Britons Are the Most Cynical Consumers in the World – so What Can Brands Do About It?

“Britons are hyper-connected. We consume a lot of information, we use a lot of social media. We talk a lot about fake news. We’re constantly consuming agendas. We’re all watching Cowspiracy; we’re all watching things which drive very sentimental and strong reactions that stay with us. In the UK we are very developed and very aware – and that can be a good thing but it can also be a bad thing.”

FMCG brands such as Kellogg’s have been forced to create specific strategies around community policing and content creation, in order to predict the things they know people will push back at on social media. But why are UK consumers so keen to poke holes in everything a brand is putting out there? Is it because they want validation for their opinions, or is the public forum of social just too tempting?

Joe Harper, social lead for Kellogg’s UK & Ireland, says: “I do think it’s a British thing. I’m not even a cynic but when I’m around non-British people I absolutely become the most cynical person in the room.”

But what makes us Brits such cynics?

Joe Harper Kellogg's

We are overexposed to advertising – and we’re sick of it 

When asked why British consumers don’t want to be bowled over by an ad, Joe replies: “We look for the bad in things. That’s particularly the case when people see adverts and are marketed to. I think it’s because of the volume of ads that we see. Particularly our generation – we’re now so aware of when we’re being advertised to.”

It’s true – adverts now infiltrate into our day to day lives, even into the spaces we like to relax in. 50 years ago, advertisements were only seen on television and in newspapers and provided no moment of reply – something which has changed to dramatic effect since the advent of social media. With this has come a wave of new habits, part of which is an abundance of negativity – something Joe claims stems from our annoyance of being constantly targeted with branded messaging.

We begrudge brands having access to our personal data

UK consumers have grown even more cynical to branded messaging of late because we have a better understanding of how this information has come to reach us. Or at least, we think we understand it. Several data related scandals this year have meant British consumers now think our personal data is something we have a right to own – and we begrudge the knowledge that we don’t, but brands, organisations and corporations all do.

Yet Joe says much of this distrust is misplaced: “What do you actually think you’re owning? It’s just something that exists as a result of where you’ve been online, and 9 times out of 10 it’s being used to benefit your life. People resent the idea that brands can use our browsing data – information about us that’s being stored online – to choose what we see as an advert. Even though brands are only using it to help make advertising more relevant to us.”

We get a thrill from having our opinions justified through Likes on social

“There’s a sense of reward – a min win – when you make a scathing comment on a post, it gets a load of likes and sits on top of the post,” Joe admits. “That’s become a behaviour; the currency of social media is the justification of our views.”

The open forum nature of social media means that the opinions people have on your brand will be very clearly shown for all to see. All it takes is a 3-second response, an emoji or two to add extra sentiment and visibility and all of a sudden that opinion is sat on your advert like a bad smell. And one negative comment can really affect the impact that your campaigns are having.

Joe adds: “The battle is won in the comments section. People have found a way to generate mass engagement around their opinions. That’s when you get into the dark realms of politics and the PC world that we live in – the environment, the economy. It can be so polarising – people get so artisan about the side they’re on and it can quite quickly turn into an argument.”

So – what can brands do to combat this?

Social minds social chain

Predict which topics people will push back on – and use social to educate instead

Joe has come to learn which topics Kellogg’s’ audience will push back on. Some discussions, he says, it’s better to not get involved in at all. And when it’s just trolling, there’s nothing else to do but block. However, when it comes to product and brand-specific topics – like nutrition for Kellogg’s – there is an opportunity to educate and inform. So when someone posts information they’ve found online or heard from a friend or read in a newspaper on what we should and shouldn’t be eating, Kellogg’s can see which facts are frequently being confused or twisted, and use future content to put those wrongs to right.

“You feel like you’re being the miserable one at the party but you do have to put a cynical hat on yourself in order to spot what the cynical consumers are going to spot,” says Joe. “I always say: what is the top comment going to be?”

Utilise influencers to advocate for your brand

We may be super savvy and sceptical about branded messaging, but people are still trusting people – hence a huge rise in influencer marketing. UK consumers know they can trust what influencers are saying for the same reason they trust what their friends, family or next door neighbour would tell them. People don’t have an agenda where brands might – and we can clearly see the impact that a product or service is having on their life.

As Joe puts it: “We’ve all been in that situation where you’re sat next to someone at work who gets up at 5.30 in the morning, goes to bed at 9pm, they look great, is super on it at work, then goes to the gym after work and still has the energy at the weekend to climb Snowdon on a Saturday and go for a run with the dog on Sunday. And you think, I’m going to get up at 5.30 and go to bed at 9 pm and eat what she’s eating. Because you’re so close and you see them on a personal level you can relate to the results a lot more.”

Reward your audience for good behaviour on social

Finally, one key way in which brands can combat cynicism among UK consumers is by focusing on promoting loyalty – by building communities based on trust and rewarding people, not just for advocating your product, but for good behaviour on social. Encourage your audience to pay it forward. By doing this, Joe says you can create a lasting impact, encourage advocacy for your brand and people will remember that positive cycle.

“If we see people who are genuinely using social for the right reasons, it’s the responsibility of people like Kellogg’s who have the resource to do it is to reward them for that.”


This was taken from Social Minds, the UK’s first dedicated social media marketing podcast, brought to you by Social Chain. With each new episode, we cut through the BS to deliver you hard-hitting truths and unforgiving industry insights – exposing the shocking realities of how social media is affecting us in the here and now. To earn your thought-leader status, subscribe now.

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