Gambling ads targeted at gambling addicts. Creepy – and annoying – retargeted ads stalking you round the internet months after you’ve bought that washing machine. An eerie, vague feeling that some tech company somewhere knows when you’ve gone to the toilet. Pop-ups, packaging and promotions clogging every spare sliver of our peripheral vision.
With all this going on, it’s perhaps not so surprising that public trust in advertising is plummeting. Between the early 90s and 2018, public attitudes towards advertising dropped from 50% favourable to 25% favourable, according to Advertising Association research. While the Association’s focus is on the UK, the research and action points are relevant to the entire international advertising ecosystem. On a recent trip to New York, questions of trust, of platforms like Facebook’s murky stance on political advertising, of data privacy are as pertinent as they are in London. Between the EU’s GDPR laws and the recent report from the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport that labelled Facebook ‘digital gangsters’, privacy and data have enjoyed a high profile in the mainstream media and the momentum seems to be gathering in UK and Europe – but it’s far from a local topic.
This decline in trust is neither inevitable nor irreversible, however – the Advertising Association and thinktank Credos collaborated on a huge research project involving over 2000 people and found that, in the main, people generally see advertising as a “a good thing with downsides, rather than a bad thing with upsides”.
So, with this starting position in mind, the Advertising Association has devised five steps that the industry can take to combat falling trust.
Tackling “obtrusiveness”: We will take steps to improve the user experience online, helping to build sign-up to the IAB UK Gold Standard.”
The idea that consumers are ‘bombarded’ with advertising and promotional and branded messages at every turn was the biggest issue to emerge from the research and the AA has identified a cross-media approach and hopes to achieve a ‘cleaner’ online ad experience.
Tackle re-targeting: “We will tackle the worst kinds of re-targeting and address people’s concerns about the use of their data for advertising and marketing purposes.”
Terrible re-targeting is something that even advertising people complain about regularly. The AA hopes to target this by developing best practice guidelines with ISBA and to work with other industry bodies. Collaboration across Europe is seen as vital, as is cross-industry discussion on data – but ultimately the commercial waste of poor retargeting should reduce wasted spend in the area.
Ensure the Advertising Standards Authority is Best in Class: “We will deliver strategic and joined-up industry support for the ASA. The industry backs the ASA’s new strategy and aims to take all necessary actions to deliver on its objectives.”
Self-regulation is regarded as preferable to government regulation by the industry, but to maintain this the existing body, the ASA needs to be supported properly by the industry and brought up to date. Research shows that people who regard the industry as being responsible, transparent and open are more likely to be favourably-inclinedtowards advertising.
Ensure that data privacy matters: “We will develop a whole-industry communications strategy to encourage good practice… We will discuss with the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] how we can help them to publicise the message that people’s data privacy matters.”
The conversation for years has centred around ‘value exchange’ when it comes to harvesting consumer data but from the AA research it seems that that does not cut it with consumers. A best practice strategy is needed, particularly one that ensures that the UK keeps up with developments abroad post-Brexit. Another strand in this thread is the need to support public campaigns around the importance of data privacy.
Show that advertising can drive social change: “We will widen industry support for key social change campaigns.”
Despite the charity and social campaigns clogging up award shows, the public is not aware of all the ways that advertising can drive social change. The AA proposes to change that by backing the drive to increase diverstiy in ads (e.g. supporting the Unstereotype Alliance) and showcasing and supporting examples of the industry coming together to support change, for example, the ‘Eat them to Defeat Them’ healthy eating campaign.