Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.
Episode 14. Why Should You Trust Marketing and Advertising?
Don’t take our word for it…
Who do you trust? It’s a big question that’s dominating pretty much everything these days; whether it’s politicians, media channels, product reviews and even products. As marketeers, we are storytellers, but we do want that to be based on truth and trust- not fiction. I don’t think anyone wants to return to the spurious claims past of Mad Men fame, but the backdrop we have makes a marketer’s job increasingly hard. So, how do we go about it? How do we bring that trust into what we do?
As I sit here thinking “well, the consumer is winning really”. They’re ever more discerning, they’re better informed and they’re much more sceptical and there’s so much information out there to shine the light on the truth, so can we really fix it? There was a recent study by Ipsos, which is a trust and professions survey across twenty-three countries and it showed that scientists, teachers and doctors are in the top three and they score between fifty and sixty percent in terms of trust, or trust of their professions of what they do and the bottom three Chris, they were politicians, government ministers and ad-execs so I think as marketers we get lumped into that group, so what was their score? What was their score for percentages?
Their score was between nine and thirteen percent. Which is a pretty depressing score, isn’t it?
Exactly. You must have the same numbers as I do. So, between nine and thirteen percent, which is frighteningly bad, it’s dropping, it’s getting worse, and there’s truth behind the fact that people like us aren’t as trusted as we should be or would like to be. There’s a turgid, political time in the UK and US, with the constant volley of fake news or accusations of fake news, which is undermining confidence. There are issues with the digital platforms which can be an echo chamber for all it’s good but also all that’s bad, a lot of spam and a lot of nonsense. When I report someone on one of these platforms for hate speech or bad behaviour, I’m not even sure that they really follow up or manage their audiences. Customers are in the midst of a trust crisis. There was a quote by Stephanie Buscemi who said that “fifty four percent of customers don’t think companies operate with their best interests at mind” which is a horrible thing to think of: more than half. There’s an element trust brand survey from a couple of years ago that said eighty one percent of people say trust in brands is an important part of my purchase behaviour but only a third of people actually say they trust the brands they buy. So, that could be an opportunity for brands, but it is sad that they’re in such a poor state. It’s more complex, you’ve got to try to figure out is that an ad? Or is that just normal content in this internet powered media environment? And you’re not paranoid? Brands are listening via your smart phone microphone, if you’ve talked about summer holidays or new shoes- don’t be surprised if you see on Facebook or Instagram appearing in twenty-four hours, there’s lots more reporters and journalists finding out that these microphones are picking up and sending you ads, whether you think you’ve consented or not.
My wife has been talking to me quite often about this and asking me do they do that on purpose? Is that a strategy? From my perspective, and certainly from the African American and black communities: is black outrage becoming a strategy? it’s hard to discount some of the cynical tactics that the Gucci’s and H&M’s of this world have got up to. Then, all the ongoing problems and concerns about the problematic use of airbrushing and the unrealistic body and image ideals, all this is going on Chris, and it’s undermining trust.
Yeah, it’s a tricky back drop both sides of the pond I think, that we’re operating on that level of suspicion starts to increase in all areas, and you look around and you think what are you meant to believe? what’s real and what isn’t? But with every challenge- there’s an opportunity Sam, we have to look at it like that at least. It’s the organisations that make a stand, or call this out, or initially go against the wind, often end up in front. But there is a challenge there as well. Sometimes, organisations move from outside to mainstream, we constantly have to work at it, or we can move outside to the establishment and then end up becoming part of the problem, part of the system. It’s not a new concept; probably one of the most successful campaigns over the last decade was Dove providing a real women’s campaign rather than using models, and I know you will talk about that a bit later on.
Which is a consumer champion organisation that I’ve worked with in the past in the UK, and it provides independent, verified, unbiased reviews. The current campaign starts with educating the public about brand bias, the dangers if things are not lab tested to create an objective review and uninformed opinions. In a way, it’s summarising what, as marketeers and digital performers marketeers think, we try to install the need to carry out A B testing, the need to ensure things objectively, so the conversations we’re having on a day to day basis, moving onto the marketing field and consumer field, which I think is quite encouraging and needs to happen as well.
