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It probably won't come as a surprise that consumers don't trust advertising. But the numbers are pretty grim.

According to a report entitled Your Brand: At Risk or Ready for Growth? sponsored by marketing solutions provider Alterian, the number of consumers who don't trust advertising is disturbingly close to 100%.

The report, which was written by Michael Hulme of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster University, found that 95% of respondents indicated that they did not trust advertising. Less than a tenth (8%) trust what companies say about themselves and more than half (58%) agreed with the statement "companies are only interested in selling products and services to me, not necessarily the product or service that is right for me". Perhaps most importantly, and only 17% of respondents believe companies take what they say seriously.

What's the possible solution? According to the report, respondents who are "actively engaged in the use of social media...[tend] to be more positive about companies in general." While only 16% of respondents overall thought companies were "genuinely interested in them", a much greater percentage (33%) of those who use social media thought that.

Alterian concludes "Social media is the most obvious manifestation of the broader social/behavioural change rather than being the change itself." That, I think, is an interesting insight. After all, social media is a platform that enables companies to interact and engage, but platforms alone can't force change.

All of this said, I think it's easy to overstate social media's virtues, and to be too cynical about companies and advertising in general. While it's easy to conclude that traditional marketing is "dead" and that companies should be delivering their marketing messages on an individual level, the reality is that the mode and mediums aren't the problem; it's the credibility of the messaging itself.

When it comes to the impact social media is having on relationships between companies and consumers, I, for one, am not entirely convinced that social media is being used to deliver more authentic messages, or producing more meaningful interactions. In short, the fact that social media users were (in this survey) more likely to believe that companies are interested in them has debatable meaning. After all, the number believing this is still well below 50%, and cause is not correlation. One could just as easily suggest that consumers who interact with companies online via social media are more likely to have favorable perceptions about companies generally.

What does seem clear, however: companies need to do more, and they need to change. While it may be no surprise that in a day and age filled with cynicism, consumers don't think very much of advertising or what companies say about themselves, the fact that few consumers actually buy into it should disturb corporate leaders.

Unfortunately, Hulme notes that "even within the limited social media debate, there appears to be a lack of readiness." Even though the issues in play here are far bigger than social media, social media alone is the subject of skepticism amongst many in senior management, and it's often approached as a siloed area instead of something that's "cross-organisational in scope."

That, of course, is a real problem. But the even bigger problem is making sure that the same mistakes made with traditional advertising don't get made with social media. If companies try the same old tricks with social media, they shouldn't be surprised when it's revealed that 95% of consumers don't trust their social media messaging either.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 May, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

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Jatinder Vijh

There is no doubt that Social Media provides a platform to actively engage the Consumer and the consumer is happy that he is being heard and attended to, a condition that is missing in traditional form of advertsing.

Media, social or tradtional, is a vehicle to transmit messages. The message must synchronise with the cultural ethos of the Company. It is not the credibility of the media that is being challenged, but the credibility of the Companies that is continuously challenged and tested.

Credibility to a large extent depends on not only what Companies talk about but more  on what they mean and act upon. Actions speak louder than words. It is imporatnt to remember  that it is important to be good but equally important is to appear to be good irrespective of the media one is using.

over 6 years ago

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Patrick Attallah

'Businesses should start seeing the web from a business-strategic point of view and understand, find and align their web-strategy with it. Companies should stop producing TV ads or banners without any call-to-action. And starting Twitter streams like “clowns” is definitely not the right way to approach the future of customer communication… says Martin Meyer-Gossner (a web business strategist). It is time for media owners to innovate – ditch advertising and become a platform (from my blog post) http://bit.ly/9Rl9La Patrick

over 6 years ago

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John MacDaniel

Companies that look at Social Media as simply a mass marketing tool are not taking advantage of one of the most powerful aspects of it, to build stronger relationships with their consumers. What a fabulous opportunity that has been presented, the ability to customize the message to individual consumers.

over 6 years ago

Blake Rice

Blake Rice, Digital Marketing Manager at ScentAir

"even within the limited social media debate, there appears to be a lack of readiness." Great article. Thanks.

