No One Trusts Advertising or Media (Except Fox News)

4A's Commissioned Survey Finds Low Perception of Marketing Integrity

By Published on .

Hey adland: Consumers don't trust you, they think you are lying to them and they say gratuitous sex cheapens what you're selling. In fact, you rank lower than Congress.

These discomfiting findings are from a new survey from the 4As called "Sex, Lies & News," which outlines Americans' attitudes toward advertising; how much they trust the news media; and their attitudes on sex in advertising. The survey did not specifically ask about agencies, which create the advertising the survey says is not trusted.

Only 4% of Americans think the marketing industry behaves with integrity, and nearly half of consumers surveyed say they don't trust any news source. "Consumers are getting more astute about the news media and advertising," said 4As Chief Marketing Officer Alison Fahey. "But we found that only a small percentage of consumers trust advertisers and the media."

In fact the survey found Americans believe that integrity is at a low and that people are lying to them.

The 4As commissioned research company IpsosOTX in January 2015 to field a random and representative sample of Americans online. It surveyed 1,005 people -- 48% of them males and 52% females; 30% were aged 18-to-34, 35% were aged 35-to-54 and 35% were ages 55 or over. The geographic breakout of the respondents: 18% from the Northeast; 21% from the Midwest; 37% from the South and 23% from the West.

Virtually no one in the survey said the ad industry acts with integrity; it was ranked at the bottom of the list of other industries including financial institutions, the legal profession, the pharmaceutical industry and the newspaper industry. The survey asked respondents how they defined integrity, giving them three options. The most popular definition by far was, "For me, integrity means always keeping promises," selected by 69% of respondents.

Who Practices Integrity?
Total Responses
You yourself
The medical profession
None of these
Newspapers (printed and online)
Financial Institutions
The legal profession
The pharmaceutical Industry
The U.S. federal government
Cable news
Silicon Valley (i.e., tech companies)
Professional sports (e.g., NFL, NBA, MLB)
The U.S. Congress
Advertising and marketing
Source: Ipsos OTX and 4As.

The U.S. Congress and the federal government managed to rank above advertising and marketing on the survey, scoring a respective 6% and 7% on the integrity question. Silicon Valley also scored low with 6% of respondents saying that the industry acted with integrity.

So who did respondents rate as having integrity? Themselves. When asked about who practices integrity, the most popular answer by a wide margin was "you yourself," which scored a 74%. The next highest response was the medical profession, which drew 30% of the vote.

The survey also found 48% of respondents said they trust no news source. Of the remainder, about one-third said that they trust content from an experienced journalist or established news source. Only 4% of respondents said that brand-sponsored content that looks like it's editorial content was a trusted news source.

The survey, conducted in early 2015, included questions about NBC News Anchor Brian Williams, who was suspended without pay for six months over his misrepresentation of his reporting in Iraq. But it was conducted before news emerged about discrepancies over Fox News' Bill O'Reilly's experience during the Falklands War and the Rolling Stone "A Rape on Campus" story that was eventually retracted because of questionable sourcing.

Why Do Media People Lie?
Total Responses
They want to "sell" more effectively - their products, their brand, their ideas.
They want to look good - to make themselves look better.
They have been told to lie (e.g., by their advisers).
They want to avoid trouble for their career.
They don't really know what they're talking about.
They really believe what they're saying.
They want to avoid trouble for their company.
They want to avoid offending anyone.
They want to avoid trouble in their private life.
They're part of a bigger "plot" or "conspiracy".
Source: Ipsos OTX and 4As.

In the case of Brian Williams, 44% of respondents said that if he had given a more direct and honest apology, they'd be able to trust him again.

Ms. Fahey said that in general consumers are looking to more than one news source for information, because they don't trust one source. And despite the widespread use of social media and other online outlets, 64% of respondents cited their TV screen as a frequently visited news source; 37% of respondents cited an online-only news site as a frequently visited source.

When asked a write-in question about who the most accurate and truthful news source was, the top tiers of trusted news sources were all TV properties. Fox News and affiliates got 11% of write-ins, more than any other news source. After Fox News, the next most frequently listed trusted news source was CNN, followed by a tie among ABC, CBS and NBC.

Trusted News Sources
Total Responses
None of these
Editorial content written by an experienced journalist or established news source
Company or brand press releases that are part of a news report
Social media links (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) forwarded to you from a friend
Written brand press releases from a company or brand
A company spokesperson answering questions
Editorial content written by an industry organization
A company spokesperson apologizing
Brand-sponsored content that looks like it's editorial content
Editorial content written by a company executive
Source: Ipsos OTX and 4As.

The survey, however, did not ask who the least trusted news source was.

When asked about advertising, respondents said that when gratuitous sex was used they questioned the quality of the product and the creative abilities of the marketer, said Ms. Fahey. But she said there's a silver lining, because this finding can hold advertisers to a higher standard of marketing.

"If they're paying more attention and are engaged, that's a good thing. It means people want smart and relevant advertising. Not all marketers or agencies treat consumers as if they have knowledge of advertising process, but consumers are savvier than they are given credit for."

Graphics by Chen Wu

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