Guy Parker...ASA chief
Guy Parker...ASA chief
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Involve the consumer more; they might like it

For too long, the ad industry has been adopting the brace position in the face of a relentless onslaught from anti-advertising pressure groups.

So it's disconcerting to discover this week that the public actually now views adland with less suspicion and distrust.

A study commissioned by Credos, the independent think tank funded by the Advertising Association, has found that the public is rather more positive about advertising than it has been in the past.

But oh, the cynics bray, of course Credos would say that. With the AA holding out its cap for donations from agencies and marketers, it's obvious Credos should be spinning positive messages about the trajectory of public opinion: give the AA more money and we can make people love ads; look what a difference the AA's work is making already.

And even Credos itself admits that the swing in opinion might have something to do with changes in the survey's methodology. Two years ago, 45 per cent of people questioned ticked the "neither favourable nor unfavourable" box when asked their opinion of the industry. When the wording of that option was changed to "no opinion" this year, only 6 per cent of people ticked the box. Now that the web has empowered us all to believe in the value of our opinion, few of us will admit we don't have one. And you don't need me to tell you about the, ahem, flexibility of research. So cynics are keen to dismiss this latest survey as a piece of puffery designed to make the AA look good.

Are we really so used to advertising being a whipping boy for loud-mouthed pressure groups that we find it hard to believe that people are actually feeling more positive about advertising (even if they don't necessarily feel more positive about the advertising industry)? Really, we should be putting the bunting up (again). Because surely what the Credos survey shows is a subtle but definite shift in public perceptions of advertising, and I think it's driven by two key factors. First, the increased transparency around advertising regulation and the efforts of the Advertising Standards Association and the AA to educate the public about their work.

But second, and more powerfully, so much advertising now invites participation and collaboration. Over the past couple of years, advertising has begun to move from a force inflicted on consumers by an industry often considered to be packed with pariahs, to something that asks consumers to get involved, to play with it, to reshape it and own it.

Simply put, the more advertising opens itself up to its audience, the less suspicious people will feel about it and the more they are likely to actually engage with the process. Yes, consumers still know the rules of the game, they know they're being sold to. But now they're complicit. And sometimes they're actually quite enjoying being part of it too.