Repetitive, obtrusive and unscrupulous - public perception of advertising hits a record low

Advertising Association

The public's perception of the value of advertising has hit a record low, according to research from thinktank Credos, leading Advertising Association (AA) president and Unilever marketer Keith Weed to launch an industry-wide initiative designed to tackle the problem.

The study – revealed at the trade body’s Lead conference on Wednesday (30 January) – was commissioned following the creation of a ‘Trust Working Group’ within the AA. It brought together advertisers, agencies, media owners, tech platforms and fellow trade associations ISBA and IPA.

Using a mix of research methods (including a ten-day advertising diary, filmed ethnography and a survey of 2,000 people) it found public favourability towards advertising hit a low of just 25% in last December. In 1992, that figure was 48%.

Respondents said they felt ‘bombarded’ by advertising due to the volume of ads they’re seeing as well as constant repetition. They also said they felt overwhelmed by the ‘obtrusiveness’ of advertising, particularly online where they said brands unfairly delay or disrupt the user experience. Others bemoaned the creative execution of ads, lamenting 'irritating jingles' and 'poor humour'.

However, broader areas of concern arose around the ‘suspicious techniques’ used by advertisers, including instances where it's unclear whether something is an advertisement (such as influencer marketing) as well as the impact on well-being, like creative work that portrays unrealistic body image ideals.

Consumers were also concerned about sensitive sectors and vulnerable groups, particularly around how certain products and services were being targeted at those who were financially insecure, those with addictions, children, and the elderly.

“I don’t know if there are any ethical or core values in advertising; and if there are, I don’t know about them,” said one respondent in the research.

Despite various campaigns talking up the pros of the advertising and marketing sector, such as the AA's 'Great' work, Karen Fraser, director at Credos, said it’s time for the industry to “get its house in order”, “take this report seriously” and address the issues before it talks up the benefits of advertising to people and the economy.

Advertisers respond

During his keynote address at the event, AA president and Unilever marketer Keith Weed said the report shows there’s “much to do to rebuild trust among the public towards advertising.”

"Advertising without trust is just noise," he said.

“We should look at those areas identified in the research as being of concern and do our utmost to address them – and be seen to do so. We live in an age where people are increasingly conscious of the need for business to act responsibly and be a force for good in society. Let’s work together as an industry to meet both the challenges our research presents and the opportunities it affords to rebuild advertising’s relationship with people.”

Weed, who is set to exit Unilever later this year, intends to publish a white paper at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) Annual Conference in March which will detail the key initiatives including:

  1. Reducing the negative impact of bombardment
  2. Best practice to address excessive frequency and retargeting
  3. Raising awareness of self-regulation of advertising content
  4. Raising awareness of effective regulation of data usage in advertising
  5. Gathering industry-wide support advertising as a force for good

Mark Evans, marketing director at Direct Line, agreed that the findings of the report were “painful”.

“This is an industry that generates so much economic worth but gets a bum rap. This is our job, our careers, and these are our companies so we must pay attention – a falling tide sinks all boats,” he said.

“On ‘bombardment’ – there’s no such thing as a silver bullet but there’s a rational conversation to be had; it’s a waste of [an] advertiser’s money to over serve ads. Coming together on better measurement to stop this will be a win-win.”

Nationwide’s top marketer Sarah Benison said marketers must start asking the question ‘just because we can, should we?’ when it comes to using the vast array of data and ad-serving techniques now available.

“The danger is that these [short-term marketing] won’t impact sales tomorrow, but it’s cumulative. We need to take a long-term approach,” she said. “And we need to do a better job of getting younger marketers to understand why trade bodies are important and how they can fight this fight.”

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