Keith Weed is calling on the ad industry to tackle the issue of declining trust, as consumers’ concerns about problems such as reduced quality of advertising, data, fake news and bombardment continue to rise.
Speaking at ISBA’s annual conference this morning (5 March), Unilever’s outgoing marketing boss and the president of the Advertising Association (AA) said that while advertising does good through things like providing free press and building great brands, trust is a major problem.
He cited data from the AA’s new report ‘Arresting the decline of public trust in UK advertising’, which shows public favourability towards advertising is in long-term decline. In the early 1990s, the public was around 50% favourable towards advertising but this has fallen to just 25% in 2018.
It also shows a clear correlation between favourability and trust, with the two factors rising and falling together. And while public trust in advertising did increase between 2016 and 2017, according to Edelman’s trust barometer, it was at a slower rate than in other industries. This means advertising is now in last place out of all industries measured with a trust level of 37%, behind banking, energy and telecoms.
“If we don’t tackle [the issue of trust] head on and right now, it will be an increasing challenge to all of us in the industry,” said Weed. “We have a problem, it is an emerging problem that’s getting bigger and bigger.
Great advertising is the best builder of trust. We need to get back to doing great advertising.
Keith Weed, Unilever
“If that is not enough to alarm to us, we should think about the consequences of ever-declining trust.”
The issue has been caused by what Weed refers to as the “seven deadly sins of advertising”. These are: the reduced quality of advertising; the challenge around influencer marketing; concerns over data; brands funding bad activity including online fraud; fake news; personalisation; and bombardment.
These are directly impacting people’s perceptions of advertising. For example, ‘bombardment’ was the second most important factor in how people perceive the favourability of advertising with a score of 24 out of 100. There are also concerns around ‘sensitive sections and vulnerable groups’ on a score of 12, ‘unhealthy advertising’ and ‘intrusiveness’ on five each and suspicious techniques on three.
“We have now an industry with many structural issues undermining trust,” said Weed.
He added: “A brand without trust is a product, and advertising without trust is just noise. Trust is the key thing we need to engage with.
“It might seem all doom and gloom. But we are in a situation now where we can grasp the nettle of history, we can address these issues. As leaders in this industry we need to lean into this.”
Weed outlined key actions brands can take to turn around the issues. These include reducing bombardment; reducing excessive frequency and retargeting; ensuring the Advertising Standards Authority “remains exceptional”; showcasing best practice in data privacy; and illustrating that advertising can drive positive social change.
“This is the framework we need to address across the industry this long-term decline in trust,” said Weed. “However, this is in reality a hygiene factor in what we need to do. If we start addressing some of these issues we can then get on to seeing trust coming back.”
Building trust through ‘great advertising’
However, the biggest factor impacting favourability is advertising’s positives, on a score of 51. This shows it is as important to enhance the industry’s positives as it is to address the negatives.
“We also have to ask ourselves what makes great advertising,” said Weed. “Great advertising is the best builder of trust. We need to get back to doing great advertising. We got a bit caught up in doing data and targeting, which is important, if we didn’t build those muscles we would have been a Kodak or a Blockbuster. Now we need to move on from learning how to build around data and get back to what we used to do so brilliantly well, great advertising.”
Weed said the industry needs to remember the power of great creative that can build brands and penetrate culture. He pointed to the example of Hellman’s, which was brought up at the Oscars without any promotion from its parent company Unilever.
And Weed said too many brands “end up in the middle of the road” when it comes to the balance between building brands and activating sales. While work by the IPA suggests brands should have a 60:40 ratio, Weed admitted Unilever was often at best the reverse of that, and sometimes even worse.
“The IPA reminds us of the power of fame and talkability in building brands. ROI is so much more on the creative than all the effort we are quite rightly putting on media and data. We can build trust better through great advertising because great creative ideas influence culture, become popular, are loved, and drive the business.”