Consumers are increasingly cynical of brands and advertising, with ‘big business’ scandals and “arrogance” around brand purpose to blame, according to a study by Trinity Mirror.
The research, done in collaboration with Ipsos Connect, looked at consumers’ trust in advertising. It was done using a three-stage methodology, including a week-long in depth “online community”, three-hour workshops and face-to-face interviews with 1,000 people.
The results are not good news for advertisers; the study concludes consumers trust “almost nothing”. While almost half of consumers (42%) distrust brands, 69% distrust advertising.
Meanwhile, 37% of consumers trust brands less than they used to compared to only 7% who trust brands more than they used to. Some 43% of respondents trust advertising less than they used to, compared to only 8% who trust it more than before.
A big part of the problem, according to Trinity Mirror, is the “arrogance” of brands adopting an ill-fitting purpose, leading to increased cynicism among consumers. The research says 58% of adults don’t trust a brand until they have seen ‘real world proof’ that it has kept its promises.
“There can be huge exaggeration around purpose for some brands, to the point it is incredibly far-fetched,” Zoe Harris, group marketing director at Trinity Mirror, tells Marketing Week.
“It started off with a few brands having a genuine purpose, but it’s now gone to such an extent where it’s a one-off ad campaign or we see it on the side of packaging. It’s ridiculous.”
Harris adds brands are now often seen as part of ‘the establishment’ or “part of a small elite”. The research shows that the establishment is generally considered to be “remote, unreachable, abstract and self-serving”.
The fact brands are seen as part of the establishment definitely surprised us. This impacts us all, whether you’re guilty of bad behaviour or not.
Zoe Harris, Trinity Mirror
Headlines around bad behaviour such as tax evasion have also negatively affected perceptions of the ad industry, making consumers believe that advertising “only serves big business” with an expectation to “lie and manipulate to make profit”.
“The fact brands are seen as part of the establishment definitely surprised us. This impacts us all, whether you’re guilty of [bad behaviour] or not,” she added. “Brands have underlying consumer cynicism as a starting point. And if brands haven’t lived up to that purpose, then we all get lumped together and tarred with the same brush.”
Bad digital behaviour
Digital is also to blame for the decline in trust. Due to the relative newness of the advertising channel, brands have fallen into “budget brand” behaviours that they wouldn’t implement on other more traditional channels such as aggressive retargeting. Some 40% of consumers associate brands with being ‘pushy’ and 57% of adults agree that brands should be more careful where they place their advertising.
This is backed up by other research, which found that social media is the least trusted media channel, with 63% of consumers claiming they would respond more positively to a social media ad if it appeared on a more traditional advertising channel.
So how can advertisers help build trust? Harris believes it’s about brands demonstrating that they “really believe” in what they say they stand for.
She concludes: “It’s important to remember that we’re all lumped together and seen as out of touch, which is why brands need to think about how they can connect with people in their day to day lives and whether their proof points are actually resonating. Is your message actually getting across?”