Consumers May Be More Trusting of Ads Than Marketers Think

“Our hypothesis was that maybe it’s more nuanced than that,” Mr. Grayson said. “People have said, ‘I don’t trust advertising.’ The truth is, there is a lot of advertising that they do trust.”

Certain tactics, such as offering to match a competitor’s low prices, reporting a high rating on a site like Amazon or Yelp or mentioning a recent ranking by a third-party source like U.S. News & World Report, received the most positive reactions from participants. Others, like using paid actors instead of real people, or even hiring celebrity endorsers to express their affinity for a product, came off as “deceptive” or “manipulative,” according to those surveyed.

Jake Sorofman, who analyzes marketing trends as a vice president and chief of research for Gartner for Marketers, a research and consulting firm, said brands should already be recognizing that the “persuasion by way of manipulation” approaches of the past were not going to work on modern consumers.

“Consumers are certainly becoming more savvy, more skeptical, more discriminating,” Mr. Sorofman said. “They expect a lot more, and that’s putting pressure on marketers to do better.”

Chris Raih’s conclusion is that consumers are willing to play along, as long as brands play fairly. Mr. Raih, the founder and president of Zambezi, a Los Angeles ad agency, wrote an essay for AdWeek in January about combating the “atmosphere of disbelief” that he felt had pervaded society. He argued that brands needed to better use their platforms to bridge gaps, communicate and inspire.

“We do see more nuance than what is reported,” Mr. Raih wrote in an email. “Look, today’s audience is more sophisticated than ever before. They know how the machine works. They know why Facebook ads retarget them based on previous searches. They know why brands buy space on certain programming. The mystique is gone.”

Though the study demonstrated that all approaches are not equally unscrupulous in the eyes of consumers, some advertisers are trying to look beyond antiquated tactics for better ways to engage with people.

“We’re advising our clients on the importance of ‘proving’ over ‘selling’ brand values,” Adam Tucker, president of Ogilvy & Mather New York, wrote in an email. “Across the industry, we’re seeing brands evolve their marketing communications to be more engaging, more participatory and, ultimately, more personalized.”

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