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"Do we treat them as humans or do we treat them as eyeballs?"

The public's opinion of advertising is at an all-time low but current issues of trust extend beyond the industry and into many other areas of public life. Solutions are not simple nor is there one silver bullet. But that can't stop us trying...

"Do we treat them as humans or do we treat them as eyeballs?"

While there is disagreement about how to win back public trust, the industry knows it does need to happen. That was the flavour of debate between leading industry figures at the Campaign-led discussion at Cannes Lions.

The listening project
"We have transgressed against the consumer," admitted Josh Stinchcomb, global CRO at Dow Jones. "Advertising needs a massive overhaul," added Richard Carr, managing director of Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive.

The sense of intruding on consumers’ private space was a common theme. "Our Rebranding Advertising report shows people dislike digital advertising that invades their privacy and follows them around the internet," said Michael Scantlebury (main image), creative director and owner of creative agency Impero.

He continued: "Mobiles are very intimate devices and it feels like advertisers are abusing that trust. Do we have empathy with their private space and who they are and treat them as consumers or do we treat them as eyeballs – that horrible phrase we see in media plans? It’s not a consumer-first term."

As head of marketing at Allied Irish Bank (AIB), Mark Brennan knows all about the challenge of losing and then trying to win back public trust. Having scored a record low of 8% on the Edelman Trust Barometer around six years ago, AIB are now up to 40%. "It’s a very slow and long journey. As an industry we need to listen and empathise more."

Brenda Fiala, SVP, strategy, insights and analytics at Bacardi, agreed: "We’re not always listening to our consumers but when we do listen to them and look at what they enjoy, we can be there when they have moments that matter."

Trust and value
For Spotify, trust lies in the quality of the content says Marco Bertozzi, their vice president, EMEA sales and multi-market global sales, particularly with their users.

He said: "Podcasts are highly trusted and people set aside time to listen to their favourites. This is a new way of advertising, though the temptation is always to think: 'How much more can we get out of this?'"

Carr added: "Trust is a transaction between two parties where the one that is the most vulnerable feels like they are not exploited. I don’t think we have been very clear about that value exchange at all as an industry."

Do less, do it better
For Jane Sayers, global discipline lead, film and content engine for Shell, the challenge is what she calls "content bloat".

She added: "Within our unit there are 200 businesses that may come to ask for content to be made. Trying to focus on what does the consumer want from this and how do we tell this story with the viewer in mind is really tough."

Nick Steel is a director at Nomad Foods Europe, whose brands include Birds Eye and Findus. He said: "Where it goes wrong is where people are talking to the wrong people about the wrong things. We try to show people things that are relevant and real to them in their lives. Don’t just tell them something’s healthy – they want to know, ‘is my kid going to eat this?’"

Targeted and tactful = trusted
"Advertisers should seek environments where the consumers trust the content," said Josh Stinchcomb, global CRO of Dow Jones, the owners of the Wall Street Journal.

Anna Watkins, managing director at Verizon Media, added: "Research showed the benefit of a direct transfer of values through from the publisher to the advertiser. We need to promote the factual benefits of quality contextual environments and the direct transfer of values."

Brennan said: "Stop making bold statements and promises and just everyday do things to prove to your customers that they can trust you."

Bertozzi said that he was suspicious of the open marketplace and one important way to retain or win back trust was not to operate in it. "If you care about brand safety, you shouldn’t be there."

Brennan replied: "I don’t think you can achieve relevance and transparency if you go into the open market and throw in a load of ads at low cost. It can only be in spaces where you know who the customer is and that leads you to the premium places that are properly controlled."

Scantlebury believes it is about humanising the consumer and not just thinking of them as "just numbers of eyeballs".

Steel added: "We think too much about demographics and generations. It comes back to relevance and talking to the right people about the right thing."

Fiala took that concept on, saying: "If you’re not getting relevant content and things you don’t believe in, the advertising is bad. Make sure you understand who your audience is. If we understand who your audience is then we can help shape creative and our brand story to fit there, but not to force it and be selective."

Enough talk, what about action?
Watkins wants to see industry-wide collaboration and self-regulation: "Signing up to initiatives like the Global Alliance for Responsible Media are crucially important. We need to collaborate, clean up our own backyard and sign up to these shared principles and standards or it could be severe."

Scantlebury disputed what effect these noble ideas would have in practice: "The trust factor is bigger than advertising. I feel people will be like ‘we’ve heard it before… we heard it from the banks before.’ We’re just not playing to our strengths."

Stinchcomb insisted: "Trust has to come from the brand. Think about organic food – it wasn’t until there was an official body that it took off as an industry. It took uniformity for that industry to explode."

Carr added: "For me, it’s got to be about improving the overall experience."

But Brennan cautioned: "There’s no silver bullet for regaining people’s trust in advertising. For me, it’s the combination of better verification, better brand investment, better creative, better collaboration and better investment in talent."

The positive steps

Richard Carr, managing director, Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive: "We have to improve the overall experience."

Josh Stinchcomb, global CRO, Dow Jones: "Is there a way to accurately and usefully measure trust?"

Marco Bertozzi, vice president, EMEA Sales & Multi-market Global Sales, Spotify: "Demonstrate the incredible value people get on the back of advertising."

Anna Watkins, managing director, Verizon Media: "We have to be responsible for signing up to industry initiatives."

Michael Scantlebury, creative director and owner, Impero: "The trust issue is bigger than advertising."

Mark Brennan, head of marketing, AIB: "As an industry we need to listen and empathise more."

Brenda Fiala, SVP, strategy, insights and analytics, Bacardi: "How do we make sure we’re reaching the right mindset with our content? I’d love to sign up to that."

Jane Sayers, global discipline lead, film and content engine, Shell: "One of the issues we face is content bloat."

Nick Steel, growth strategy and insight director, Nomad Foods Europe: "It comes back to relevance and talking to the right people about the right thing."

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