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Nielsen Measures Ad Trustworthiness, Finding Much in Traditional Media

Now, what was it you wanted to sell me? If the format of your advertising pitch is one that inspires confidence and trust, we may be able to do business.

By Patrick Henry
Published: March 23, 2016

What makes advertising effective? Sparkling copy? Stunning artwork? Astute placement? Meticulous measurement? They’re all important, but what ultimately makes the connection is trust. And by that criterion, the traditional media—including print—are doing a good job of delivering the kinds of ads that people believe in.

So found Nielsen in its Global Trust in Advertising Survey, published last September. To compile it, the media research organization polled 30,000 online respondents in 60 countries to see how consumers felt about various forms of paid, earned, and owned advertising mediums.

Paid media are the traditional, purchased kind: spots on television, for example, or ads in magazines and newspapers. Owned media are brand-controlled outlets such as company blogs or custom publications. The inbound, audience-generated response a brand gets from paid media, owned media, public relations, and other kinds of outreach constitute its earned media. Nielsen wanted to find out which formats do best with consumers and thus are the likeliest to gain in popularity with them.

The survey found that the gold standard for trustworthiness is recommendations from the inner circle of family and friends. More than 80% of survey respondents said they completely or somewhat believe in the reports they get from people they know and trust.

After that come owned media, with 70% saying that they have confidence in branded web sites. Opinions from other consumers, posted online, also ring true: two-thirds said they wholly or partially trust those. 

Nevertheless, competition from online channels hasn’t deprived traditional media of their ability to earn people’s trust. More than six in 10 (63%) have faith in some or all of what they see and hear in television ads. Ads in newspapers fare almost as well (60%) as do magazine ads (58%).

Despite their ubiquity—or perhaps because of it—online and mobile ads lag the traditional formats in terms of trust won. Less than half (48%) of respondents said they completely or partially trust online video ads. Still, that was better than the rated trustworthiness of ads served by search engines (47%), ads on social networks (46%), mobile advertising (43%), online banner ads (42%), and mobile text ads (36%).

Interestingly, the survey also found that the trust people repose in ads doesn’t correlate exactly with their inclination to take action in response to them. Some paid advertising formats, especially the online and mobile formats, actually polled higher percentages of self-reported action on the part of respondents than their trustworthiness ratings. 

In other words, people could could be readier to respond to ads than to fully believe in them. On the other hand, according to a Nielsen expert quoted in the survey report, about a third of online advertising campaigns fail to generate awareness or to make purchasing any likelier. 

Global patterns of trust in ads were seen in the responses.. Latin Americans showed the highest levels of trust, and Europeans the least. North Americans are below the global average in their trust of some forms but above the average in trust for about the same number of others.

Breaking out results by age, Nielsen found more good news for traditional media. Millennials (ages 21 to 34) show the highest levels of trust in nearly all of the advertising formats addressed in the survey,  including TV, newspapers, and magazines. Millennials are  also the most willing to take action on most of the formats.

Without an effective message to deliver, an advertising channel is a squandered opportunity. The survey report notes that the most successful ads deliver the right message in three dimensions: attention, conversion to long-term memory, and emotional engagement. Close to half (44%) of global respondents said they made their strongest connections to ads that depict real-life situations. In contrast, the least favored approach is endorsement by athletes.

The study goes into considerable detail on all of these aspects of consumer trust in advertising, and more. It reaffirms that print and the other traditional media—the first to build public faith in brands—still have their good work cut out for them amidst the distractions of mobilized digital advertising.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.


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