Advertising and social media face fresh trust issues amid global crisis

amid an enormous public health crisis, can consumers’ trust issues be remedied?

Two global reports have surfaced in the past week indicating a desperate need for the advertising and media industries to work together to rebuild public trust. But amid an enormous public health crisis, can consumers’ concerns be remedied?

Earlier this week, Kantar’s Dimension study revealed a brewing mistrust among consumers towards both advertisers and social media platforms.

The report surveyed 8,000 people in eight markets, including the US, UK and China, which have a combined total ad spend of $400bn. It found advertising to be the least likely source people would use to garner information about a business, with just 14% saying they trust advertisers in this respect.

When it came to seeking out news and information, social media – which captures $84bn worth of global ad budgets) – was ranked as the least trusted medium, with just 17% of respondents citing the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a reputable source.

Across the world, newspapers ranked the highest in the media category with 37% of people saying they had conviction in print. TV and radio followed with 31% and 32% of respondents respectively saying they had faith in these mediums to carry accurate information.

Kantar found UK consumers to be among the most cynical globally, with Brits showing a “concerning” lack of trust in social media.

70% of people in the UK said they ‘don’t trust’ a lot of what they see on social platforms, including posts from brands. There’s trouble afoot for premium publishers from a brand perspective too; though the medium emerged as highly trusted, some 39% of UK consumers said they didn’t feel it was acceptable for them to be targeted by news stories paid for by an advertiser.

In the UK market especially, concerns over privacy following the fallout from scandals like Cambridge Analytica have led to widespread mistrust in advertising.

Though advertisers like Unilever and L’Oreal are continually seeking out ways to make first-party data work harder for them post-GDPR, there is scepticism in the market about how tailored content from brands compromises privacy with 58% of Brits citing this as a concern.

Just 43% of people in the UK said they preferred to see ads relevant to their interests and needs, versus 54% of people globally.

The study also revealed low perceived authenticity around advertising on social channels, numbers that could spell trouble for the nascent influencer marketing industry.

35% of UK consumers said they felt strongly that branded content posts on social media should be labelled in some way – a nuanced issue that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been seeking to remedy by working with publishers and influencers directly for the past 12 months.

A boost for traditional media, but brands fall short

Elsewhere, the spring update to Edelman’s Trust Barometer – which surveyed 1,200 people across Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the UK and the US – showed trust in news media to have reached record levels globally amid a search for reliable information related to the pandemic.

In the UK alone, newspapers and magazines are poised to lose £50m if over-zealous digital brand safety measures around the keyword ‘coronavirus’ continue to eat into profits. However, the latest numbers give advertisers yet another reason to reconsider their blocklists.

Traditional media has gained seven points with global audiences over the past five months with trust levels reaching 69%. Owned media saw the biggest gain, with its trust score rising from 44% in January 2020 to 52% in May.

Despite these high levels of trust in news sources, it is clear there is still is an urgent need for credible and unbiased journalism. Concerns about fake news still loom large among global audiences, with 67% of respondents worried about false and inaccurate information being spread about the virus.

While business saw a four-point uptick in trust to 62%, the pandemic has still exposed several areas of deep concern for brands according to Edelman.

Half of people said they believe business is doing poorly, mediocre or completely failing at putting people before profits; only 43% agreed that companies were protecting their employees sufficiently from Covid-19, and 46% did not agree that business was helping smaller suppliers and business customers stay afloat.

The poor performance of the business sector during the ongoing crisis means brand bosses have fared badly too, with most customers agreeing they have failed to demonstrate public leadership.

Despite advertisers investing in ad-hoc campaigns to demonstrate their commitment to customers in these trying times, just 29% of people believe chief executives are doing an outstanding job responding to demands on them placed by the pandemic as compared to scientists (53%) and world leaders (45%).

To increase trust, Edelman’s report has suggested businesses should focus on solutions, not selling, with respondents calling for the private sector to collaborate with competitors and redefine their company’s purpose and goals around fighting the pandemic. The suggestion that brands should switch production of what they currently make to masks, respirators, and other items in short supply due to the crisis was also floated in the report.

Dame Helena Morrissey, financier, author and campaigner, discussed the outcomes of the latest Trust Barometer at a launch event on Thursday (14 May).

She said the brands she has been working with have been focused on operational issues, like staff wellbeing and remote working, but there hasn’t been enough external dialogue around helping people and the economy recover post-Covid.

“Businesses need to show that they’re open to working on solutions with the government and not waiting on the government to tell them what to do," she added.

Rebuilding trust

Each report paints a worrying picture for advertisers who are both belt-tightening and taking advantage of social media to remain relevant in the time of coronavirus.

Mark Inskip, chief executive at Kantar UK & Ireland’s Media Division, said the advertising and media industries need to work together to rebuild consumer trust.

“Steps can be taken to reinstate that trust by enforcing responsible use of consumer data across the board, but everyone in the industry must come together to agree on a clear and unified approach,” he argues.

“In the current context, Covid-19 has driven larger audiences than ever to traditional broadcast media, so not only is trust in this platform high, its reach has also increased.

“However, it is imperative that advertisers clearly disclose their content and display sensitivity in engaging audiences on any platform at such a difficult time.”

The findings also follow on from a 2019 study commissioned by the UK Advertising Association (AA) and thinktank Credos that public trust in advertising had hit an all-time low.

According to the ‘Trust Working Group’ research, public favourability towards advertising was just 25% in December 2018. 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'.

Over the past six months, the AA has been working on a five-point plan to address the issue. The blueprint includes developing best practice around data privacy and showing how brands can drive societal change.

Inskip argued that while the findings published in Kantar’s report were “concerning”, they have simply highlight the need to rebuild trust in communications.

“Still the smartest approach for brands remains an omnichannel one,” he suggested.

“The advertising and media industries rely on one another to survive, so during trying times it’s imperative to ensure consumers receive accurate and relevant content, in an appropriate context across all platforms.

“If authenticity, transparency and consistency are properly maintained, consumer trust can be rebuilt."

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