Charles Vallance: founding partner at VCCP
Charles Vallance: founding partner at VCCP
A view from Charles Vallance

Charles Vallance: Don't be afraid to say you're a brand that can be trusted

Apparently, the French are rubbish at it. Trusting each other, that is. Fifty-two per cent of them believe that "one cannot get to the top without being corrupt".

In Britain, Norway and the US, the figure doesn't reach 20 per cent. Only the Russians and the Poles are more suspicious of each other (85 per cent and 70 per cent respectively).

In their fascinating treatise The Society Of Distrust: How The French Social Model Is Destroying Itself, Algan and Cahuc present a remarkable analysis of what they describe as the French "trust deficit". Not just why the French are more likely to distrust one another as individuals, but also why they are more likely to distrust their employer, their colleagues, their legislature and their institutions. The reason I dwell on the findings isn't simply because, for once, there's a survey where we beat the French, but because the dystopia Algan and Cahuc describe (and which they identified as early as 2007) might be coming our way - where suspicion, resentment, rule-making and special interest become a kind of sclerosis to honest endeavour.

Trust is bust, the saying goes, and anyone who has sat in any research groups recently will bear witness to its baleful accuracy. A new spirit of self- reliance stalks the land. Trust no-one, do what you have to do to get by. Don't expect help from others. Help yourself.

Self-reliance has its upsides, but suspicion and distrust are all downside. And they tend to be self-fulfilling. If I suspect you're going to cheat me, I'll be more likely to cheat you. If I suspect other people are cheating the state, then why shouldn't I? You've got to help yourself these days.

Trust has become such a fraught word that many brands simply won't go anywhere near it. Rather like immigration was a taboo subject until Gordon Brown's inverted bigotry towards Gillian Duffy, trust has become something of a no-go area. Strategists up and down the land will tell you how it has to be earned, not asserted; how it must be approached indirectly in the manner of an unworthy suitor.

But there's part of me that thinks this is becoming an insidiously received wisdom, that it's in danger of becoming an excuse for saying nothing in particular at all; for a flight from conviction.

We produced a poster for Hiscox recently with a single-word headline, "Ironclad", and the endline: "As good as our word." I've received more complimentary comments about this one poster than I often do for whole TV campaigns. It's amazing how much cut-through a brand can achieve when it has the nerve to say something as simple as we keep our promises.

If we are heading towards a trust vacuum, then, to paraphrase Charles Murray, the time may have come to start preaching what you practise.

Charles Vallance is a founding partner at VCCP.

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