Trust in a Time of Suspicion
You don’t have to look very far in today’s media to find something negative about the entire pharmaceutical industry. In many minds, it’s the new axis of evil. Consequently, attendance at John Dalla Costa’s presentation about ethics and brand trust was earnest—and perhaps even anxious, in some cases.
But, as Mr. Dalla Costa pointed out, the pharmaceutical industry is not alone when it comes to corporate woes. Indeed, several major brands have recently suffered lapses in the market—Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s. Leading him to ask, “Why has trust declined?” It’s not the major scandals, but the smaller blow-ups that are doing the damage. ”Trust is being bled by a thousand cuts…” And consumers feel that they have lost their voice, their dignity, leaving them with a sense of impatience and helplessly because, as society becomes more complex and more dehumanized, “… there is nothing we can do.”
And consumers have not become less loyal to their beloved brands. They have become less trusting. Dalla Costa pointed out the five major deficits in today’s corporate world: integrity, intimacy, emotionality, responsibility and fairness. Too many companies staring inward rather than following up on their promise to deliver has led to an “absence of connection.”
Can it be fixed? Dalla Costa, the founding director of the Centre for Ethical Orientation, interviewed twenty-five CEOs to find out. He came up with “five investments” corporations need to consider. They need to aim for higher possibilities, generate decency, invite participation and genuine dialogue, professionalize accountability, and serve carefulness. If that sounds like pie in the sky, consider this: For unhappy customers, it takes six to eight positive experiences to recover from just one bad experience.
When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, Dalla Costa advises that you can’t set the ethical guidelines alone, and “… partial integrity equals no integrity.” Co-discovery through dialogue with outsiders who have a different point of view will help corporations develop their “ethical radar.” And he recommends that pharma marketers stop imitating the lifestyle advertising of beer and packaged goods and “aim higher,” suggesting that drug companies market healing.
It’s a radical suggestion, given the rigid restrictions that tie pharmaceutical marketers’ hands and imaginations. But would it be ethical?