Is Advertising Becoming More Honest?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was founded in 1962 to ensure that “advertisements were welcomed and trusted by consumers” (source: ASA website). This definition, as the basis for the introduction of formal regulation within advertising, might surprise the cynical amongst us, who I’m sure would suggest that what the customer actually wants isn’t always at the forefront of advertising strategy. Certainly, based on industry discussion around customer profiling and data analysis in recent years, there is already strong recognition that for advertising to succeed, it needs to be far more targeted.

So is it a surprise that brands are still continuing to be caught red-handed prophesying brand values and product claims that are incorrect? Or is it now just that the public transparency and immediacy of digital channels mean that we will no longer tolerate false claims? Just recently, following an Adwatch review into broadband providers’ speed claims, BT had an ad banned for not making it clear that one of its broadband service offerings had limited availability and falsely implied the service was available to most, if not all, customers. Similarly, a dating site for vegans got the wrong kind of attention and was forced to change its marketing after admitting that the majority of the people in its database were actually meat eaters.

As amusing as these examples might be, they beg the question whether these laws are becoming too stringent; are we missing the point of “creative license” in advertising, and do consumers even care?

The advertising industry is finally catching up, perhaps unfortunately on the tails of a groundswell of mistrust over claims made by big brands in the wake of the banking crisis and is being forced to accept more accountability and responsibility. The increased proliferation of social media sites too places unparalleled power into the hands of consumers, equally shortening their attention span and enabling them to damage a brand’s reputation in seconds.

It’s all too important then for brands to get it right the first time. The economic climate also means that there is greater competition for consumer spend, and it’s even more vital to focus on building customer loyalty. People don’t shop just by price or preference. They want to buy into a brand’s values. It has become increasingly dangerous to be caught making spurious claims. Brands now need to ensure credibility as well as creativity to retain customer loyalty and ultimately stay ahead of their competitors.

And so it’s no longer just about creating campaigns that are engaging and creative. Advertisers need to incorporate thinking into how their campaign can, and will, be perceived by consumers. It’s not just whether people buy into the concept, but can the campaign be misconceived? If it can, then irreparable damage could be caused to the brand in moments via social networks. Advertising is no longer about getting people to purchase. It’s about an experience, building shared values and ultimately loyalty.

Danny Turnbull of Forbes