Trust in Japan

Tokyo, just outside the Edelman office.


My colleagues Ross Rowbury and Alan Vandermolen launched the Trust Barometer findings for Japan in Tokyo today.

It is difficult to know quite where to begin when discussing the Trust Barometer results for Japan this year.  Japan was always one of our more stable trust markets, but this year in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukashima fallout, trust has plummeted.  Some headlines:

  • Trust in Government has halved and is down 25%, probably not surprising given the anemic (at best) communication and rebuild efforts in the wake of the disasters
  • Trust  in NGOs is down from 51% to 30%, possibly driven by anger at their perceived inefficiency in getting relief to the disaster victims and some issues around administration fees being deducted from donations
  • Trust in media fell from 46% (already one of the lowest in Asia Pacific) to 36%
  • Trust in business also fell but less dramatically, but certain sectors saw huge drops.  Least surprising was the fact that Energy went from 75% trusted ‘to do what is right’ to 29%; trust in media (as a business rather than an ‘institution’) went from 54% to 33%  – just reward perhaps for what some perceived as slow reporting of the disasters in comparison to what was being offered by international media at the time; and Banks from 71% to 51%.  These are big drops in the history of our study.
  • But the biggest of all is the fact that only 8% of Japanese trust Government officials to tell the truth.  Or put another way, 92% expect to be lied to.  This equals the lowest score ever in the 12 year history of the Trust Barometer.
Globally trust in Government has come down significantly but nowhere can match this figure.  The European political struggles to deal with the Euro crisis and the spectacle of the naked partisanship of US politicians getting in the way of passing a balanced budget meant that the global score for trust in government come down to 38%  (on the public part of the poll).  In Japan the equivalent figure was 24%.
Skepticism is at record highs in Japan, with 82% saying they need to hear a message between 3 and 5 times before they believe it.  This is significantly more than the Asia Pacific average of 64% requiring that much repetition.  The implication for communicators is stark….you simply have to ensure that campaigns and engagement is continuous to build trust.
It is a real challenge finding good news in terms of media channel choice this year as there was red ink across the board; traditional media declined by 17% points to just 16% saying they trusted it; online sources declined by 8% to 11%; social media is only now trusted by 2% and corporate channels like company web sites is trusted by 7%.
And as for the CEO as a spokesperson to build trust in his or her company, well think again.  They declined from 67% last year only 24% this year.  This is truly a European level of skepticism and cynicism and genuinely stand out from a market that has usually returned high scores of respect for spokespeople of authority.
Though finally, in an effort to be positive, when we asked people to score the attributes they looked for before conferring trust on a company, the Japanese public opted very strongly for societal or ‘soft’ values, rather than traditional and ‘hard’ values like profit and innovation.  ‘Listens to customer needs’; ‘treats employees well, has ethical business practices and puts customers ahead of  profits all made the top 6.
Japan is without doubt the toughest market in the world for any business to build trust right now.



Ross Rowbury, GM Edelman Japan

About the Study

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer includes responses from over 30,000 people across 25 countries. The survey, which is in its 12th year, now also includes responses from 1000 general publics (as distinguished from informed publics) in each surveyed market. Steve Lombardo, the CEO of StrategyOne – Edelman’s Independent Research Firm – explains in this video how the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer was designed, and the opportunities to analyze trust around the world, and across a variety of industries, that the survey data provides.


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