Is adland threatened by falling trust?

As Graham Greene wrote: "It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself." Sadly, the concept of trust has taken a bit of a battering of late. It started with politicians (no real surprise there), then "greedy" bankers and the media (again, maybe only the merest arching of the eyebrows). But when national institutions such as the BBC, the police and the NHS get dragged into it, there is a fear that it has become endemic.

The latest scandal is food – horsemeat passed off as beef by a food industry that seems more obsessed with cutting costs than being trusted. And who wouldn’t bet against more scandals coming to light in an age when the whistleblower is becoming a more dependable guardian of interests than those organisations and brands ostensibly there to serve us? So who can we trust? And can advertising still play its part in re-establishing, or affirming, trust? Or will it too be dragged down as the nation becomes more suspicious, their faith rocked beyond repair and destined to languish in the cell of Greene’s despair?

Agency head

Ida Rezvani, managing director, Mcgarrybowen

"Trust in government and business was reported as being at an all-time low last year and things are not much better this year. We will be affected given we help build trusting relationships between brands and consumers. However, we are only as good as the reliability of the claims we make. Consumers are going to scrutinise these claims harder than ever now. This will make social media more important as peer-to-peer trust is proven to be higher. I don’t think adland is at threat, but the Advertising Standards Authority complaints inbox is probably a good indicator if the public starts to reject advertising to a greater extent than previously."

Agency head

Jim Carroll, chairman, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

"Brands have encouraged us to trust a name, a symbol, an object, an institution. Some individuals in business and society have abused this trust. Some organisations have developed cultures that failed to address abuse. Perhaps hard market considerations outweighed soft value considerations. Sadly, I suspect advertising may have been subject to similar abuse, given it has functioned in the same environment. We have all relearned in the past few years that trust can only be sustained through individuals, culture and values. This is how trust will be rebuilt. And it’s a primary function of leadership."

Agency head

Jackie Stevenson, founding partner, The Brooklyn Brothers

"We all know trust is earned and not bought. To be trusted, you need to show you’re honest in what you say and consistent in your delivery – and, for years, adland has brilliantly helped brands do exactly that. So when there’s a crisis of trust, should we feel threatened? I’d argue only those of us who persist in calling ourselves ‘adland’ and ignore where today’s consumers want to meet those brands – through other customers, through the media, in culture. No matter how much you craft and hone a message, if the only way you can reach those consumers is by buying time with them, you’ll never really be trusted."

Planning head

Bridget Angear, joint chief strategic officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

"Of course brands are built on trust and, if that trust is threatened, then all associated industries are threatened. But I don’t think it fundamentally changes our role as communicators to uncover a truth about a product or service and present it in the most compelling way possible. Consumers know we are a well-regulated industry. ‘If they say it on the TV, it must be true,’ they say. Coupled with this, social media means anything misleading or untrue will be rumbled in a heartbeat, so it’s an unsustainable position. The truth well told is the foundation stone of our business and we must constantly ensure that we live up to this."