Post-truth: Ageing wine in a new bottle?

When I look back at 2016 two major political events caught my attention. Many call these changes unprecedented and are touted to bring in seismic changes to the world we live in.

  • Donald trump will be the president of the most powerful democracy in the world
  • United Kingdom an important constituent of Europe exits the European union

In another less popular development the revered Oxford Dictionaries declared, ‘post-truth’ as the Word of the Year 2016. Post truth defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’

Many wise men attributed these events as a post-truth reality. And ‘post- truth’ emphasizes the importance of emotions and personal beliefs over objective facts in influencing decisions. They also added how these events stumped rationality which essentially means individual ethos and emotions are prone to erroneous judgement not bound by reason. A look at the recent events (Jallikattu, Ramjas college issue, Boycotting fizz drinks of MNC origin in tamilnadu etc) gives us an indication of how emotions wreak havoc on reason.

For those who are in the business of marketing research this comes  as no surprise at all. After all many brands, have been built forging an emotional connect with the consumers. The question is what is different to those involved in studying brands and consumers. What does ‘post-truth’ offer us?

It is more about the times we live in makes the impact of post-truth a bigger threat. We are living in an information age, where access to information has become easier than before, consumers are on a constant state of exposure to information. This makes their action and reactions extremely dynamic as they are in a constant state of flux.

On the other hand, time has become more precious commodity with one’s attention constantly divided in to job, family, entertainment etc. As the time pressure increases one’s attention span is extremely challenged.

Where does this all lead us to. We are looking at the consumer who is overloaded with information, has less attention and is bound by emotions and ethos. Consumer are increasingly more susceptible to process information and make decisions that defy logic. The current situation creates a fertile ground for this to happen at an alarmingly high frequency. The recent developments are a clear testimony to that. Moreover, information that has emotional baggage affecting larger population has the potential to spread like a wildfire and any intervention to drive logic subsequently becomes futile and misplaced.

There is a lesson here for marketers as well. Once on the wrong side of emotion it becomes difficult to handle when issues like nationalism comes in to play which could affect larger cross section of population. Even in an increasingly heterogenic society like ours, issues pertaining to ethos and beliefs have the potential to unite large swathes of population.  The consumer has greater affinity for binaries than ever before.

While brands have always been built after studying individual beliefs and societal ethos, I believe what has become crucial is the time one is left to manage these kinds of challenges. The rise of social media has blurred the difference fact and fiction and inflicts lasting damage to years of credibility in no time. A critical endeavour would therefore be to understand the changing perceptions especially in social media about brands. This would mean going beyond measuring standard brand metrics and study the nature of conversations about the brand and ascertain if it is at odds with the ethos in the society that it operates in on an ongoing basis. Given how technology is poised to take over individual lives, brands would do well to look out of for these potential landmines and address them beforehand.

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