Only one in 10 Brits trusts social media advertising, YouGov survey finds

Research involved participants from 17 countries.

Social media: people in the UK have the lowest level of trust globally (Photo: Westend61/Getty)
Social media: people in the UK have the lowest level of trust globally (Photo: Westend61/Getty)

Traditional advertising channels are still most trusted by UK and US consumers, according to exclusive global research carried out for Campaign by YouGov.

More than 18,000 people across 17 countries were asked how trustworthy they found advertising across 10 channels (from traditional ones such as TV and radio to “new media” including podcasts and websites), with options ranging from very trustworthy to not at all.

In the UK, TV and radio were considered very or somewhat trustworthy by 54% and 53% of respondents respectively. The other three traditional types of media – print, out-of-home and cinema – were trusted by 38-43% of people.

Newer channels, on the other hand, were considered trustworthy by less than 30% of participants. The least-trusted was social media at just 10%, with only 1% finding it very trustworthy. In fact, 47% of people said it was not trustworthy at all – the highest proportion globally. A further 36% said it was not very trustworthy.

There are also low levels of trust in advertising on websites (75% said not at all or not very trustworthy) and search engines (60%) – although they are joined at the bottom of the table by an older medium, direct mail (70%).

Jon Mew, chief executive of Internet Advertising Bureau UK, said: "Advertising clearly has a trust problem and, going by these results, some will label it digital's problem. But trust is a nuanced, complex issue that we know, from the Advertising Association's own research, exists across all media and varies by demographics.

"For example, those that grew up with the internet, aged between 18 and 34, are more likely than older groups to trust ads online and their trust in online is on par with offline media.

"In order to rebuild public trust in advertising – digital included – we need a co-ordinated effort. From the IAB's Gold Standard to the AA's Trust Action Plan, collective action is key."

Lindsey Clay, chief executive of TV trade body Thinkbox, argued: “We’re seeing a return to the higher ground in advertising and these findings reflect it. TV is held to the highest standards – viewers and advertisers know this. TV earns its trust. Unlike social media, TV pre-vets all its content and advertising at great expense.

"This investment guarantees its brand safety. Being seen on TV creates brand trust, it signals quality and credibility – which explains why so many online brands are on TV.”

Lucy Barrett, client director at Radiocentre, added: "Time and time again, radio comes out top when research is conducted about trust in media. This is no coincidence. Not only is it a highly effective advertising medium, radio is also highly regulated.

"Audiences hear ads that have been approved for air and are broadcast alongside professional, respected and trusted presenters. If advertisers want to reach consumers on an effective, safe, trustworthy platform, then radio is the clear choice."

In the US, while the trend is similar to that in the UK, overall, consumers appear to trust traditional advertising channels less. Print came top, but it was trusted by only 47% of people, closely followed by TV (46%) and radio (45%).

Conversely, more people trust social media. While it also achieved the lowest rating, it was trusted by almost double the proportion of people compared with the UK. That said, 40% considered it not trustworthy at all.

YouGov also surveyed people from 15 other countries alongside the UK and the US to gain a global perspective on trust in advertising.

Globally, traditional advertising also dominates – TV and print came joint top as most trusted with 52% of consumers finding them trustworthy, followed by radio with 51%.

It is notable that, while social media was also the least trusted among the 10 options, it was trusted by a quarter of people – significantly higher than in the UK. That said, 40% said it was not very trustworthy and 28% deemed it not trustworthy at all.

Trust in social media advertising also varies between regions, with those in Asia-Pacific countries significantly less likely to call it untrustworthy. Campaign Asia-Pacific has written in more detail about the results of those countries included in the research.

Websites and search engines, which also scored poorly in the UK and to a lesser extent in the US, also performed more strongly on a global scale, with trust at 38% and 41% respectively.

YouGov spoke to 2,029 people in the UK and 2,019 people in the US for the survey. In total, the online study involved 18,929 participants across 17 countries – eight in Europe, six in Asia-Pacific, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and the US. It was conducted between 31 December 2020 and 15 January 2021.

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