News & Press: Legal Briefing

Legal Briefing: The necessity of trust and transparency in advertising

12 June 2019   (0 Comments)
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James Wilkinson Green, Regulatory Affair Manager, IPM



From “fake news” to questionable EU monetary donations plastered on the sides of buses, we have been living through 3 years of what, to many, has felt like a constant assault on the truth. With trust and transparency in all walks of life becoming an issue of societal concern the manner in which brands choose to address this challenge is becoming increasingly important.

According to Credos, an industry think-tank, favourability towards advertising recently hit a record low of 25% whilst trust in advertising is "in long-term decline". A large proportion of respondents cited “bombardment” as being a driver in their change of opinion, and whilst they recognised some of the benefits associated with advertising, the level of intrusiveness and irrelevance of ads was also mentioned.

A large part of the problem of intrusive ad bombardment and “fake news” has been laid at the door of Facebook and Google, a problem that Facebook did make some attempt to address in 2016 by working with fact-checking organisations Snopes, Politifact, ABC News, and FactCheck.org to verify the truthfulness of viral stories. Whilst this suggested a move towards responsibility this has been somewhat undermined by recent disagreement between Facebook and its fact-checkers with some choosing not to continue working with Facebook , citing a lack of trust in Facebooks’ commitment to rooting out false news.

In the long-term it’s unlikely that Google and Facebook's refusal to contribute 0.1% of ad spend to the levy that funds the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent advertising regulator, will do them any favours either. If you aren’t willing to fund a well-respected regulator whose aim is to ensure that advertising is “legal, decent, honest and truthful” people will eventually start to question why.

The rise of influencer marketing also seems to be driving a wave of questionable advertising claims. Whether this is through the ignorance of the influencers on the regulatory sphere they have entered or done deliberately, is up for debate. Misleading influencer marketing recently drove the CMA to take the unprecedented step of somewhat treading on the ASA’s toes and producing guidance for influencers in an area that by rights is the ASA’s backyard.

Whilst it’s tempting to dismiss concern about the level of trust in advertising as being part of a broader downhill slide of trust in society, in general the results according to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2018 , rank advertising executives below politicians as Britain’s least-trusted profession. The percentage of people polled who trusted advertising executives to tell the truth was 16%, as opposed to 19% for politicians. Even bankers were on a comparatively healthy 41%, having rebounded from 31% in 2013, and, most disturbingly of all, estate agents were on 30%.

So why is trust and transparency in advertising important in a climate where much bigger and more important subjects are routinely discussed with reference to “alternative facts”? Steve Jobs said “A brand is simply trust.” And he was right. Without trust in the brand you’re promoting all you have are products, and the world is full of products for every conceivable purpose. The question really is, if you can do your job well whilst behaving with integrity, why wouldn’t you?

You can see the full what happened at the CONNECT 2019 event here .

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