Keith Weed Wants To Fix Advertising's Growing Trust Problem

Keith Weed, the former Unilever Global CMO, is on a mission to curb consumers’ eroding level of trust in advertising.

It’s not a new problem, of course. As the former CMO of one of the world’s biggest FMCG companies, he can testify the trust problem is global in scope.  

As Weed noted in his presentation at Advertising Week this afternoon, consumer trust levels have been declining for years. Digital media has served as an “accelerator,” as he put it, in those declining trust levels.

But now, Weed says, he’s determined to rally the industry to do something about it. And he’s using his position as president of the UK’s Advertising Association to get the ball rolling.

The group commissioned research that showed one-quarter of UK consumers believe advertising has no redeeming value whatsoever.

The good news, per the research: Most people think advertising is a good thing, but with downsides. At its best, it is informative, entertaining and even lifesaving. At its worst, it can be extremely misleading, privacy depriving, mind-numbingly intrusive and potentially, a hazard to your health.



Which is why the time to act is now, says Weed, before the pendulum swings so negative the cause is lost and advertising simply becomes noise with no future.

And if advertising goes away, so does a lot a free stuff we’ve come to take for granted, like GPS systems, lots of entertainment and email. (Remember when AOL and others used to charge for that?) Not to mention a free press, or at least a subsidized form of it. which is currently exposing some of the most egregious abuses of political power in the history of the U.S. presidency.  

So Weed and the Advertising Association have come up with an action plan he hopes to rally the marketing, agency and media industries around. The elements include reducing ad bombardment; addressing excessive frequency and re-targeting; creating “best in class” standards; reinforcing consumer privacy (interestingly he didn’t mention GDPR); and punctuating the good things that advertising can impact, like positive social change.

It all sounds so inspiring, yet pie in the sky at the same time.

Weed, no doubt, is a capable individual, and I’m curious to see further details of his action plan as they evolve and are put into place. He’s meeting with various U.S. trade groups (including the ANA, 4As and the IAB) tomorrow to brief them on his action plan and to press them to get involved.

As he told the Advertising Week crowd, it’s every bit a U.S. problem as it is a U.K. problem. Well, a global problem, in fact.

But don’t expect change overnight. It’s a problem that was years in the making and will take years to fix.

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