How Corporate Distrust Is Reshaping Advertising

Opinion: Why is distrust in corporations and advertising so prevalent, and how is the advertising world responding?

A stranger approaches you and tries to sell you a new watch. How much do you trust this person?

For millions of Americans, advertisers and corporations have become like strangers with ulterior motives—meaning that they aren’t to be trusted and aren’t worth paying attention to.

A Gallup poll recently revealed that only 6 percent of Americans trust big corporations “a great deal,” with an additional 12 percent trusting them “quite a lot,” leaving a whopping 82 percent of Americans who are dubious about big businesses.

Even small businesses are reporting lower numbers, with 68 percent of Americans having some trust in these institutions.

Online, more than 53 percent of consumers use some kind of ad blocker, and only 7 percent view ads in a positive light.

Why is distrust in corporations and advertising so prevalent, and how is the advertising world responding?

Why distrust exists

It may seem obvious why corporations and ads are distrusted now more than ever before, but let’s articulate these reasons so we can have a full understanding:

  • The overabundance of advertising: Although it’s tough to accurately estimate, Americans are exposed to something like 5,000 ads every day. They’re packed everywhere, from billboards and radio spots to tiny banner ads in your favorite application. When you’re exposed to that much advertising, it’s easy to filter all those aggressive, sales-y messages to a singular, blurry kind of white noise.
  • The perception of corporate greed: Ads are a way for companies to make more money—and people view them in a profiteering light. They see ads as an extension of corporate greed, intended solely to get consumers to buy more things and increase corporate profits even further. The 2008 financial crisis didn’t help public opinions that corporations don’t care about the American public.
  • The availability of information: Corporate distrust is also more prevalent simply because information is more plentifully available to consumers. Scandals, profits, accidents and errors are under a public magnifying glass, and every misstep is another reason for consumers to lose trust.

Effects on advertising

So how are advertisers responding to this increase in public distrust, and where can we go from here?

  • Professional reviews: For starters, professional review sites for everything from CNET’s broadly focused gadget reviews to Mr. Aberthon’s niche mobile hotspot reviews are starting to become a higher-quality source of information (and buying decisions). Because these reviews come from third parties, they’re seen as more trustworthy and get more visibility and consumer approval. Some companies strive to get featured in more professional review sites, offering free products in exchange for a feature.
  • Peer reviews and ratings: Peer-submitted reviews and ratings are also increasing in importance. Even Google ranks local sites in part due to how they’ve ranked in review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. As a result, businesses are doing more to showcase popular opinions on their top products and services, hoping the genuine words of their customers can outweigh even the most carefully crafted copy from the creative team.
  • Native ads: There’s also been a surge in spending on native advertising, which is designed to look indistinguishable from organic content on popular news and publishing sites. Although the effectiveness of this strategy depends on the type of content that awaits users clicking through the initial headline, it’s likely that native advertising will grow as a less-intrusive way to get the attention of online users.
  • Inbound marketing: Obviously, inbound marketing has been a huge success for many businesses for the past decade or so. Rather than spending time reaching out to consumers, businesses are improving their own reputations and offering content that naturally draws users in. Through ongoing content marketing, search-engine optimization campaigns and social media marketing, these brands develop relationships with people first, and then hope users will keep them in mind for future purchases.
  • Branding and transparency: Finally, brands are actively trying to win more consumer trust by giving consumers more information and working on their brand image. They’re playing up qualities like integrity, dedication and corporate social responsibility, and they’re trying to be more transparent in their press releases and social media campaigns to avoid any hint of distrust.

Is consumer distrust killing the world of advertising? Some have made that claim, but it seems unlikely that such an enormous industry would disappear overnight.