Advertising Age reported on April 24, 2015, the dramatic results of a representative national survey of Americans commissioned by the 4A’s that found extremely low levels of trust for advertising. Only 4% believed that Advertising and Marketing practice integrity, which 69% of the sample said means “always keeping promises.” (No One Trusts Advertising or Media, April 24, 2015; adage.com)
The findings must be dealt with because Advertising and Marketing’s job is to build consumer trust for our brands and clients. As David Bell, member of the IAE Advisory Council, puts it: “Trust is the currency of our business and Ethics is the engine of Trust.” This important “Trust” is created, motivated and maintained by practicing enhanced advertising ethics.
Consumers are highly motivated to purchase by Trust. Research conducted by Bozell over twenty years ago showed that consumers ranked “ethics and values” as the number-one factor in assessing whether or not a company can be called a “corporate good citizen.” Research reported in the Wall Street Journal showed that consumers think highly enough about ethics that they are willing to pay more for an ethically produced product. And Leo Burnett understood this when he stated: “Ethics is at the center of how we express a brand.”
The Institute for Advertising Ethics, a partnership between the American Advertising Federation and the Missouri School of Journalism, has adopted eight Principles for Advertising Ethics that emphasize the importance of ethics for the advertising entity and its professionals, and that cover the current ethical dilemmas we are facing. Specifically related to the consumer research findings, Principle 1 states that advertising and editorial share a common objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public, and Principle 2 urges that our advertising and marketing professionals exercise the highest personal ethics in the creation and dissemination of commercial information.
Principle 3 urges that the line between advertising and editorial should not be blurred. This relates to one of the negative research findings that only 4% trust “Brand-sponsored content that looks like it’s editorial content.” So-called “Native Advertising” is now being offered by 75% of the nations’ publishers. The point is that it can be done effectively and with trust with effective disclosure that it is paid content.
While the research is discouraging, it presents an opportunity for the advertising and PR industry to believe in the importance of building trust with the consumer through ethical and effective marketing communications. IAE stands ready to assist with ad ethics classes, its certificate program and website page.