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Why Don't People Trust Ad Folk? And Should We Even Care?



As 'ad executives' linger at the bottom of the Ipsos MORI poll, we speak to people from across the industry to find out what they make of this lack of trust

Why Don't People Trust Ad Folk? And Should We Even Care?
In 2020, politicians and their advisors have been caught breaking Covid-19 restrictions, police forces around the world have revealed their violent and institutional racism and conspiracy theories have run rampant on social media. However, as bad as things have got, ‘Advertsing executives’ - as no one describes themselves on LinkedIn – have still managed to find themselves at the bottom of Ipsos MORI’s annual poll of trust in various professions, the Veracity Index. Only 13% of people say they trust ad folk and, according to the yearly poll, that trust has been low ever since they were added to the index in 2018. 

Trust in advertising has been a key priority of the UK Advertising Association’s agenda, but whatever progress they’re making on advertising front, it seems that the public is still pretty sceptical about the people who make it. Maybe it’s a diet of Mad Men and Emily in Paris – or maybe the industry getting something profoundly wrong? Or is it less of a problem than the depressing survey results might suggest?

Cat Turner, CULT
Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder

Our industry is unpopular because it balances pioneering creativity while often woefully misrepresenting culture and that's a tough line to walk well. The Ipsos MORI poll is a trust index and people don't like being sold stuff, they prefer perceived autonomy. Therefore it's no surprise that "ad executives" perform poorly, although it does sting a bit to think we fall beneath lawyers, bankers and "pollsters" (it's a stitch up!) 

The awakening of brands defining their purpose and connecting the dots on sustainability, provenance or giving back means that as an industry we have to respond to that need. The calls that this is fake or insincere just means we've not done a good enough job at translating what the brand's purpose is, or worse that the brand is just paying lip service to a cause. 

However, as someone who has spent the past 10 years in this industry I do feel pretty driven to continue to push an agenda of inclusivity, representation and responsible marketing. At the end of the day it's this industry that has the power to experiment, be brave and hold a mirror up to society's worst, and best nature. 

Kev Chesters, Harbour
Chief Strategy Officer

It’s time, again for the annual garment rending and teeth gnashing horror of the Veracity Index about ‘advertising execs’. You can set your watch by it. Like the arrival of ‘Murder Hornets’ or the Daily Express “You’ll die in the big freeze” panic, this story comes round once a year. Clockwork.

Yet it’s odd. Brands are really trusted. And how do they largely build those reputations and associations? Oh yeah, advertising. Brands like John Lewis, BBC, M&S and Ikea regularly top the lists of most trusted brands in the UK - and effectiveness studies show that their adverts are talked about, shared, liked…and WORK. 

All those brands have, over time, built and sustained a large portion of their trust through the quality of their advertising. The world’s most valuable brands? Google, Amazon, Facebook. All massive investors in advertising, and especially above-the-line advertising. Why? It works. Advertising doesn’t have a trust problem. This survey in my opinion has a definition problem. What the hell is an 'Advertising Executive' beyond the cliché of Don Draper anyway. And more importantly, why do advertising people need to be trusted? I trust my parachute, not the faceless person who stitched it. As long as the brands they represent are trusted, and the creative work they make is effective, then whether the “Executives” are trusted is surely a supreme irrelevance. People like and trust good brands. People like and trust good adverts. The rest is just noise and clickbait.

Tom Firth, M&C Saatchi
Managing Director

People don’t trust ‘advertising executives’? Well knock me down with a feather.
Ad execs have only recently been added to this survey – debuting in last place in 2018 - but because of the whole ‘hidden persuaders’ thing I suspect they’d have been propping up the bottom of the table from the beginning of time.
That said, the muddying of the water between message and targeting will undoubtedly have made this worse. It’s unsettling the way brands follow you around the internet – and the headlines about “profiling and targeting” on the platforms are hardly a boon to trust.
But governments, brands and their agencies have woken up to this, and change is on the way. During a panel event we ran recently, we heard O2’s Chief Marketing Officer Nina Bibby talking about what they are doing in this space, which was very encouraging. But advertising, as it is now, has a serious trust problem. And, therefore, so do these ‘ad execs’.
The question is whether this matters to our bit of the industry – the creative bit.  
In spite of long-standing trust issues, advertising agencies have always attracted incredible talent over the years, and clients have paid good money to work with them.
Why? Because the work they produce can be brilliant, exciting and game changing. It’s a thrill to watch and exhilarating to be part of it.
And the work these ‘untrustworthy’ ad execs have been doing with their clients during the pandemic has actually resulted in a general increase in brand trust. And it’s great. Seen the new AllBirds work, the Tesco Christmas ad, or the Plenty spot? Good, huh?
I’m not sure people will ever trust ‘ad execs’, but they will enjoy the work that people in agencies make, and value and trust the brands they’re building.
And as long as that’s the case, and agencies are seen as places of creative excellence, we’ll be ok.

