In 2011, $144 billion or $462 per capita was spent on U.S. advertising for the products and services you buy.  Advertising is intended to burnish not just an individual product, but a brand that may include many products.   The brand is a way for marketers to distinguish their products from competitor’s products – it’s like a family name.   A well-regarded brand makes introducing a new product a little easier.

Advertising agencies believe they can infuse their client’s brands with valuable traits such as reliability, sizzle, quality, value, and efficacy in socially redeeming roles.  When consumers act based on the perception of positive brand attributes, increased revenue streams can pay off handsomely.  Curiously, some consumers treat a brand as a statement about themselves – for example their own level of taste or their social position.

Havas Media  is a French advertising agency that just completed a study on consumer attitudes and advert effectiveness that is far deeper than the pretentious twaddle served up in most advertising circles.  The study concludes that “consumers reward brands that listen to them, provide good quality, innovative products at fair prices; make their lives happier, easier and healthier; and support the environment, the economy and the community”   In short, consumer actions are partly about how the brand pays off personally and partly about how the brand interacts with the community.

Some brands are unimportant.  For example, US consumers would not care if 92% of the brands they encounter disappeared.  In contrast consumers are deeply attached to some brands e.g. IKEA, Google, Nestle, Danone and others.  The Havas study reveals that “the more the brand contributes to improve the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the environment, the more meaningful it becomes.” and that “meaningfulness” dictates consumers attachment to the brand.  Attachment results in willingness to pay more for products produced in a socially responsible way – 53% of consumers will do so.   Still 64% of consumers think most companies are trying to be “responsible” only to improve their image.

The study will not revolutionize advertising, but it may change the emphasis in how $462 is spent to influence your buying.  Expect more emphasis on brands’ societal involvement.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research