BITE Focus

COVID-19 has exacerbated advertising’s trust problem

The coronavirus crisis has heightened the lack of public trust in advertising, making it vital that the industry remains focused on driving the trust agenda.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


“COVID has exacerbated the trust issue we have,” explained Kerry Chilvers, Brand Tribe Leader at Direct Line Group.  In amongst all the data about trust however, Chilvers reveals that “Business is actually the most trusted sector.” This, she believes, “gives us a real opportunity as advertisers to double down on our trust agenda.”

Chilvers was speaking at #RESET2021, as part of a panel discussion examining the role of the effective advertising experience when it comes to public trust. Chaired by Campaign’s UK Editor-in-Chief Gideon Spanier, the panel also included Jerry Daykin, Senior Media Director EMEA at GSK and Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer at Mediacom.

While the long-term decline in public trust in advertising has been both well researched and widely debated, Daykin points out that now has never been a better time to reset. “Why not build a new way of doing things with trust at the heart of it?” he asks.

While Unerman reminded the audience of the power of earning trust. She explained: “Trust is one of the rare precious commodities because you have to earn it. You can’t buy it.”

Be careful of the KPIs you set. People in advertising are goal orientated. You set a target and we run off to achieve it.

Sue Unerman

Why the experience of advertising matters

Spanier turned the conversation to examining the importance of the experience of advertising, particularly when it comes to bombardment, pointing out that the public’s experience of advertising has a big impact on trust.

For Chilvers, it fundamentally comes down to the fact that trust, “makes really good business sense.” She explains: “Bombarding customers is just an unnecessary cost. Why do I want to hit you with an ad 20 times when two will do?”

Daykin pointed out that in a strange year for media buying, the industry needs to examine a “bigger social contract with advertising.” While TV offers people a user exchange they can understand and trust when it comes to advertising, the digital ecosystem is a tricky place to play. He explains: “It can be dangerous to chase KPIs and numbers and not think about the user experience,” Daykin added: “You’d rather consumers trust your advertising and pay some attention to it.”

Taking proactive measures to improve trust

Every panellist pointed to the importance of taking proactive measures to improve trust. Chilvers explained that Direct Line has just been through ISBA’s Advertising Experience MOT process designed to examine and test a company’s safeguarding of its customer, avoiding bombardment and wasted investment. She describes the process as a “valuable step back to get that external perspective.”

GSK is going through the MOT at the moment, as Daykin explained. He believes that “advertisers of all shapes and sizes can do well from different perspectives.” He added that by clients and advertisers going through this kind of process, it makes it clear to the agencies they work with that this is a priority.

Unerman believes that building genuine trust comes down to the fundamentals of how the industry is set up. She cautioned: “Be careful of the KPIs you set. People in advertising are goal orientated. You set a target and we run off to achieve it.”

She continued: “If all you set your agency is short term KPIs then they’re probably not going to balance the bombardment issue and the trust issue with the whole picture.” Noting the adage that: “People do not do the things they’re asked to do, they do the things they’re rewarded for.”

We don’t have all the solutions but at least we’re asking the right questions.

Jerry Daykin

Next steps to rebuilding trust 

Daykin, who is an active member of the Conscious Advertising Network, believes that advertisers need to pay more attention to where their money ends up because advertising is “the gasoline that fuels a lot of the internet”. He explains: “We fuel a lot of the content that exists. If you don’t pay attention, you could end up funding disinformation.” He wants to see a shift towards measuring different metrics, like attention. As he adds, “We don’t have all the solutions but at least we’re asking the right questions.”

Chilvers underlined the power of sharing and collective action to ensure that each sector, and the industry as a whole can forge ahead together. She wants to see advertisers sharing best practice and resources, particularly between larger and smaller businesses. As she explains, this is “so the system works for the better of everybody.”

Attached to this approach, for Unerman is the need for advertisers and the marketing industry as a whole to talk about the work that’s being done. As she says, “We need to start thinking about what we want from our industry for the very long term in order to build trust.” As the industry celebrates its achievements whilst simultaneously asking questions of its behaviour, Chilvers believes that this allows us all to “see the advertising industry as the force for good as we know it can be.”