Advertising Association President Keith Weed took the message of rebuilding public trust in advertising to Ad Week New York at its venue on Broadway on Thursday 26 September in a keynote session on the Tech Stars Stage.
Responding positively to the decline in public trust in advertising that we have seen in recent years is a key plank of Keith’s tenure as President and of the AA’s strategy as a whole. In his address Keith referred to the biggest ever ethnographic study of public trust in advertising – conducted by UK advertising’s think tank Credos, industry’s five-step action plan to rebuild trust, and how the US and UK advertising industries should work together to find a solution to this crucial issue. Read the full transcript of the speech below…
“Hello, Advertising Week New York, it’s great to be here.
As many of you may know, I recently announced my retirement from my global role as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever after 35 years working for the company and I am now developing a portfolio of roles – or going plural – as they say in the UK. Today I am here as the President of the Advertising Association in the UK.
The Advertising Association, the UK trade body which protects and promotes the role, rights and responsibilities of advertising in the UK. It is a unique body, established in the late 1920s to provide one voice on behalf of the industry to Government.
There isn’t really an equivalent to this in the US. The Advertising Association brings together advertisers, agencies, media owners, digital companies, and their trade associations – like bringing together the ASA, 4As and IAB.
A statue in our Advertising Association offices (pictured left), right in the heart of Westminster, London and on the doorstep of Parliament, depicts Columbia and Britannia holding the torch of truth. It was presented by the Advertising Club of New York to the Thirty Club of Great Britain in 1924 and then to the AA in 1926.
Columbia, for those who are not American, was at the time the personification of the United States, just as Britannia was of Great Britain. Although Columbia was largely displaced by Lady Liberty in the late 20s as the female symbol of the US. It was thanks to your predecessors and their foresight that we are here nearly a century on promoting and protecting advertising in the UK and with our colleagues around the world.
This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to race a 1940 Pontiac Streak in the Peking to Paris Endurance Rally. It’s nothing short of an engineering miracle that we managed to complete the rally given the amount of repairs that were needed to my poor Pontiac who covered eight and a half thousand miles in 36 days.
But it also gave me a lot of time to think away from the 24/7 business world.
We know that advertising is an engine of the economy, one that drives significant growth, but every good engine needs a service once in a while and, right now, our industry’s engine needs some work done under the bonnet.
We have a problem and that is how the public feel about advertising – they simply do not trust it in a way they once did.
This is significant – it matters to all of us – whether you work at an advertiser, an agency, a media owner or a tech company. I believe we require a system change to ensure our industry has a healthy, sustainable future. And it is a system change that goes beyond borders. Which is why I’m here.
Over the next fifteen minutes or so:
I’m going to share what’s happening to public trust in advertising in the UK.
I’m going to reflect on some data our team has found about the same issue in the US
I’m going to explain what we’re doing as an industry to tackle it
And I’d like to explore how we can work with you, the US industry, to make a real system change that will have a real benefit to us all.
So, firstly, let’s look at the data.
Public favourability towards advertising has been in long-term decline. These figures show annual tracking data from 1992 to present day. The data historically tracked favourability rather than trust and it is only very recently that trust has been measured as a distinct item. But the direction of travel is similar and, as with favourability, we are at the lowest levels yet for trust.
And, while we are not alone as an industry in facing an issue of declining trust, sadly advertising is bottom of the pile in our list of industries surveyed in the UK. Without trust, advertising has no future. A brand without trust is a product. Advertising without trust is noise.
But what is causing this continued, long-term decline in trust and favourability and what can we do to arrest the decline? How can we make sure our industry has a long-term future, building brands that people trust?
As we reviewed the data, we decided we needed to know in more depth what’s going on.
So, we turned to the UK advertising industry think tank, Credos, to understand what real people think of advertising. The Credos team spoke to 60 people up and down the UK to get as honest a view as possible about how they interact with advertising in their daily lives.
Nothing beats hearing from people themselves so I’m going to play you a short film. It’s full of wonderful regional dialects from across the UK but hopefully you will be able to follow them all and what they are saying. [film played]
I don’t know how that makes you feel, but when we saw that we didn’t like someone thinking that about our business. That film represents the spectrum of what we heard. It was a mixed bag, and, you’ll notice the same person can hold contrasting views; like Neil, the retired policeman. They think advertising is ‘essential’, but still find some ads annoying, or even misleading.
The Credos team’s nationally representative study found that people, when pushed, generally see advertising as a good thing, but with downsides.
As such, we are at important tipping point. The downsides might just start to outweigh the positives and we cannot afford to let that happen. Not on my watch.
Let’s start with the positives though. People are generally favourable towards advertising.
They say it can be a source of information or entertainment. A force for social good, portraying diversity and challenging stereotypes. Or it can provide useful public health information.
One man told Credos that his Dad saw a public health campaign, visited the Doctor and they caught his cancer early. He’s still alive today.
Among the benefits that were drawn out from the report and which influenced the favourability of advertising were: its status as a source of information, as a form of entertainment, as a force for social good, and as an emotional touchstone. Which, to me, begs the question, are we doing enough to promote these benefits?