It’s becoming very well established that you need that independent body testing, reviewing and giving you independent advice, rather than trusting or relying on what the brands and companies are telling you.
Safety where it didn’t used to be
Absolutely, and even when google was once seen as the disrupter and is now seen as the establishment with concerns worldwide around its level of influence and privacy. Admittedly, not as much as Facebook, which is one of the marketing stories of the year and not for the right reason; bringing privacy to the fore. Interestingly, in that whole sort of browser war, Mozilla and Firefox is making inroads again. Mozilla is a not-for-profit organisation or foundation, which at its heart has the aim of promotional openness, innovation and participation on the internet. Back in the day, the Firefox browser was seen as a great alternative and, steadily over the years, has lost market share to both Safari and to Chrome. But there’s a great quote by Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla foundation, that it’s no longer fighting for market share of its browser- it’s fighting for the future of the web. The pitch is that owning Mozilla is motivated first and foremost to make using the web a pleasurable experience, not driven by advertising revenue or data mining. I think that in itself is fascinating, where things themselves start to do the full circle, where the disrupter becomes the establishment and new people come to take the place and say actually you don’t need to do it like that, there’s a different approach.
As you were talking about Mozilla, it just reminded me of Duck Duck Go, which is the online search alternative to Google which wont stalk you and track you everywhere and try to sell your data. I just saw a report that claims that Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter uses Duck Duck Go- if owners and founders of these big tech companies aren’t using their own platforms, maybe there is some truth behind the concerns we’re raising. We could even be more specific with some of the issues that people have been facing, and it’s been a bad few months, years even, in the UK and the US when it comes to trust busting examples. There’s the vaping brand Juul; despite initially wanting to stick with their make the switch campaign, there’s been an increase in regulatory concerns and health issues being faced by their consumers, and it’s led to their agency ditching them for ethical reasons, which was an interesting one. And even more recently were finding that social platforms like Instagram have completely banned vaping products being promoted or even shown on their platform, it’s taken a while but now they’re having issues using influencers anyway.
You have Volkswagen and Philadelphia which had their advertisements banned for gender stereo-typing. The Volkswagen ad showed a bunch of scenes of different people, but showed the woman pushing a baby and just in that stereotypical role, and not some of the more difficult or creative roles. Philadelphia cheese had the bumbling buffoon Dads who lost track of their child and can’t be trusted, which is so so not true in this day and age, and yet they continue to perpetuate that visual. There’s trust issues, how the business review published a whole article a few months ago called Public Altercation, which called out all the major tech companies- be it Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Microsoft. There’s a lot of reasons to have concerns.
Cue: Brexit and Selfies
Then there’s examples of campaigns which push for honesty but perhaps don’t win the trust of the consumers themselves. There’s a soft drinks brand in the UK, not sure if it’s in the US, it’s called Oasis, I think it’s part of the Coca-Cola company. Their advertising campaign was: ‘if you continue to buy Oasis, we will stop advertising.’ But it brought with it a level of cynicism, whether they would really keep to their word- perhaps not the original purpose. The UK government reportedly spent a million pounds on a campaign urging the public to get ready for the 31st October, Brexit deadline that never looked like happening, and of course didn’t happen. And you ask yourself is it advertising or is it propaganda? Who do you trust? We try not to get too deep on politics on this show, but I think when we’re looking at all of the media messages coming to us, increasingly the consumer is not spending their time thinking “do I want to buy this?” it’s a question of “do I actually trust what I’m being told?” The modern landscape and the fact that so much marketing is done via social media and content means that this doesn’t even get to the nub of the challenge, as we are constantly focused on creating an image online of ourselves, as individuals, there aren’t many Instagram posts of people putting the garbage out, putting the bins out and I think we sometimes confuse putting the best version of ones self out there with putting the best ‘selfie’ of ones self out there, so this filtered, modified image of our lives is something that we are increasingly doing on an individual basis as well.
Yeah that’s a fair point, and as we continue to do that and the lines get blurred, there is a concern that there are actors, people out there who aren’t really supporting the best of us and really acting in our best interests. And we’re seeing a shift in the use of influencers I just mentioned the fact that some of the platforms have finally banned the promotion of vaping products, when tobacco has actually been banned for a long period of time. But things are changing as we speak, and a good starting point is realising that the influencing industry is anywhere between five and fifteen billion dollars, depending on which projections you follow. And therefore, you have organisations like the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the Competition and Authority Market in the UK, catching up and putting into place regulations and restrictions.
