Trust in advertising has never been more important

The coronavirus outbreak provides an opportunity for the advertising industry to tackle the issue of trust and fulfil its responsibilities to the people, businesses and economy of the UK, says AA president Keith Weed.

trust in advertisingAs we face the unprecedented social, economic and political upheaval of the Covid-19 outbreak, trust has never been more important.

Declining levels of public trust over the past decade have impacted many areas of our lives, whether that is our trust in politics, banking, finance, business more generally or, closer to home, in advertising.

With this new global crisis, the decline in the bond of trust is brought into even sharper focus. There is increasing government intervention in our economy and daily lives, coupled with media coverage of the outbreak and businesses working hard to support an anxious population. All this means we need to place our trust in those around us like never before – whether that is friends, neighbours, employers or business and political leaders.

We are trusting our politicians to do the right thing, our media to carry the correct message and our retailers to ensure we can buy the products we need as we rightly stay at home to limit the spread of the virus. Many people will have seen adverts about coronavirus around their neighbourhoods or directly in their homes in recent days, showing that when a message needs to be delivered to people with power and clarity, advertising remains the most effective way to do this.

But the past few days will not have made up for years of declining trust in our industry. We need to do more now, and even more again after this crisis is over.

In the immediate present, brands need to demonstrate they are on the side of the consumer and the gargantuan national effort we face. Some brands are already doing this; I’m thinking of marketing and advertising activity around discounts on food for key workers at a number of food and drink chains, special opening hours at retailers for our NHS staff or the businesses that have answered the call to switch their manufacturing facilities to producing ventilators.

A bond forged in times of difficulty can be the strongest bond of all and if we want the public to trust us again, we need to demonstrate we are on their side when they need us.

Are brands living up to their purpose during the coronavirus crisis?

This is all the more pressing for everyone who works in advertising as our industry sits at the bottom of a list of trusted industries measured by Savanta ComRes for advertising’s think tank Credos, with just 44% of respondents stating that they trusted advertising.

Credos’s work to understand the issues affecting public trust in advertising has been further developed by our Trust Working Group, led by the joint chairmanship of the IPA’s director general Paul Bainsfair and ISBA’s director general Phil Smith. The group has broad and senior representation from industry bodies including the News Media Association, Professional Publishers Association, Data & Marketing Association and the Internet Advertising Bureau, as well as from ITV, Channel 4, Google, Facebook, Royal Mail, the ASA and the chairs of Front Foot and Credos.

The following chart articulates clearly the job we need to do. In simple terms and in normal times, we need to do more of the positive things that impact on public trust and less of the negative ones.

Top of the list is the creative value of the advertising – just how entertaining, informative or emotionally hard-hitting the ad is. The next most positive aspect of advertising for people – and vital in the present climate – is its social contribution and its role as an information provider.

Advertising has an unprecedented role to play in contributing to our society through CSR campaigns and by providing important information on public health matters such as the Covid-19 outbreak continues. We have a huge opportunity to swiftly demonstrate our positive side and I’m confident that responsible brands and their advertising partners across media owners, agencies and technology providers are working hard to get this right.

At the same time, we need to be aware of the negative drivers of public trust in advertising and increasingly limit these. Our Trust Working Group recently commissioned industry experts Nick Manning and Derek Morris to work with Credos director Karen Fraser and her team to conduct a full review of available data, alongside qualitative interviews with a select group of the UK’s biggest advertisers, their agencies and leading media owners. From this, they drew up five key actions, each supported with a series of questions, to help marketers improve the public’s experience of advertising.

I believe collective and united action is vital if we are to rebuild public trust in advertising and restore the bond we have with our number one stakeholder – the consumer.

The five key measures all advertisers must undertake are: make your advertising welcome in people’s lives; place business effectiveness above efficiency; achieve full visibility of where your advertising goes; ensure every impact and exposure matters; deploy the necessary resources to track, measure and manage this programme.

In support of this, ISBA has launched a new Advertising Experience MOT for every advertiser seeking to secure greater value and efficiency as a result of improving the public’s experience of their campaigns.

Its aim, according to Smith, is that: “By ensuring that people are receptive to our advertising and improving consumer trust, we will create better value for our investment. We can make significant steps in rebuilding trust, but while this is a collective ambition, it will only be achieved through individual action by advertisers along with their agency, media owners and tech company partners.”

The present crisis will, I hope and believe, have an end point. And if we can start afresh with these actions in mind and instil them in our operations, then I believe we can rebuild trust with the public. Purpose-led branding has been a topic of huge interest for some time now and none of us have seen a greater purpose in our lifetimes than what we see today in the fight against Covid-19.

I believe collective and united action is vital if we are to rebuild public trust in advertising and restore the bond we have with our number one stakeholder – the consumer.

If the last few days have shown us anything, it is that no one single actor can resolve an issue alone. As John Donne said, “no man is an island, entire of itself” and nor is any one part of our industry.

We must tackle this issue of trust together. By doing so, we will all be stronger in what we do and stronger in how we fulfil the responsibilities we have to the UK’s people, society, businesses and economy.

Keith Weed is president of the Advertising Association and the former chief marketing and communications at Unilever.