20 years ago American 'political scientist' Robert D Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community which argued that 'the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences.'
I took an interest in these ideas a few years back while working on the Banco Popular account in Chicago, as we looked to develop ways in which banking, particularly within the US Hispanic commuity, could play a bigger role in creating social cohesion.
I was reminded of this earlier this week while listening to BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The interviewer asked MP Danny Kruger about the decline in trust in society which is, he contested, due in part to a decline in communal gathering places such as pubs and clubs.
Research suggests this decline in trust can be pinned on our increasing isolation from each other: When we don't interact with real people we allow our fears, paranoias and prejudices to get the better of us. When we don't meet other people, we don't get to share our ideas, we lose the opportunity to listen and empathise and, with it, we lose the assumption of trust.
According to Kruger this 'lack of trust in our neighbours has risen from 15% to 25% in the last 20 years.'
In a different survey conducted by the Skipton Building Society, two thirds of respondents admitted that days can pass without them seeing other people living in their same street, while 73% said they didn't know their neighbours names. Half said they didn't feel part of a “good neighbourly community” and 90% admitted to never volunteering to help with local charities and groups. 51% of respondents had no idea what the children next door are called, while 55 per cent didn't know their neighbours profession. The statistics were depressing.
Why is this important for marketing? Because brands and marketing exist within this increasingly untrusting civil society. Marketing operate against a backdrop of public cautioussness. Given these conditions, good marketers know they have to work extra hard to win and keep trust.
Here's the interview in full: