Erosion Of Trust In Advertising--So What?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 15, 2016

When White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) dropped their bombshell report in late 2014, declaring that nefarious bots will cost advertisers more than $6 billion in 2015, it rattled the entire advertising industry. 

Then, more recently, in June of this year, once again the ANA dropped another stink bomb on adland, for the first time quantifying just how prevalent “rebates and other non-transparent practices” are in media agencies where brand advertisers place their trust and their multi-million dollar budgets. 

While important revelations, these reports were neither catalysts nor pinnacles. 

Rather, while they specifically focused on issues that impacted advertisers, they were indicative of a ubiquitous erosion of trust in the entire ad industry, not just between brands and agencies, but the arguably more important relationship – between consumers and the brands and agencies. 



It would be ridiculous for me to list even a single example of how consumers’ trust of advertisers and advertising in general has been deteriorating over the past decade or two. It’s been so widely reported and has reached such epidemic proportions, that it’s simply become the norm. 

But what hasn’t been discussed is that it might not be a bad thing at all. 

Long ago, and yes, I mean long ago, you may recall that there was an implicit business contract between television viewers and television advertisers. Generally, viewers would agree to be exposed to commercials and in return, TV advertisers would foot the entire tab for the cost of bringing quality content into their cozy living rooms. 

But then the inevitable happened--change. The marketing world began to evolve. Unfortunately, the evolution (or revolution) wasn’t led by those who should have led it – marketers, advertisers and agencies. Instead it was led by savvy entrepreneurs and innovators who adeptly tapped into the consumer zeitgeist. 

Take the “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” as an example. Millions of people are now tapping into alternate methods of getting the content they want and it has almost no relation to cable, or to broadcast television for that matter. It has more to do with a solid WiFi connection, an OTT box such as AppleTV or Roku, and perhaps a Netflix or Crackle subscription. Technology innovators provided consumers a way to completely sidestep the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between advertiser and consumer, and the end result is voilà – many times better than what they had before. 

Take the world of YouTube influencers. In less than a decade, thousands upon thousands of video content creators have amassed tremendous audiences for every niche topic you can imagine. They even have a massive conference each year, called VidCon. And each influencer monetizes what they are doing with very targeted pre-, mid- or post-roll video advertising. 

So what’s the difference between this and a simple video ad campaign? For one, it simply works. How? Two key reasons: subscribers are all opt-in and they trust the content creator will only deliver advertising relevant to the niche topic. The net result is a bit of phoenix-out-of-the ashes. As overall trust of advertisers diminished, consumers gravitated en masse to a new ecosystem as it grew organically, and out of it emerged much deeper brand/consumer bonds than before. The only negative in the whole equation is, none of it was created or led by marketers, brands or agencies. 

What the advertising industry seems to focus on is the wholesale distrust between clients and vendors. For example, can we still trust Google (whose corporate motto is ironically, "Don't be evil") when two of their measurement metrics have been suspended from accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC)? Can we still trust Facebook after they admitted to “over-estimating” video metrics

The answer is no one cares as much as you might think. According to a recent Advertising Age article, teams at “P&G and Unilever, for example, weren't blindsided by the recent revelation that Facebook overstated average video view times in its official calculations, because they were already using third-party services such as Moat to track viewership metrics there, at Google and elsewhere.” 

Sure, trust in measurement is important to the ecosystem, but what consumers truly care about (and where they’re spending a huge amount of their time) are places that were borne out of innovation: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. So, the key question here is: how many of these were created by the marketing and advertising world? 

A few times a year declarations are made at major trade conferences (e.g. AAAA, ANA, Cannes, etc.) in an attempt to reignite the industry and begin to lead instead of follow – largely to no avail. Rather than make more hollow declarations, let’s instead take the decline of consumer trust that has plagued our business and turn it into a positive. We as an industry shouldn’t spend one more minute trying to regain the traditional trust of yesteryear and focus instead on actually leading our own reinvention, and the new trust will come.

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