Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Trust isn’t the problem products are

For that last year or so, all the talk in the ad industry has been about the dramatic loss of trust in advertising and what needs to be done to restore it.   Fuelled in particular by Keith Weed and the Ad Association, we’ve heard that favourability has almost halved from 48% in 1992 and has dropped even further from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

They’ve cited a number of reasons for this loss in trust, but the overarching feeling from the research is that this is a recent phenomena, in no small part down to the advent of digital.   Dig a little deeper though and a slightly different picture emerges; one that paints advertising in a negative light since the 70s. And the main source of concern? The content is misleading.

Having trawled through the journal of advertising research, right back to the early 70s, almost all studies point to a general mistrust with most participants not thinking advertising presents a true picture of advertised products.   Already in 1994, Banwari Mittal concluded after his research:

“If the health of advertising can be defined by the public acceptance to it, our study shows the patient to be ill, very ill… and the emergent picture is really one of advertising in crises”

That begs the question why; why have advertisers – for the last 60 years – been consistently selling dreams that their products don’t seem to be able to live up to? Do we just have an uncontrollable urge to talk bollocks? I fear many people would answer that question with a resounding yes.

In my humble opinion, the answer lies elsewhere – it’s linked to a misunderstanding, or better still misinterpretation of the marketing role.   It’s something that’s given me the proverbial hump for some time now and doing this research has only strengthened my resolve.

For too long, marketing has just been seen as an afterthought, the last piece of the jigsaw that gets plonked on at the very end of the business process; once the product has been designed and the sales strategy has been set.  

It’s no wonder there’s such a disparity between the target audience’s expectations of the product and the actual product; without any marketing involved in the creation of the product and its accompanying business strategy, how can they match consumers’ expectations?   Marketers and advertisers are left with a product that doesn’t match their target’s needs – but still need to do their jobs.    

What do they do? Well if they know what they doing, they will have analysed their audience and how to communicate with them; how they think, what they want and importantly what they need from the product – so that’s what they’ll tell them the product does.   And who can blame them? They have lives to live, families to look after.

Marketing, user experience, product design – they aren’t siloed business departments that function separately.   They are, or at least should be, all part of one department focussed on that all important aspect of business that so often gets forgotten, the customer.  

Ensuring the customer experiences the very best a brand has to offer, at every available touchpoint, is the single most important thing a business can do.   The businesses that do it are widely recognised as having the strongest brands, which by default means the best marketing departments.

Apple, Nike or lululemon are all now seen as famous brands, nothing more than well-oiled marketing machines.   We are quick to forget that at the core of those businesses are great products, that their customers keep coming back for more of.

They’ve created the illusion of being nothing more than marketing behemoths by genuinely putting the consumer at the heart of everything they do, and making sure every brand experience – product included – meets their expectations.

Steve Jobs, Phil Knight, Chip Wilson – they may not have been marketeers by job title, but they are what all marketeers should aspire to.   Phil Knight, who famously didn’t believe in marketing, didn’t believe in the commonly accepted description of marketing, not realising he was in fact the very epitome of a good marketeer.   He completely understood his target audience, developed a product to meet their expectations and then made sure he communicated with them exactly how they wanted him to – at every available occasion.

If that’s not what marketing is supposed to be, I don’t know what is.