Now, for the not so good news. A lot of the downsides centre on annoyance and irritation. About a quarter of what people think about advertising is negative, and first and foremost it is about bombardment. Digital has accelerated this feeling. There was a sense that advertising is everywhere and in greater quantities than before. And too much repetition makes that seem worse.
Unhealthy, junk food advertising and sensitive sectors such as payday loans, alcohol and gambling were next on people’s lists. Most people had at least one example. Reasons for concern were often highly personal, with people saying friends and loved ones had problems, or were financially insecure.
And our measures to address these problems weren’t felt to be effective enough. Intrusiveness also affects people’s opinions of advertising. Those moments when it infringes on privacy – either in places or ways people consider private. Or it uses personal data in a way that makes people feel uncomfortable.
Creepy adverts that follow you around were one of the biggest gripes. Suspicious techniques were another problem. This included claims that are felt too good to be true, or terms and conditions to hide information. Also, that it is increasingly difficult to identify what is or isn’t an ad in a world of influencers. And there are strong concerns around the use of airbrushing and unrealistic body images ideals.
Let’s be clear. We have things to do. We have behavioural practices in advertising right now that we need to change and we all need to be a part of that change. And I believe that this problem is not unique to the UK market. These practices which are having a negative impact on trust and favourability are happening around the world. I have seen the same issues raised in the US, Latin America, Africa, China, India, SE Asia and across Europe. This issue is everywhere.
I believe trust is something we all care about. We want to be trusted and we want and need our advertising industry’s work to be trusted. From my global role at Unilever, I know that these issues are not unique to the UK market. They are things that preoccupy people who work in advertising around the world. Here in the US, I see similar concerns.
Not just about trust, but how we treat children with care and respect, how we deal with the challenges of fake news, ad fraud and ad-blocking. In particular, how we ensure that all forms of advertising, including the growth of online advertising, are fully trusted and used responsibly.
And as we looked beyond the UK at what was happening to public trust in advertising, we were fascinated to see others recognising this issue of trust. For example, in 2014, McCann Truth Central investigated US public and industry sentiment towards advertising in partnership with the 4As.
A staggering 70% of the industry believed the best of advertising was behind us and that was five years ago, and studies continue to show that public trust in advertising is in trouble.
Here we are, bottom of the list for trust in a recent PwC study, as reported by emarketer two years ago. Meanwhile, trust was on the main stage in a big way this summer at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
So, concern about public trust and favourability to advertising isn’t unique to the UK. Neither is the idea that we have to take some kind of positive action to make a change. In the spirit of collaboration with you, our Columbia partners to Britannia, the people that helped us found our association nearly a century ago, I want to share what we are doing in the UK and the progress that we are making.
Earlier this year, we published our paper ‘Arresting the Decline in Public Trust in Advertising’, which is the result of working by an industry group who have come together to tackle this issue. It is a group chaired by the IPA and ISBA and members include Google UK, ITV, Direct Line Group and the IAB. The Trust Paper contains five clear actions.
Action 1 is that we will reduce advertising bombardment. Our big focus right now is ensuring the full implementation of the IAB UK’s Gold Standards – these incorporate the Coalition of Better Advertising’s standards to improve online user experience with advertising.
We want every relevant business in our industry to understand the negative impact and counter-productive nature of bombardment and to sign up to the high standards we expect.
Action 2 is that we will reduce excessive frequency and retargeting of advertising. Our work here is in developing two best practice white papers, one on frequency capping and the other – a code of practice on retargeting.
Action 3 is our determination to protect our industry’s ability to self-regulate by supporting our Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s advertising self-regulatory body and our equivalent to your US Advertising Self-Regulatory Council.
We believe that trust improves when a consumer knows they can complain about an ad and can be confident something will be done as a result of that complaint and they know someone is watching over the industry and industry standards.
Action 4 is to ensure that data privacy matters to everyone in our industry, that everyone observes the standards that are required, and that this is recognised as such by the public.
People’s data privacy is important. Millions of consumers freely and knowingly exchange their data for services they want and enjoy. Some have concern about the ultimate use of that data, while others may not be completely aware of how it is used to support the delivery of advertisements that fund the services.
Our aim is to widen industry awareness of good data practice and develop a whole-industry communications strategy to encourage good practice. We will also support the UK Information Commissioner’s Office consumer campaign ‘Your Data Matters’.
Action 5 is to show people that advertising can drive social change. We are doing this through industry-wide support for big social behaviour change issues and next January we will be publishing a new report looking at the value of the social contribution made by advertising to the UK.
The Unstereotype Alliance addresses stereotypes in advertising and is a good example of this.
Which brings me back to Columbia, Britannia and our torch of truth. We want to work with you, our US colleagues, on solutions that help drive this system change, not just in the UK but more widely. Worldwide, in fact.
I’m delighted that fellow UK advertising colleagues, Phil Smith from ISBA, Paul Bainsfair from the IPA and Stephen Woodford from the Advertising Association have been out here this week, meeting with the ANA, 4As and IAB US to explore ways of working together on this issue.
Just think what we can do together to truly give advertising a healthy, trustworthy future!
The change that we can make for the better. It just needs us all to work together on a system change in our industry.
Our biggest challenge today is trust and trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback
It’s trust or bust and I choose Trust!“