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Trust me, I'm in advertising.

Published on Monday, 10th December 2018, contributed by Prophecy Unlimited

Which professions do you trust to tell the truth? Doctors, teachers, bankers or civil servants? The Ipsos Mori Veracity Index 2018 has the answer. They have been polling 1,000 UK adults on the level of trust they place in people of different professions since 1983, and it paints a fascinating picture of the trust (and contempt) that the public holds for some of the key jobs in British society.

Of course, generally, we think of trust as a quality you bestow on an individual, rather than an entire profession. I have a sister in the armed forces and a brother in the police (both of which score over 75%, according to the research), but they both cheat shamelessly at board games. Not that you can trust me to tell the truth on this one, because my name is Heidi Stephens and I work in advertising.

Advertising Execs were included in the study for the first time this year, and we made QUITE the entrance, immediately taking the Crown of Crappy Career Choices with a trust score of only 16%. Even more spectacularly, we are less trusted than bankers, estate agents, journalists, government ministers and politicians generally.

Let me repeat for the people at the back. Advertising execs are less trusted than POLITICIANS. Even worse, estate agents are almost TWICE as trusted as people who work in my chosen field. The SHAME.

Since this study came out a few weeks ago, I’ve spent quite a lot of time sitting on my THRONE OF LIES trying to work out why so few people trust advertising execs to tell the truth. I think a lot of it is our industry getting caught up in the flak from recent scandals around dubious data usage, fake news and political manipulation of social media. At the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is highly targeted ads, no different from the ones people see every day on Facebook, flogging them everything from hair straighteners to holidays. Rebuilding trust in advertising is going to be a very long haul (economy flights available from just £269 while stocks last, terms and conditions apply).

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the word ‘truth’. By definition, a truth is ‘a verified or indisputable fact, proposition or principle’. Of course you want truth from doctors and scientists, but is that what people want from advertising? Decades of research would suggest otherwise. The ads that are most loved, and most effective in driving sales, are those that prompt an emotive response. Great advertising is about feeling, not facts, and most of the choices we make are driven by instinct and intuition, not indisputable stats and data. As advertisers, it could be argued that our job is not to tell the truth, but to create and sell a more interesting and emotion-driving version of it.

What goes without saying is that advertising is not in great shape, perception-wise. Advertisers need to take stock, review the industry regulations, and take steps to rekindle the faith after a brutal few years. It’s not an impossible task. The Ipsos research shows that bankers have improved their trust ranking from 31% to 41% in the past five years alone, whilst civil servants have gained 37 percentage points since the survey began in 1983. Probably best not to talk about priests.

In the meantime, maybe a little bit of reframing is called for. Perhaps advertising is not the least trusted profession in the UK, it’s just the one with the biggest opportunity for renewing faith and love. That’s not a lie, it’s just my job.

This article was written by Heidi Stephens, Planning Director at Prophecy Unlimited, and first appeared on the CustomerJourneysJoinedUp blog.