Addressing the Trust Deficit in Advertising

September 17, 2012

Consumers increasing lack of trust doesn’t begin and end with government and other large public and private institutions. It applies to advertising as well. This should hardly be a surprise to anyone. Who trusts ads anyway?

What’s surprising is that advertising continues to work as well as it does when the majority of consumers say they “don’t trust (advertising) much or at all.” This is, no doubt, due to the creative power of great advertising—its ability to entertain as well as sell. Advertising works despite itself.

Trust in Advertising – Paid, Owned and Earned

In a recent Nielsen global study (disclosure: I work at Nielsen), all forms of paid advertising—TV, Print, Digital, Radio, etc., fared poorly on the trust factor. Conversely, and not surprisingly, “recommendations from people I know” scored highest on trust, with 92% of consumers trusting this source completely or somewhat. Owned media, such as brand websites, scored higher than paid advertising, but lower than social recommendations.

Trust In Advertising

Now What ? The Convergence of Paid, Owned and Earned

Now that we’ve demonstrated what many of us already knew, what should we do about it? Does trust in advertising even matter? If so, can we even do anything about it?  After all, the only advertising that most CMO’s control is their own (and some Ad Agency people would even debate that).

Since trust is a continuum , moving from earned (highest) to owned and then paid (lowest), it stands to reason that brands should want more earned and owned media. But giving up paid media? For most brands, this isn’t really feasible given both the broad reach and historical success associated with paid media.

Instead, we need to start thinking of how Paid, Owned and Earned media can work together to improve trust and deliver better results. Marketers continue to discuss them as if they are separate and discreet media. They’re increasingly not.

Technology is blurring the lines of paid, owned and earned media.  Paid media can now also be social. Social is often about paid. Owned media can have paid embedded in it. And sometimes, all three can exist in one consumer touchpoint. What’s a CMO to make of this trend?

3 Examples of Paid, Owned, Earned Convergence

1.       Paid Ads Work Harder with Social

What actually happens when you combine social and paid advertising? Research on Facebook ads with and without a social layer (Jimmy, Billy and 8 other friends are fans of Brand X), shows that social ads generate much stronger breakthrough and purchase intent than ads without a social layer. Why? Knowing that the advertised brand is liked by our friends builds trust.

Paid Advertising Works Harder with a Social Layer

2.       Paid Digital Advertising Drives “Owned Media” Usage

Digital advertising can drive consumers to a Brand’s owned media. In the example below, we look at the effectiveness of four different brands digital advertising in driving consumers to their respective web sites. Brands A & B were far more successful in doing so than Brands C & D.

Brand A

   Brand B

   Brand C

Brand D

% of those exposedto the online display campaign that went on to visit a brand’s site post-exposure 

4.7

       5.2

      1.0

1.2

% of those not exposedto the online display advertising who visited a brand’s site 

    0.5

       0.4

0.2

0.3

3.       Owned Can Work Harder Than “Paid Media”

What about owned media? Does it work once consumers arrive? One way of understanding this is to measure the off-line sales impact of those consumers exposed versus not exposed to your brand’s website. In the example below, we can see that exposure to Brand X’s owned digital media drove almost 3x the sales lift of paid digital ads alone.

Owned Media Can Work Harder than Paid

The Opportunity – Putting it All Together

Addressing the truth deficit in advertising is more than just making ads that are, well, true. It’s also about how to use paid, owned and earned media to your brand’s advantage.

Using the example above, why not build social into your paid advertising (where possible), use your paid ads to drive consumers to your website, and optimize your site to drive maximum on or off-line purchase? Why not experiment with the myriad of ways to engage your consumers across the paid, owned and earned continuum?

Because I’m betting that overcoming the trust deficit in advertising isn’t about making ads that aren’t misleading or exaggerated. It’s about adding in social and owned media experiences in ways that gives paid media more legitimacy and enables it to work harder for your brand.

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