TSB’s Nigel Gilbert: Media agencies face a loss of trust similar to the banks

The bank’s CMO says clients have lost trust in the big five agency holding companies because of a lack of transparency and “indulgence in funny stuff”.


TSB’s chief marketing and communications officer Nigel Gilbert has compared the trust issue facing the big five agency holding companies to the breakdown in trust between the banking sector and its consumers back in 2008.

Speaking at the IPA’s Effectiveness conference today (10 October), Gilbert said: “In the digital era, trust is the big issue in marketing, just as it has been in banks over the last 10 years.”

There are a number of reasons for this decline in trust, according to Gilbert. Chief among them is programmatic advertising, which has led to brands’ ads appearing next to unsavoury content on sites including YouTube. But Gilbert feels this has been exacerbated by a lack of transparency and “funny stuff” on the part of media agencies.

He explained: “Programmatic promised us perfect targeting, no wastage; so how did it become the crime of the century? How did the big five – I’m talking about the big five agency holding companies and not the big five banks – lose the trust of their customers?

Only an algorithm would thinking putting an ad on a white supremacist website makes any sense.

Nigel Gilbert, TSB

“It’s the same reason – a lack of transparency. Just like for the banks, it’s about the indulgence of what I call ‘funny stuff’. Whether it’s the banks’ derivatives trading in the Philippines or dodgy dealings in the subprime markets or the big media agencies being accused of making undeclared surcommissions on clients’ spending. Whatever the truth, it causes a breakdown of trust.”

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This breakdown of trust has led to major advertisers pulling out of digital ad spending or bringing media buying in-house. Procter & Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, admitted last month to pulling $100m from digital, while a number of brands including Pernod Ricard and Philips have looked at how to take more control of their digital ad spend.

While TSB was not caught up in the brand safety scandal earlier this year, it did call on its agencies in the aftermath to find out what they were doing to control the risk. Gilbert said that while he was satisfied by their “checks and balances”, and that its agencies “did a good job”, some didn’t. And while he doesn’t think media agencies deliberately caused harm, they weren’t focused enough on doing what was right for their clients.

“This wasn’t because people took the initiative to make it happen, they just weren’t watching. They were looking for the dollar not the interests of their clients,” he explained.

Gilbert said that for TSB “integrity of the brand is paramount and must be protected”. And that while new technologies such as artificial intelligence can help drive efficiency and speed, there are challenges.

“Only an algorithm would think putting an ad on a white supremacist website makes any sense,” he concluded.