The rules just got a lot tougher and more stringent for branded content, for product placement and disclosures, and you have to declare everything of value. So, if it’s just the product, you still have to state you were given that for free. You have to declare family relationships and no more sneaky or sly share outs for businesses or products that your family have got relationships with. The one that I think is going to be the most transparent, I mentioned earlier some of these products are banned completely from the platforms but on Instagram, the photos themselves have to communicate that this was a paid endorsement- in the photo, not even the text below that. Even liking or retweeting now has to be declared that you are being compensated for it. So, it’s going to take a while for these practices to kick in, but these authorities are going to prosecute you, they’re going to go after these individuals doing it, and so that’s going to have to shift the behaviour sooner rather than later if their self-policing isn’t going to happen. And as I think about that Chris, with all these regulations coming in, the Ad industry is going to have to act.
If they don’t, they’re going to have a business issue because they’re just going to lose resources, lose compensation, lose money because their funding’s going to go away If people are going to go into sponsorships and content marketing. So, they have to fix it. When you think about trust, there’s a trust the truth report that came out again in 2019. And it basically lays out things that we know as common sense, or had perhaps forgotten, what is trust- it’s about being reliable, keeping promises, behaving responsibly, open and transparency about what you do, and doing things with the best of intentions. So, basically the values and practices that marketers of all levels that can take and apply and holding ourselves accountable for that.
So, Keith Weed, formerly the CMO of Unilever makes me proud that he is working hard in the UK and holding his hand out across the pond to fix it. He’s leading the advertising association efforts in the UK and role modelling what we need to do, to be better. And they’re taking on key, core issues that are causing the problems. So, it’s reducing the ad bombardment that we face, especially online, when your just bombarded and overwhelmed with all this communication trying to sell you something. So, let’s get that simplified and reduced. Delivering best in class UK user experience and standards. So, those devices that trick you into buying something, or the countdown clock when you’re trying to buy an airline ticket that completely stresses you out, those kinds of things are not in the best interest of consumers. There is improving data security, which we’ve talked about, data leaking and data being sold unfairly or under the table. And then driving social change and being a force for good. Those are the four issues that he is campaigning that advertising can, should and will fix in the near future.
Yeah, that’s great. Its good to see the landscape changes. And once again, our job as marketers is to tackle that, every cutting-edge version of media started out as an outsider channel at some point before it becomes part of the establishment. You think back, pirate radio, first iteration of the web, and we all know where home movies first started in the first instance as well. So, I think our role as responsible marketeers, we need to look at new channels, establish what honesty and trust looks like. And that comes from where your own personal values are as well, so that list you read out about being reliable, keeping promises, sharing values, behaving responsibly, in fact applies to individuals as well as organisations, I think.
I think one of the other things is for next year, because certainly this has been a buzz word of this year is fact checking. It’s the number of websites or twitter feeds that have come up, I think its probably the phrase of the year for me, and again I see that as something we come much more to the fore over the next sort of few years where the trend will be to have elements objectively verified before making a claim so you are always referring to a third party, and marketeers of all levels have that responsibility three, it will come from values that we install as a company and the values that make it easier to call out as well. So, I think that will be quite interesting.
But you know what Sam, I do wonder if we’re looking at this all wrong as well. Perhaps the lines are blurring irreversibly, as the lines between reality and virtual reality change. If you think about it, digital consumers spend a reported £1.5bn plus on virtual items each year, and really those virtual items, be they emojis or swords or whatever else, these virtual objects are nothing more than a series of pixels- that’s what you’re buying. Yet, people are willing to buy virtual goods on games, as a way to establish their identity. And what they virtually buy can define what they think is cool, in a way of self-expression as well.
So, each day thousands of transactions take place in markets, even on eBay for swords, currency, clothing across a variety of different environments, and this isn’t an add on, this is an important part of the overall satisfaction of customer experience that people who buy these items, buy them to increase their overall satisfaction in the virtual world. And there’s this really interesting company called Carlings, it’s a Norwegian company and it’s launched a digital only fashion range, where you buy the item of clothing you want, you supply a photo of yourself and then the bought item it edited onto your picture.
