From 'trust or bust', to 'trust is a must'

Keith Weed
Keith Weed

For brands, earning trust and keeping it is an ever-constant and ever-changing challenge.

"A brand without trust is just a product, and advertising without trust is just noise." This was my call to action when I set out my agenda as Advertising Association president three years ago.

I'm convinced public trust was (and remains) the most critical, shared issue for our industry. Despite the healthy competitive nature that drives our industry forward, the Advertising Association is the place where we come together and tackle the big issues that matter for us all.

Three years ago, the association was briefed to develop and implement a "Trust action plan" to arrest the decline of public trust in advertising.

It began with my ultimatum – "Trust or bust" – as the starting pistol, backed by the launch of the first Credos research findings at Lead 2019. These findings showed that public trust was in decline, with trust in the industry at 50% in 2018 in comparison with other industries. The Trust Working Group, ably chaired by [ISBA's] Phil Smith and [the IPA's] Paul Bainsfair, has driven the issue ever since.

Trust is complex and precious. Built up slowly over time, it can disappear much more rapidly; therefore, earning trust and keeping it is an ever-constant and ever-changing challenge. As all the evidence shows, trust pays – with better returns on campaigns and better long-term value for the brands they support.

The new Credos research provides us again with brilliant insights on how our most important customer – the public – feels about advertising and the changes that have taken place since that first research back in 2018. While our latest findings show there has been slight progress, with trust in advertising increasing by 10%, the path ahead is still steep.

It is fascinating to see where the industry is excelling, particularly in our response to the pandemic and tackling inclusion, but concerning that some advertising techniques are problematic for people. The importance of creativity – creating advertising that people enjoy and find engaging – has become even more important as the number one positive driver of trust.

We know more about the drivers of trust – both positive and negative – in the UK than arguably any other major advertising market. Happily, having this knowledge does not mean we need complex solutions.

As Evan Davis, the BBC broadcaster said at Lead 2019: "To be trusted, you should do trustworthy things. Are you doing trustworthy things in your businesses?"

When this industry is at its best and most responsible, it is trustworthy and makes a valuable contribution to the UK, not just economically but on a societal level too.

Central to the long-term health of the industry is the ASA. Its principles of "Legal, decent, honest and truthful" sit at the heart of why consumers should trust advertising. Our self-regulatory body is highly effective in its role, and we need to be proud of that, respect it and support it.

The results of the ASA advertising campaign in Scotland show just what can be done if we communicate clearly and consistently how the ASA's role in regulating advertising, in all channels, improves the public's levels of trust. Currently, awareness of the ASA is low, with only 12% of people spontaneously aware of the organisation.
However, there is an opportunity to address this – those who recalled seeing the ASA's test campaign in Scotland were 9% more trusting of the advertising industry than those who hadn't.

Everyone in our industry should consider what they can do to support the next iteration of this campaign as we roll it out UK-wide, as well as what they can do more generally to support the ASA and its work.

It is heartening to hear how the public has responded positively to advertising's output during the pandemic and also the steps we have taken to portray a more inclusive nation. Looking at the challenges coming our way, we should not underestimate the significance of the role advertising needs to play and how important it is that we are trusted.

The advertising we produce will help rebuild confidence as society recovers following the lockdowns of the pandemic. The work we make in the coming years will play a crucial role in helping the UK and international markets respond to climate change. And the way we recruit, retain and develop talent from all backgrounds will shape just how inclusive and successful that work is. All of this contributes to the public's view of our industry and ultimately how trustworthy we really are.

There is uncertainty ahead for this industry with government reviews of online advertising and sectors under scrutiny such as HFSS and gambling. However, the more we tackle this head-on and take our responsibilities seriously, the greater contribution to the economy and to society we can make.

Building on what we have learned in the past three years, every single person in the industry can shape our future by supporting the ASA system and putting how we can improve the public's advertising experience at the heart of every campaign plan. It will deliver better returns for business and contribute to a more positive environment for advertising to work in.

A new course is set: trust is a must.

Keith Weed is president of the Advertising Association

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