69% of UK adults claim to distrust advertising – at least according to new research by Ipsos Mori for Trinity Mirror Solutions. In addition, 43% say they trust advertising less than they used to, and 42% say they do not trust the brands themselves.

A lack of trust isn’t limited to the UK or even the advertising industry; the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43%) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries.

Traditional media – TV (42%) and Newspapers (13%) – still win when it comes to ‘places you are most likely to find advertising you can trust’. Perhaps the most worrying research finding is that advertising is not considered to be part of popular culture as it has been in the past, with 48% of adults agreeing that they do not talk about adverts as much as they used to.

When the trust in advertising isn’t there, brands get talked about for all the wrong reasons – most infamously the recent Kendall Jenner-Pepsi error of judgement.

Worse, however, is when advertising attempts to detract from a brand’s bad behaviour rather than using it as a platform to demonstrate its trustworthy behavior. In the wake of  VW’s emissions scandal, they released ads with the line ‘it’s more than just a car. It’s keeping your promises’ – a cover-up campaign described by Mark Ritson as ‘sheer contempt’, and lacking any real credibility (VW’s Reputation score on brand index has recovered from negative to positive but remains less than half its score pre-scandal).

Samsung treated the exploding battery in their Galaxy Note 7 as a minor irritation, returning with ads around the Oscars that effectively promised that phones would no longer have the habit of catching fire; “Quality is our priority”.Warren Buffett said “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” – but when a brand has highly appealing products and a reputation for quality, they really can get away with more.

Finding the right truths to tell depends on the audience you’re talking to. Lidl took any consumer misgivings about food provenance head-on with its Lidlsurprises campaign. For Irn Bru’s launch of its sugar free Xtra drink, they chose to tell untruths in their ad ‘Unbelievable Stuff’ to connect with their audience: “Before Irn Bru Xtra I used to be dead”.

Making advertising more trustworthy requires brands to be more empathetic to what customers want, getting closer to providing a worthwhile interruption in their lives and making the interaction as credible as possible. In today’s post-truth fake news world, anything that feels false is either called out for what it is or dismissed quickly.  If your brand lacks credibility in a particular area,  form alliances and build a network to accelerate credibility. Trust can be borrowed – as long as it feels like a genuine partnership.

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