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Reversing a decline in public trust

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Hallam on how to rebuild consumer trust, beginning with reestablishing clearer communication

A brand without trust is simply a product and advertising without trust is just noise.

That’s what Advertising Association (AA) president Keith Weed told the attendees of Ad Week New York in 2019 as the AA launched their 2019 report on ‘arresting the decline of public trust in UK advertising’.

Their report looked at a number of industries in the UK, and while there were declines across all of them, the advertising industry was at the bottom of the list in terms of public trust.

The survey behind the report found that while people in the UK believe that advertising has an essential role to play, they also find it annoying and even misleading at times.

With the proliferation of digital channels, people feel bombarded by advertising – “it’s everywhere and in greater quantities than before”.

People spoke of adverts following them around the internet, of inflated product claims, of brands hiding behind complicated T&Cs and of concerns around the damage that ads-that-don’t-look-like-ads can have on people’s mental health.

A big part of what is undermining trust in advertising is the use of personal data in ways that are intrusive, aggressive or unethical. This growing frustration around the lack of data privacy is what’s driving regulations like GDPR and the phasing out of third-party cookies.

A decline in brand value

Keith’s quote also brought me back to the article that Jane Bloomfield, chief growth officer at Kantar UK, wrote earlier this month about the position of UK advertising on a global stage.

Kantar’s latest survey found that “while the 100 biggest global brands grew in value by 5.8% in 2020, the top 75 UK brands declined by 13%”. If these trends continue, there won’t be any British brands in the top 100 by 2023.

Jane pointed out that 30 years ago, around 33% of the UK public enjoyed adverts they encountered. Today, that figure is around 15%.

Reversing the tide

So how can marketers regain public trust and create something worthwhile instead of noise? How can we recapture the public’s interest and imagination with our advertising campaigns?

Jane’s advice? Marketing fundamentals haven’t changed: connect on a human level and deliver value.

This sound guidance packs a lot of punch.

Be human

As I write that, I hear two conflicting voices in my head.

One is Seth Godin talking through his brilliant book This Is Marketing, which is full of commonsense guidance on how to be human and make something valuable for other humans.

The other voice I hear is Mark Ritson calling out Mondelez on its 2020 corporate video announcing it was going to ‘stop marketing and start humaning‘. This earned it a place on Mark‘s All-Time Marketing BS Index, so I want to walk the line between these two points carefully.

But I think brands can take lessons from how we build trust in our personal relationships and apply them to connecting with their audience by:

  • Showing up consistently and with consistency (across every touchpoint on and offline)

  • Practicing deep listening (through customer research) in order to understand what makes that person tick

  • Only making promises you intend to keep (and that you know you can keep)

  • Trying to be genuinely helpful

  • Going beyond the simply functional and trying to make the exchange enjoyable

  • Not asking too much from the other person before they’re ready to give

Deliver value

In my previous article, I referenced the Value Pyramid that Eric Almquist, John Senior and Nicolas Bloch created that identified 30 universal building blocks to value across four categories: functional, emotional, life changing and social impact.

Both qualitative and quantitative customer research can help you uncover the elements that are most important to your customers. This can come in handy if you have multiple customer segments that you need to position the brand to in different ways.

By designing your products and services to deliver on these values, your campaign messages – as well as your channel and media plans – should become more clear.

A clear example of this is a piece of brand work we did for Morrinson Wealth Management.

They wanted to promote a new sub-brand called Morrinson Wealth Wellbeing – the idea being that if you’re at ease with your finances, that assurance will translate to other parts of your life such as your home and your career.

When we approached the younger demographic that had been identified as the target market, their response to the question “What do you think about your savings?” was a resounding “What savings? We can’t afford to save.”

Al Davies, head of creative at Hallam, tells me: “The truth was actually that it’s a lot simpler to save for the future than most people think, even on tight budgets. So the campaign became about showing the value of having an advisor like MWW that would show you the true picture, and help you navigate it.

“The research had uncovered a clear, shared anxiety that was prevalent, so instead of trying to work around this, we addressed it head on. The campaign was built around a new identity that we developed – replacing the negative perception with a positive reality – in a disruptive way that would make the target audience feel it was more specifically for them.”

Seeing the bigger picture

In one of Tom Roach’s latest pieces, he writes of the modern marketing myopia – a focus only on today instead of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

“Having modern marketing myopia means not lifting your head up to look out at the real worlds and lives of real people ... It means seeing numbers in spreadsheets as ends in themselves, not as signals and proxies for the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of living breathing people. It means not even questioning whether the data actually represents real humans or real activity, despite the vast amount of ad fraud happening today.”

Marketing is incredibly complex and we are all trying to keep the many moving parts working in harmony. But by re-orienting around a North Star that puts humanity and value for customers at the center of the activity, we’ll have a better chance of delivering better solutions and strengthening our brands.

The first step in this is to start talking to your customers. Start today on whatever channel you interact with them. And if you need help, I’d love to hear from you.

Julie Reid, head of strategy at Hallam.

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