trust in advertisingLife has not slowed down much for Keith Weed since his retirement from his role as Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer in May. We speak to him as he dashes from a meeting for one of the companies where he is now a board member to the airport to catch a flight to New York.

He will be in New York with his president of the Advertising Association hat on. He is speaking at Advertising Week New York this afternoon (26 September) to issue a “call to arms” to the US ad industry to help its UK counterpart tackle the challenge of declining public trust in advertising.

The issue is well known in the UK. An AA report shows the percentage of the public feeling favourable towards advertising fell from 50% in the early 1990s to just 25% last year. Edelman’s trust barometer, meanwhile, shows the advertising industry has a trust level of just 37%, putting it in last place and behind industries including banking, energy and telecoms.

Keith Weed tells industry to ‘double down’ and help make advertising noble again

This is not just a UK issue. In the US, the marketing and advertising industry came bottom in a survey of the types of industries that US internet users trust by PwC. It had a score of just 3%, compared to 6% for social media and 42% for banks (which topped the table).

Weed says: “There is an ongoing decline in trust in advertising seen around the world.”

He and the AA believe this is an issue that must be tackled at a global level. In part, this is because most major advertisers and agencies operate in more than one country, if not globally. But it is also because many of the biggest recipients of ad dollars are now global.

Looking back just 10 years, media was quite fragmented globally, with countries having their own newspapers, magazines and TV channels. But with the growth of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Snapchat into “truly global media platforms”, the AA believes there is a need to engage with other countries.

“There are truly global platforms which gives an opportunity for the AA to engage with other countries to really look at what are the issues, how can we learn from each other and, importantly, how can we leverage similar solutions to really start addressing what has been a long-term issue,” explains Weed.

“The US is a natural place to start. It is the world’s largest media market and there are close partnerships with the AA and our US partners.”

In the UK, the AA has already started work to stop the decline. There is an industry action plan that includes five key initiatives: reducing bombardment; addressing excessive frequency and retargeting; raising awareness of the Advertising Standards Authority; raising awareness of data regulation; and showcasing advertising as a force for good.

Ultimately, the objective is to have a healthy industry of brands serving people’s needs.

Keith Weed, The AA

This has the backing of the AA Council, which has 40 members including all the major industry organisations and media platforms. There is also a ‘trust’ working group chaired by ISBA and the IPA.

Weed says: “It is early days but we are off to a good start. The most important thing is everyone recognises this is an issue and there is a broad commitment to addressing it. Engaging with our US partners will be another positive step.”

The AA now wants to talk to industry organisations including the ANA and 4As to see if the plan it developed in the UK could work in the US. It will also look at the role wider industry initiatives such as the Coalition for Better Ads, IAB gold standard and Unstereotype Alliance can have.

Building a healthy ad industry

The hope is that the ad industry can come together globally to share best practice in areas such as frequency and retargeting to reduce instances where advertising annoys and interrupts. It can then get back to “making great advertising”, says Weed, and better promoting the positive impact it has on areas including economic growth and the funding of news and entertainment content.

“What we would like to see is how relevant [the UK plan] is and how that can equally be built on and leveraged with our US partners,” explains Weed.

“Ultimately, the objective is to have a healthy industry of brands serving people’s needs. Advertising plays a key role connecting consumers with the solutions to their problems and has the positive effect of funding so many positive things [news, TV] around us. To me, the positive objective would be trust starts growing and within that consumers are better served by great brands.”

The point on best practice is key for Weed, particularly as more small and medium-sized businesses become advertisers. He acknowledges that brands such as Unilever can, and did while he was there, educate their marketers on the best and most effective ways to advertisers but he recognises not every company has the resource or capability to do this.

“Showing not only what good looks like but what excellent looks like will really help unlock this,” he says. “The big brands stand out but there are a vast number of brands and companies advertising and being clear on what works will help them.”

The AA has robust plans to measure the impact of this work as well. Alongside its regular report into trust, it will also be tracking metrics around bombardment, excessive frequency and retargeting.

“I am a great believer in measure what you treasure and what’s measured gets done, so we will track progress,” he concludes.

“There is a real positive opportunity at multiple levels. A positive impact for people as far as making advertising more relevant, engaging and entertaining. There is a real opportunity for brands and with that ad agencies to create better advertising that will grow brands accordingly. And there is the opportunity for the industry, to make it more clearly an industry that acts responsibly as a growth engine for the UK economy, and also to attract great people.”

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