It’s aimed at social media influencers who often buy an item of clothing once to share to their social media, it kind of sounds like glorified photo shopping in a way but Kiki Pearson, the brand manager states that the new trend enables buyers to take risk with their style without leaving a negative carbon footprint. Now interestingly, is that a good marketing message or is it a moral purpose, but if you think about it, our ever changing fast fashion causes the fashion industry to contribute to more than eight percent of global climate impact, greater than international airline flights and sea travel combined, certainly in a report that I read, where this would create a zero impact on the environment. But, if you’re there viewing that, and you’re not clear on whether that is real or whether it’s a virtual item, where’s the line again? What can you trust?
So, it does allow us to be more creative, think about cheaper, no material wastage, but I do increasingly think that we’re in a s situation where perception and reality are two different things and perhaps the role of marketing and advertising hasn’t caught up yet, perhaps what truth is, needs redefining as it becomes increasingly difficult to judge. So, we need a new breed of marketers to make their mark and help us define that.
Yeah, what I love about where you’re going with this, is the idea that change is inevitable but how do we raise the bar and act in a better way, set higher expectations and live up to them. We’re seeing organisations with a purpose coming to the fore and brands like Lemonade entering the insurance industry in the US and doing great work. Companies like Volvo aiming to be the brand with zero fatalities, which is a mission beyond just selling more cars. The pursuit of this gold standard can tap into the better adverts and the Googles and Amazons and Facebooks of this world have signed up to those standards in the advertising space.
We’ve seen Tesco and McDonalds sign up to the IAB Gold standards and taking a leadership position that hopefully other brands will follow, so it’s about truth and what I’m particularly excited about in the US is brands such as CVS and Target, Asos, retailers and beauty retailers for example, are stopping airbrushing or Photoshopping their models and they’re bringing along other brands , the cover girls, Revlon’s, Olay’s, Loreals, all of those brands now are subscribing to that standard. Some brands are having to completely reshoot their campaigns to ensure they meet these authenticity standards.
By 2020 the few brands that don’t abide by CVS’s authenticity standards, will have to showcase a sticker, notifying the consumer that the imagery has been digitally altered, and so standards now are becoming airbrush and photo shop free and we’re getting to that level of consciousness where the product with the photo shop is stickered and indicated to consumers, and that’s, for me, real progress. That’s something that I’m excited about.
Yeah so there is hope. And I think interestingly just on that last point, I don’t have a problem if things are digitally altered- as long as we know about it. I mean let’s face it the movie industry for years has been digitally altering its product, and everyone or a lot of people are much happier with the end results, so I don’t have an issue about that its just being clear on what has been and what hasn’t been. So, there is hope Sam, which is good, and I think the point being that marketing is transforming once again and finding a new level, where products, channels, messages are being re-evaluated, which is good news. But if there is a clear sense of purpose and ultimately a desire to transact honestly, even if we’re making mistakes a long the way, then that’s how we rebuild the trust, I think. Although it might look slightly different to before. So, I think the landscape does change.
Three key take outs and reflections.
Well, firstly Chris, it’s a fact not perception. The reality is that trust is diminishing, there’s so much data out there, and we as marketers and advertisers are making it worse.
Transformation requires us to find a new higher level as individuals and as brand custodians, we have to make certain efforts, be better, be the race to the top and to start calling out the bad.
There has to be a commitment to do it well. It requires an investment of time and in the CVS case I mentioned, they’re doing it well and doing it together. Bring the industry with you and do it quickly.
Yeah, great. I like that. So next weeks show. Is going to explore the power of purpose and the positive impact it’s having on brands, on the employee’s experience and corporate leaders who are helping drive that decision and how it will continue the momentum behind the efforts, to rebuild trust. So, I think it will be a continuation of what we have been talking about here but looking at the power of social change and the influence that has. So, I can’t wait for that one Sam, I think it’s going to be a great episode.
Yeah, it sounds like a great show, it builds on this week’s episode and so, until next time Chris. Have a good week Across The Pond.