A Question of trust

As commerce globalises, the personal relationship between business and consumer is lost. But for any firm, intimacy - real or false - sells. How does a distant corporation become a friend? And should it? Emma De Vita reports.

The cat at Blue Peter has a lot to answer for. Since the breaking of 'Socksgate', there must be many at the BBC who wish the diminutive feline (its naming the subject of a phone-in) had never been born - the programme's editor who was forced to resign, for a start. Sceptics might say the punishment was harsh. Was it such a big deal? Were the children really so traumatised?

But for the BBC, the 'naming of the kitten' debacle, coming as it did after a spate of phone-in scandals and programme fakery, was part of a much more serious issue - lack of trust. Since then, the controller of BBC 1 has taken the rap for the misleading trailer for A Year With the Queen, a documentary by production company RDF Media. Says John Knell of the consultancy Intelligence Agency: 'The one thing you think about the BBC, as a public realm broadcaster, is that it's not going to lie to us.'

The BBC isn't the only organisation to have suffered a newsworthy breakdown in trust recently. Northern Rock, GMTV, Mattel, Bernard Matthews and Cadbury Schweppes have all been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Says Rita Clifton, chair of consultancy Interbrand: 'The lack of trust in a firm shows up much more immediately and dramatically than ever before, because any skulduggery or small mistake will be found out on a grand scale even before it has left your mouth. Mistakes that might have been contained on a national basis or internally are no longer containable.'

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