Is social media eroding our trust in advertising?

On the back of my article on dark social earlier this week, I was invited to appear on Radio 4 last night to talk about the level of trust in advertising, e.g. does Red Bull really give you wings? Can consumers really expect to purchase a hotdog the size of a room from IKEA for 50 Cents?

While I am effectively just boasting about my newfound minor media celebrity status, this interview did also throw up an important question: do we trust brands less in an age of social media?

Hot dog IKEA ()

Too colloquial for comfort

The problem with social is that it has removed the fourth wall between advertiser and consumer. Cast your mind for example to the UK’s Paddy Power ads (below), on whatever format you like, as the most extreme example of this erosion. Where ‘ad-men’ once resembled your university lecturer advising you on the ‘best practice’ products to have in your life, the advertising voice is now more colloquial, more human, and attempts to be more real. Advertising is therefore no longer a performance. It relies upon an earnest two-way interaction between brand and consumer, or at least the perception of it. 

Factor in the sticky elements of celebrity endorsements, product placement, and every product and service provider under the sun attempting to become a ‘media brand within its own right’, and you begin to see why trust is beginning to be called into question.  

Trusted media brands

Now I am not here to bang the drum for traditional media, nor slam the advent of social. Advertiser integrity has always been highly scrutinised, and while money is exchanged for goods and services, it is right that it always will be. But it is fair to say that more structured promotion through established media brands can lead to greater trust in advertising. 

Buy my marmalade ()

The UK Association of Online Publishers did some research a couple of years ago specifically looking content partnerships between premium content media and advertiser brands. What they found was that advertiser content delivered within this environment increased likelihood of recommendation and purchase by up to 30 per cent, and an average 23 per cent in brand repositioning.

So I’m not saying that Social is necessarily bad for advertising, but perhaps the way in which brands have started to use it is. Even in an age of instant connectivity we must remember to engage our audiences in a professional and honest way and let them know they are being advertised to, rather than simply trying to ‘get in’ with everybody on Twitter, and perhaps appearing too colloquial for comfort.  

The view from outside 

What I learnt from last night’s interview, which allowed me to break down my own fourth wall and revisit advertising a little more from the consumer eye, is that there is less patience out there than we might think there is for faux friendliness and relentless charm. Yes, creative license is and should be allowed within advertising, but you can’t be both performer and advisor and the industry needs to decide.

Do you agree with Jamie? Let us know what you think!

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