Native Advertising Could Be Answer To British Brand Mistrust

Trust is a big word at the moment. The police are trying to rebuild it, and so are the banks. Journalists and high-level officials are being sent to prison and fined for selling and buying information, while the more high-profile hacking trial continues to threaten the former top brass at the defunct News Of The World. Politicians are at it too. Advertising Minister Maria Miller is the latest in a long case of MPs who have seen fit to use the public purse to buy and furnish second homes that net them a fortune and at some later date become their first home, for tax purposes, when they are sold.

The ultimate irony here, of course, is that politicians are saying the press is in need of outside regulation -- yet they themselves took around £40,000 off the fee Miller was asked to pay back by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and let her off with that most heinous of punishments, a very brief apology to the House. 

It may come as little surprise, then, that Britons have today been revealed to be almost the most cynical consumers in the world. Out of 100 countries, it is only in France, Germany and Japan that people mistrust advertising more. Let's face it -- although just 15% of Britons trusting brand advertising is low, the global average of one in four trusting branded messages is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Brands have a major issue getting over their messages in a way that can be believed, and need a channel that consumers trust. Which brings us to -- drumroll please -- native advertising. Or, as I prefer to call it, placed content or advertorial. We can argue over semantics, but that's what it is.

There has never been a greater requirement for brands to align themselves with the trust the public has in media outlets to get their message across. Yes, I know -- journalists are portrayed as not being believable. But trust me, that's just an accepted joke -- a little like all accountants being boring. When you have a story accusing a minister of doing something wrong or a celebrity misbehaving, whom does the public side with every time, almost subconsciously? People do, on the whole, trust what they read and can use their common sense to separate what they agree with and what they don't think bears scrutiny.

Part of this trust is that brands are always given a pretty hard time. Anyone foolish enough to go on to Watchdog or a tv news programme after breakfast will know they're generally there to be shot at for trying to make money. Very rarely, beyond breakfast news magazine programmes, does a brand get a chance to show what they are doing for the greater good or how their products are actually as transformational as they claim. No, a man or woman in a suit is generally there to be cross-examined as if delivering shareholder value and providing employment is something to be ashamed of.

So, native advertising is a way to get inside the campaign tent, beyond the walls of mistrust. Don't assume readers are stupid and will just swallow any old nonsense they're told but as long as you can string together an interesting story that highlights your brand for a positive aspect you will do well. It could be innovation, pensions planning, a CSR programme, a view on a major issues or a HR "nice place to work" placement but as long as content marketing addresses something the industry or consumers are interested in with an enlightened view from the inside, it will improve brand sentiment.

Make sure it is not totally self-serving, and if there are issues around your brand or the industry, address them head on. I will never remember interviewing a bank that wanted to get over a very reasonable concern. They were being lambasted every night in the news for not lending more to SMEs, yet they had some very real concerns. Namely, they had just been asked to keep back more in reserves to prevent liquidity problems and were being told to only lend to the most trustworthy, good SMEs. How could the public calls for them to lend more be balanced with the legal requirement to keep greater reserves? A greed piece of content marketing which made for an interesting read and got their message over in a well-trusted media outlet.

So everyone's talking about native advertising, but I don't think it is widely acknowledged how vital it will become as trust deteriorates. Be held to high editorial standards, don't be completely self-serving, and then entertain and inform the public  -- and it's as good as guaranteed that your brand perception will improve at the very time it needs to step up to the plate.

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