over 6 years ago

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Edward O'Meara

Between the platforms and the marketers, Trust is already eroding in the social sphere.

over 6 years ago

Stuart Greenfield

Stuart Greenfield, Director at Greenfield Strategic Marketing Consultants

OK so they say they don't trust it but advertising works and works and works... we all know  and understand the game just because we all  on a conscious level know its all hype doesn't stop us on a subconscious level remember the brand and want to part of the culture. So I say rubbish, rubbish, to such piffle trust is one thing but been seen as cool is much more important. Oh, yes pass me a Marlboro fag darling!!!!

about 6 years ago

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Gail Gardner

Many companies have been misleading consumers for so long that has tainted their trust of every company. The advertisements currently appearing on regular (free - not cable) television are not only full of lies - they depict consumers as bugs, as being hit, as chasing things as though they were dogs chasing a car - they clearly indicate that the companies running them see consumers as "useless eaters" of little more importance than insects (another common image used to portray consumers). Why would any rational person believe big business cares what we think? They make it nearly impossible to contact them (except the few who actually use Social Media to interact with us) and most provide either no service at all or really poor service. The worse thing about all that is that consumers don't trust small local or online businesses either which I do not understand. I would hope that nearly every person has done business with at least one mom and pop or small independent company that truly cares about pleasing them? Why do we tolerate advertising from big companies that have never listened to us - even wearing and using products carrying their logos so that we are walking billboards - but scream when high quality local businesses try to get our attention? Some people even think all reviews on sites like Yahoo! Local, Google Maps, Merchant Circle and Superpages are phony. (Some are but most are not. I know that to be untrue because I write many of them and so do other people I personally know.) Product reviews in sites like the many Yahoo Stores that are based on follow-up interviews to confirmed purchasers are definitely all real. Just as we can use the reviews posted at Amazon or eBay to decide what products are poor and which are best we can use reviews of all kinds. I sincerely believe the solution to our economic woes and to create a more stable economy where everyone can live comfortably is to support small local and online businesses. For why I believe that read the post about Word of Mouth attached to this comment. Eventually I believe that fewer people will use search engines and more will turn to the people they interact with online for recommendations - first on sites like Twitter or Facebook but later in niche communities on blogs, forums, or specialized sites. That will take time to happen but that is where I see this going.

about 6 years ago

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HEILBrice

Building trust with your future clients and customers is one of the hardest tasks to accomplish.  With all the different outlets of social media, companies don't really know how to start and what following to utilize, in attempt to create brand advocates.  The numbers are in fact surprising, even though we all knew the whole gist behind the idea.  Social media nowadays is almost corrupting the possibility of "trust" in the marketing world.  Companies have Facebook's and Twitter's with strong followings, but how do they really know that their "followers" are really brand advocates of the company?  It seems that the more social media a company embarks on, the more confusion they experience when trying to discern between their "wanna-be" fans and their actual brand advocates.  We talk about such matters countlessly on our blog www.ideasthatbuildbusiness.com.  Feel free to check it out and join in on the on going conversation of marketing strategies, ideas, and interesting articles, relevant to this ever-growing social media based market of advertisement. 

about 6 years ago

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Chris Arnold

The ad industry has an enormous trust problem. I include within that term 'ad industry' both agencies of all type and brands.
Consumers have never trusted us because they can't forget that for most of it's history marketing has been about lies and spin and exaggerated claims. The web is probably the last place to find truthfully ads, it's full of lies and fraudsters. I know of no one who trusts any ads on line, not even 8%. It's so bad the ASA have been forced to start to regulate ads online.
I'm not sure that 'traditional marketing' is dead, it constantly adapts to new markets, changing consumers and new media options.
But probably the biggest media lie has been that the web is the new advertising medium. It fails on almost every level. It has the lowest response rate of any media. It may work on a promotional level but can't compete with TV, which has seen a 14% month on month rise in spending. Why? Clients say because the web doesn't deliver against the promise. And who was making those promises? Well there we are back to lies and spin and exaggerated claims.
Chris Arnold
Author Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer
Blogger on ethical marketing on Brand Republic.

over 5 years ago

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