the merits of great texts is their ability to serve as metaphors for all sorts of current situations. The temptation was too strong to be resisted, but let’s not take it too far…
One of the features of our extreme times is that they make the underlying fundamentals of societies more obvious. Some such fundamentals are now emerging clearly enough to be taken into consideration on what is happening to the relationships between companies and their brands, with public opinion.
The credibility of the heads of corporations has been permanently weakened, and for some of them, definitively destroyed. Their function will be restored only with a change of the people, i.e. with a new generation taking over. There are initiatives being taken to speed up the process, especially at the head of large financial companies. The question of the conditions for the corporate leader to be legitimate has been on the table for a while. The answer is now clear: he must be competent, fair, and face up to his risks. In essence, he must be accountable, in economic, social and moral terms. And, in some cases he must face the judge.
In the eyes of public opinion, the battle between the rules of the market and the rules of society has gradually become, over the past few decades, the key to understanding the issue of corporate reputation and acceptability in the context of globalisation.
The rules of the market today appear as the cause of their own defeat, and State intervention in all areas to enforce the rules of society is not coming up against much opposition.
Public opinion that had become resigned to submitting to the rules of the economy is once again looking to government for a new order. The promise of change in the US presidential campaign came at the right time.
The promise in the French presidential calendar came a year too early, and the drive for reforms to adapt France to the new world looks off beat today, whatever its longer term relevance.
The discredit of the financial paradigm opens the door to a wish for utopia, which had so far been censored by the impression that there was no alternative to finance as a measure of everything.
The “militants” of public opinion who claimed that globalisation was driving us into a wall are discovering today, at the same time as the public at large, that in fact globalisation’s financial engine was taking us into an abyss.
Not that there is any alternative paradigm ready to take over, but the place is open and public opinion is seeking outlook. However vague the idea of sustainable development is today, it is sufficiently accepted by public opinion to create the spirit for a new project to emerge.
However also vague, is the energy that is needed to generate a new project, and paradoxically, it would seem that this energy might well be the United States, after being its main obstacle. The hopes of Europeans have, once again, crossed the Atlantic.
Consumer behaviour is showing reactivity and plasticity in our current context.
In times not so old, households would store oil and sugar at the first alarm signals, and currencies were devalued.
People today seek not to protect themselves against possible shortages of food, but against the loss of social links.
They spend less on the car and maintain the spend on the mobile phone.
Not on the object itself, which they replace less, but on the subscription to take advantage of it.
Precautionary storage has turned virtual, in a way.
The link is not around the household of family subsistence, but around the elected social network.
People don’t go out so much to buy more at cheaper prices, but rather to spend on fewer purchases with clearer priorities. More selectivity. There is a clear value in this for brands: to make sustainability real, to chart channels that access values, including societal ones, and not just to label commercial offers along the tracks of compulsive desire.
The dimension of brands as a medium is growing.
Innovation is more than ever brandished as the antidote to collapse.
What the word means is nonetheless more ambiguous than ever.
During the unequivocal times when there was no alternative to the dominating paradigm, innovation mostly meant improving something that already existed.
Today it could be said that it consists of trying radically new paths.
Maybe, but is there the will, or the need? That is a matter for management to decide.
Draw a line all the way between responsibility (carried by people), to societal issues (that specific groups embody), to the materialisation of a brand (charting a course through perceptions to find meaning) and to the sense of innovation for one’s own situation: this is the equation for communication to solve in times of uncertainty, because communication is one of the means to have answers emerge (not to pretend).
The uncertainty is about how long the journey is going to be, and where it is taking us.
Penelope did not recognize Ulysses when he returned home. His dog did and licked his hand.
Trust and loyalty are all the more robust and instinct-based that rationality seems to have taken leave.
Public opinion is also like that.