(Representative image) Several factors have contributed to advertising’s reputation crisis - from toxic work cultures and fractured agency-client relationships to lack of equality, diversity and inclusivity at work and in the work.
In an October 2021 report titled Global Trustworthiness Index by market research company Ipsos, advertising was listed as one of the most untrustworthy professions.
Across 28 countries where the online survey was conducted, people said they don’t believe stories told by politicians, government ministers, and advertising executives, as they don’t ‘trust' them. India’s list mirrored the global rankings on Untrustworthiness Index 2021.
Now, advertising falling in this category warrants some discussion. We reached out to industry veteran Shashi Sinha, CEO of IPG Mediabrands, and a leading ambassador and champion of the Indian advertising industry, for his thoughts and reaction to the survey’s findings.
“Advertising,” says Sinha, “has a strong likeability factor in India. It’s a country where there is relatively less drop in ratings of ads compared to the rest of the world.” In that case, how can the people behind advertising be so low down (in terms of trustworthiness)?” he questions.
This isn’t the first time that advertising has landed at the bottom end of a list such as this one. Globally, several issues plaguing the industry have contributed to advertising’s reputation crisis - from toxic work cultures and fractured agency-client relationships to lack of equality, diversity and inclusivity at work and in the work.
Historically, though, advertising as a profession has always suffered from reputation issues.
One of comedian Bill Hicks' most famous monologues began with "By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself." The American comedian, social critic and satirist who died in 1996, called them "Satan’s little helpers".
John Thangaraj, chief strategy officer of FCB India, says, “While self-deprecation is part and parcel of being in this industry, it does mask a larger truth - that for the better part of advertising's long and storied history, we've all been viewed as shysters, as slick, smooth-talking salespeople who will always prioritize ‘The Sell over The Truth.’”
But it’s not too late for the Advertising industry. The trust deficit can be fixed. What advertising does for other brands it can do for its own brand.
In Thangaraj’s view, it begins with conversations with consumers that need to become more transparent and honest.
He says, “We need to stop telling our consumers what to worry about and understand what their lives are truly like. We need to walk a mile in our consumer's shoes as human beings, rather than reducing them to 'segments' that only exist on PowerPoint. We need to stop relying solely on second-hand research and experience our consumers' lives firsthand.”
Being trusted, says Thangaraj, “begins with telling the truth. It's simple if you actually think about it.”