Trust me, I'm an adman
A view from Charles Vallance

Trust me, I'm an adman

This may or may not come as a surprise but, for the first time ever, the clergy is no longer the most trusted sector of society.

According to the latest Ipsos MORI Veracity Index, this group has slipped to second place, with a 67% level of trust. Television newsreaders come in third at 65%.

So who does command the most trust? Who is the new number one? Lawyers? No, they scrape in at 51%, which seems generous if you ask me. Bankers? Obviously not, they score 37%. The answer, surprisingly, is admen. We score a very creditable 72%. 

I’m lying, of course, we weren’t even included in the survey. But my fake news headline does have some adjacency to the truth – in that the real answer is the thing that all ad people should be striving for. The real answer, therefore, is word of mouth. That’s right. The sector of society we now trust most is ourselves, "the ordinary man/woman in the street", as Ipsos MORI puts it. We now pip the priests, coming in with a 68% level of trust. Here’s to us.

This is, in its own way, quite something. The deference/reference pyramid has finally been fully inverted. People no longer even vaguely trust upwards, they trust sideways. And this, of course, correlates directly with the rising importance of word of mouth, customer advocacy and brand talkability. 

Only 24% of mobile media planners are using third-party verification providers

There is, however, an important caveat. It would be very easy to draw a straight line between the importance of "socialising" your communication, and the importance of social media in communication. They are both about reference and peer-to-peer communication, they are both sideways in nature. But this assumes an equal relationship, when the relationship is far from equal, for a simple reason: we don’t trust social media as much as we trust ourselves. 

In fact, the 2017 Edelman Trust Survey uncovered something that the self-flagellists of advertising may find astonishing. People trust ads more than they trust a company’s social media (by a ratio of 52% to 48%).

You might argue that the gradual decline in trust that social media faces among the public contrasts favourably with the more dramatic descent it faces among the client community. Indeed, it is this descent that has led Campaign to devote this edition of the magazine to the fraught subject of ethics and the internet. 

Last month, a survey by global executive network the CMO Council and Dow Jones found a quarter of global marketers report digital ads appearing next to extremist content. Just a few days later, Campaign published a screengrab of an ad from a people-smuggling operation on the group pages of Facebook. One of the first things that a brand manager is taught is to keep good company. In the cyber Wild West this is proving rather more difficult than brand safety demands.

If context is one of the main "trust busters", another is measurement. You can, frankly, drive a coach and horses through a lot of digital-measurement systems. Too often, the big media owners are left to mark their own homework, with sometimes farcical results. For instance, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, while Facebook’s Ads Manager claimed a reach of 41 million US 18- to 24-year-olds, the 2016 US census data put the total number of US 18- to 24-year-olds at only 31 million. Awkward.

"Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?" is a question that you may well be asking yourselves. And the answer might be media agencies. Except, you sometimes get the feeling that they can be a bit of a pushover. 

For instance, only 24% of mobile media planners are using third-party verification providers, according to location-based data company GroundTruth. When the truth is this elusive, trust tends to evaporate quickly.

So what are we to do? Well, clearly, we should tighten up our online communications protocols, and it’s good to see that everyone is committed to this. We should probably also consider a rebalancing of media emphasis. 

It is unlikely offline advertising will ever catch up with online media advertising. But perhaps, for prudent brand owners, the delta should never be allowed to get too wide. 

To continue to ensure brand trust, for customers and clients, we should never underestimate the value of a public statement, publicly made, and officially approved and audited by a third party.

To put it more crudely, you will never drive down the Cromwell Road and see the 48-sheet poster for your brand next to a 48-sheet poster for a people-smuggling outfit. I promise. Trust me, I’m an adman.   

Charles Vallance is the founder and chairman of VCCP