Is a lack of trust in advertising a threat to the industry?

Posted 19 March 2019

Keith Weed, Chief Marketing Communications Officer (CMCO) at Unilever, President of the Advertising Association and WFA's Global Marketer of the Year 2018, thinks so.

Media Trust hosted the second of our In Conversation with’ events led by BBC News Editorial Director, Kamal Ahmed on Thursday 14 March. Taking place at Google Academy in London, the series sees Kamal interview some of the leading minds in tech, marketing, media and beyond. Our second event saw Keith take to the hot seat.

Their lively discussion focused around public trust in the advertising industry which studies show, is decreasing. Keith has been a vocal commentator on this issue and has previously described a lack of trust as an “increasing challenge” to the advertising, a statement he firmly stood by that evening: “It is a huge threat. At the end of the day, A brand without trust is just a product. And advertising without trust is noise.” Keith continued: “If you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer, you see a continual line going down on trust…The industry really needs to wake up and take action now while it’s still achievable. And there are many things that are underlining it.”

Some other key themes that came through in the evening …

A brand without trust is just a product. And advertising without trust is noise.

Keith Weed, CMCO, Unilever

The role of data

In Keith’s opinion, a shift of focus in the advertising industry from creativity towards data driven marketing is partly responsible and this has led to a decline in quality of advertising.

“A lot of the focus has been on data, and data-driven marketing and targeting, search and learning new skills around digital advertising.” Keith did agree that keeping up to date was essential, but it has come at a price for agencies: “I think they’ve  taken their eye off the ball of creative, entertaining, engaging products.” Keith felt everyone had a role to play: “both advertisers and agencies in equal measure.”

He also said people feel bombarded by online advertising with unwanted ads following you around different websites depending on your browsing or purchasing history: “If data’s so great, why can’t marketers and advertisers work out that If you buy a leaf blower, the next thing you buy is probably not going to be a leaf blower!”

YouTube and unintended consequences

The discussion moved to the YouTube scandal which broke in 2017, in which major brands pulled their ads after they were found to be appearing next to videos promoting extremist views. Unilever was not affected by the scandal but that didn’t stop Keith from openly criticising YouTube at the time. However, he didn’t feel they were the only ones to blame.

He praised Google and YouTube’s handling of the crisis. “In their defence, [after the crisis] YouTube completely changed their business model. They still have stuff to do but I think it’s much better to hold people to account and have honest and tough conversations.”

Unilever on gender stereotypes

Keith spoke passionately about a number of Unilever initiatives and in particular their Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. He described Unilever as one of the world’s biggest campaigners for girls’ self-esteem – this has included having to debunk the beauty industry’s stereotypes through campaigns and workshops for women and girls around the world.

Media Trust’s next “In Conversation With” event will take place in June 2019.

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