Craig Mawdsley and Bridget Angear, AMV BBDO
Joint Chief Strategy Officers 

Should we care that the caring professions are trusted whilst ad execs are not?

We don’t think so. And that’s not because we are hard hearted individuals.  But because we think it a good thing that people are sceptical of anyone trying to sell them anything. Advertising is sometimes accused of hoodwinking an unsuspecting public into buying things they don’t need. A healthy dose of distrust suggests this unlikely to be the case, and that in fact people are much more ‘critical’ in their thinking.

We would draw the distinction between advertising and the people who make adverts. As long as the advertising we make continues to be honest, decent, legal and true, with regulations in place to ensure it is, we should not worry too much about what people think of those of us who make it.

Our role remains to strive to produce ideas that make brands loved, not ourselves.

We think it healthy that people are questioning of politicians, business leaders and advertising execs. But that they love nurses, and doctors and care home workers.

Caroline Parkes, RAPP UK
Chief Experience Officer

Consumers still tend to view adland with Mad-Men tinted spectacles. A world where we told people that Guinness was good for them, a woman’s place was in the kitchen and Marlboro made you a man. Essentially, what our industry needs is a Netflix binge worthy boxset where Nicole Kidman plays a Chief Creative Officer who’s having a tryst with the agency’s Chief Technology Officer (played by Michaela Cole), whilst refusing to work with clients who won’t call out lack of diversity in casting, whilst ensuring the gender pay gap is an agency’s 18-month goal.
My 12-year-old son had a Burger King Whopper for the first time recently and was genuinely crestfallen at the dismal bap with a floppy excuse for a burger in his hands. Obviously, being a vegetarian mum, this delighted me, but also made me a little sad. Advertising makes paltry things look and feel more exciting. Twenty years ago at my wedding my hubbie’s best man (then a BBH creative director) said: “I’m used to making dull things sound interesting, so doing a best man speech should be breeze,” and nothing much has changed. We focus so much time thinking about how to tell a brand story in most compelling way for its audience, we sometimes forget that the audience might not want to hear a story at all. 
This Christmas, when asked what they’d like to see most from Christmas advertising, consumers said their number one wish was for the advertising money to be donated to charities rather than spent on advertising (source: WARC). This is telling! They understand how expensive advertising is and, in this year, might be wondering how brands could be more supportive of the community at large, rather than sales. In our own research at RAPP, we’ve seen that consumers are more focused than ever on the importance of brands being more socially responsible (for 16-25 year olds it’s the key value driver) so perhaps it’s time that the industry really worked together to make a difference, rather than a brand eat brand world.
As I write this, I’ve got a presentation in an hour for a client who’s asked for some creative work that brings alive a charity partnership to be much less about them (the client) and much more about the charity. This kind of leadership, where the focus on the doing, rather than the chest beating, is exactly what consumers are craving. 
And in the meantime, if someone could just commission Michaela Cole to write a comedy/drama about an agency, that would be amazing.

Maureen Corish, Pumpkin PR

In the year of dodgy Barnard Castle eye tests and a Government making more U-turns than a toddler in a toy car with a wonky wheel, the marketing and dd industry should be scratching its collective head as to why they are still bottom of the trust pile.
In a physician-heal-thyself situation, it’s the ultimate irony that the Nation’s commercial storytellers have such a bad rep and makes the case for the need for industry PR.
Knee jerk woke washing and lazy stereotypes are not truly reflective of the ad executives we work with. Add that to the media mockery of the likes of Emily in Paris or the headline grabbing of social media influencers who flout advertising guidelines and the public see a very skewed reflection of the industry.
At its best the ad industry can unite the nation with feel good vibes or lifesaving behavioural change and behind the scenes they are drivers of innovative levelling up initiatives.
It’s time to put their true selves in the spotlight.

Rik Moore, The Kite Factory
Head of Insight, Strategy and Planning 

I suggest we take these figures with a pinch of salt.
“Advertising Executive” conjures images of an excessive 80’s account suit caricature and isn’t really reflective of the industry today.
Also, in this world of ‘fake news’ culture, I’m pleased the public trust the majority of those professions more than us, so happy to sit behind them in the pecking order.
I don’t think this perception of the industry equates to people not trusting brands. Our future behaviour as an industry must protect that. The challenge we’ve got is to ensure that any negative perceptions of trust in the industry don’t end up undermining the brands we serve.
Of the Advertising Association’s five actions to rebuild trust, I think we as an industry still have a long way to go to address the points on Bombardment and Excessive Frequency/Retargeting.
However, the situation we find ourselves in as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic will be frustrating that process: the need for many businesses to chase sales in this volatile year working against those ambitions to lower retargeting frequency.
As always, we need to ensure that the content and the context are as relevant as they possibly can be, to maximise consideration. And we must ensure that the promises we make about the products and services we advertise can be delivered on. It is when the industry strays away from these fundamental building blocks of advertising that it runs into trouble.

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LBB Editorial, Mon, 30 Nov 2020 17:10:20 GMT