The Role of Brands in an Uncertain World

“I love to handle a diversity of subjects while having a global view.”

It’s no wonder Marianne Hurstel ended up in advertising. As global chief strategy officer at Havas Worldwide and vice president of BETC, Marianne is dedicated to helping employees and clients alike improve their understanding of consumers. She’s also proud to be the director of the Prosumer Reports, Havas Worldwide’s original thought leadership platform.

Who are Prosumers? They’re the leading-edge consumers making and breaking markets today. By following these influencers closely, we’re able to predict future attitudes and trends specific to individual categories, including food, travel, and health and wellness.

This week, we launched our latest Prosumer Report, “Pride and Prejudice: Shifting Mindsets in an Age of Uncertainty,” which explores the values that matter to today’s citizens.
In a recent transatlantic chat, Marianne gave us an inside look at the report, revealing the roles both local and global brands play in our complex, uncertain world.


The Mag: Tell us about the Prosumer Reports. What’s the goal of this research series?

MH: We feel that one of our expertise as an advertising network is knowing what drives people now and what will drive them in the future. And that’s precisely what we’re doing with the Prosumer Reports: We’re anticipating what will matter to the world. We’ve defined a “Prosumer” as someone who is 18 months ahead of the rest of consumers in terms of their attitudes and behaviors. So really, the goal of this report is to help our clients better understand the trends that are gaining ground and that will transform their relationships with their target audiences.


The Mag: Give us a preview of the latest Prosumer Report. What can we expect to learn?

MH: Always with Prosumer, we’re trying to explain what’s ahead. And “ahead” used to mean progressive. But in this report, we’ve discovered that it means conservative. That’s a really interesting shift. In a sense, consumers around the world are turning toward values of the past.

We’re seeing that pride in one’s country is growing very quickly globally. (Or, as we say in the report, “National identity is the new cool.”) We looked into the factors behind this national pride, and it varies from place to place. In Ireland, it’s the character of the people. In Singapore, it’s economic success. In Canada, it’s their values. And in Brazil, it’s the country’s creativity and innovation. We’re also seeing a very clear split when it comes to patriotism: People feel that they themselves are patriotic, yet they doubt the patriotism of their neighbors. And, in fact, 71 percent of Prosumers believe that people in their country are less patriotic than in generations past. So pride and patriotism have, in effect, divided nations rather than brought them together.

Finally, given the increase in terror attacks globally, we researched this growing sense of insecurity and fear. We specifically asked people what rights they’re willing to give up in exchange for safety. Surprisingly, we learned that they had no problem giving up their freedom or privacy in the name of gaining security. So we see that people today are not afraid of losing their liberties, they’re afraid of not being safe. And that changes their relationship to freedom.


The Mag: What’s the implication for brands?

MH: We looked at implications for brands from two different perspectives: global and local.
We learned that global brands should ground themselves in the local culture, showing support for individual movements and expectations of consumers. We also discovered that global brands have a role in supporting integration and expressing how to bring people together. As people divide into smaller groups, brands have the power to help people gather again.

Local brands are also in an interesting position. In this report, we learned that they should be strongly embracing their country of origin. That’s exactly what we did on behalf of Air France recently. With the “France Is in the Air” campaign, we played up that element of national pride. Air France had never before said, “I’m proud to be French,” but now they say, “You know what, I’m French, and I own it.” It’s a very pointed statement from the brand. It’s actually similar to the “Imported from Detroit” campaign Chrysler did a few years ago. Even if you’re not from Detroit, you likely thought, “Wow.” You admire a brand that so strongly says it has pride in its origins.

Ultimately, a brand must ask the question: What’s my relationship to the culture? What’s the role I play in this new dimension? Culture is everything today.


The Mag: What do you love most about your job?

MH: It’s the people I work with, honestly. Thanks to the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives we have at Havas and BETC, I’m always discovering a new window into the world. (And there are so many parts of the world I don’t yet know!)


The Mag: What’s something you’ve always wanted to do in life?

MH: I’ve always wanted to discover a planet. I wish I had been an astronomist. It was just too difficult and required to many studies. But I still read a lot about black holes and the expansion of the universe and all of that. It’s fascinating; there’s always something new to learn.