Consumer trust for big brands dropped during the pandemic amid concerns about how ethically companies behaved, a 2021 study has found.
The Gustavson Brand Trust Index by the University of Victoria, conducted between January and February this year, looked at consumer trust and the factors that affect it, as well as brands that succeed at it.
“As the world climbs out of the pandemic, brand awareness is no longer the currency of business – consumer trust is the priority,'' said Saul Klein, dean of Gustavson School of Business
Air Canada experienced a rise in trust at the beginning of the pandemic due to its efforts to minimize staff layoffs and continue to pay into pensions and benefits funds for workers, the study found.
However, the airline's score declined after it failed to issue cash refunds for cancelled flights and provided free travel to social media influencers to promote travel during the pandemic.
The study also found that Canadians have a high ability to detect whether a brand demonstrates a short-lived act of compassion to take advantage of the pandemic.
“Consumers are more conscious of brand values and whether leaders can manage their companies in ethical, transparent and authentic ways that benefit both people and the planet,” said Klein.
Canada's major grocery stores were quick to implement protective measures when the pandemic hit, the study found.
Grocers, including Loblaw and Metro, also offered so-called hero pay to front-line employees during the first wave of the pandemic, only to discontinue it months later.
Scores of all major grocery brands on employee treatment went back down to the same level as they were before the pandemic, with some losing even more ground, it said.
The study also found that media brands including Global, CBC and CTV saw an increase in trust in the spring of 2020, as people tuned in to news channels more frequently at the beginning of the pandemic.
However, “the trust bubble has burst” and media companies lost ground as the pandemic wore on, the report said.
The media category ranked as the least trusted industry sector to debut in the index's history, it said.
The 2021 Gustavson Brand Trust Index surveyed 8,975 Canadians about 400 brands in 33 categories.