Trust in Advertising: Who’s Got It, and For What Formats?

Nielsen-Ad-Trust-and-Response-Oct2015Nielsen has released its latest “Global Trust in Advertising” report [download page], a biennial examination of the different forms of advertising that consumers around the world trust and act upon. This latest study indicates that despite the flow of budgets away from traditional media, advertising via these channels remains influential, even among younger age groups.

Trust by Format

As Nielsen notes, “the proliferation of online ad formats has not eroded trust in traditional paid advertising channels.” In fact, among paid media channels, traditional media outperform online and mobile ads in trust; TV ads lead all paid media with 63% of global respondents reporting complete or somewhat trust, followed by newspaper (60%) and magazine (58%) ads. And the digital format that earns trust from the most respondents – online video ads (48%) – remains below radio and pre-movie ads (each at 54%), the least-trusted traditional media formats.

Surprisingly, the report finds little change in the results from the last edition released in 2013. Since then, ads on TV (+1% point) have seen a negligible increase in trust, while other traditional media formats such as print, billboards, radio and movies have seen declines of just 1-3% points. None of the digital formats analyzed – including online video, paid search, social ads, and mobile ads – saw an increase in trust from the last report, a fairly intriguing result given the proliferation of such advertising over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, earned and owned media continue to largely engender more trust from respondents than paid media. Among all the available options, global respondents were by far the most likely to trust recommendations from people they know (83%), proving yet again the power of word-of-mouth. Results from the study likewise show that respondents are more trusting of consumer opinions posted online and editorial content such as newspaper articles (each at 66%) than of paid media in general, though TV ads are almost on par.

As for owned media, 7 in 10 respondents reported completely or somewhat trusting branded websites, the top result, followed by brand sponsorships (61%) and opt-in emails (56%), with these latter two ranking in the midst of the variety of traditional media formats.

Trust by Generation

Nielsen-Trust-in-Ad-Formats-by-Generation-Oct2015
Of note, the survey – conducted online earlier this year among more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries – indicates that Millennials (aged 21-34) report the highest levels of trust in almost all of the 19 formats listed (which include recommendations and consumer opinions online). In fact, the only format for which Millennials did not indicate the most trust was radio ads, where they were slightly edged by Gen Xers (35-49).

For the most part, though, there were only minor differences in the levels of trust shown by Millennials, Gen Z (ages 15-20) and Gen X (35-49) respondents. Several channels earn considerably less trust from older generations, with the Silent Generation generally the least trusting across formats. The biggest gaps in trust between Millennials and Silents were seen in formats including: branded websites; consumer opinions posted online; TV ads; brand sponsorships; ads before movies; billboard ads; and each of the digital formats identified.

By comparison, the levels of trust placed in recommendations, editorial content, newspaper ads, opt-in emails, and radio ads were more consistent across generations.

Singling out Millennials, the report shows that while they have more trust in digital ad formats than older generations, the same general order of trust applies to them as with consumers overall: earned media first, followed by a mix of traditional and owned media; with digital formats trailing.

Which Forms of Advertising Do Consumers Act Upon?

The Nielsen study also looked at self-reported response to advertising, measured as the percentage of respondents who always or sometimes take action on the ads in question. The results show that the majority of formats found a greater share of respondents reporting action than trust. It was in this area that digital ad formats found some footing, with action generally outpacing trust by a larger degree than for traditional and earned media.

Even so, the top formats in terms of action are broadly consistent with the trust rankings:

  • Recommendations from people (83% always or sometimes taking action);
  • Branded websites (70%);
  • TV ads (69%);
  • Consumer opinions posted online (69%); and
  • Newspaper ads, opt-in emails, and editorial content (each at 63%).

The greater levels of reported action for digital formats means that they don’t all occupy the bottom rung. For example, ads served in search engine results (58% reporting frequent action) and ads on social networks (56%) exceed levels for radio (54%) and ads before movies (54%).

Social ads are certainly rising as purchase influencers in the US, particularly among Millennials, according to a recent study from MarketingCharts. The study is similar to Nielsen’s report in that it analyzes the stated purchase influence of several earned and paid media (such as word-of-mouth, opt-in emails, and traditional and digital formats). However, it restricts its analysis to the US, sorting responses by generation, gender and household income. The study, which is accompanied by a spreadsheet containing the full survey findings for each demographic group, is available here.

Which Themes and Emotions Drive Impact?

As Nielsen’s study reminds, successful campaigns depend not only on reach, but also on delivery of the right message. As such, the report looks at the types of themes that resonate with consumers, finding that ads depicting real-life situations resonate the most with global respondents, cited by 44%.

There’s considerable variance in the responses when sorting by region, though. In North America, for example, humorous ads (50%) were cited significantly more often than ads depicting real-life situations (24%). This supports other pieces of research – including this one – that find humor to have particular appeal among North Americans.

Europeans, like Americans, were most apt to point to humorous ads as resonating with them. Those in Africa and Asia were most likely to point to real-life situations, while in Latin America the highest response came for health-themed ads.

In sorting the results by generation, the survey noted some interesting results:

  • Real-life situations, sports-themed and competitive ads tended to have consistent appeal across generations; but
  • Humorous, health-themed, value-oriented, and pets/animal-centered ads showed the highest appeal among older generations; while
  • High-energy and aspirational ads, as well as celebrity endorsements, tended to resonate more strongly with youth.

There was one theme that emerged from the findings: kids and family find meaning with Gen Xers. Indeed, family-oriented and kids-centered ads each demonstrated the strongest levels of resonance with this generation (presumably due to their being most likely to have kids in the home).

Other Advertising Research

Other recently-released studies – not quite on the scale of Nielsen’s, but worth mentioning – also look at advertising influence from different perspectives.

An Experticity survey of 217 North American senior marketing executives found respondents to be most enthusiastic about the effectiveness of advertising, public relations and content marketing in influencing buyer decisions, with 83% considering each of those to be somewhat to extremely effective. Social media (82%), retail channel programs (81%) and word-of-mouth programs (80%) were also high on the list, though fewer perceive influencer marketing (74%) to be influential.

The report contrasts marketers’ responses with those of consumers, who reported the most trust in friends and family (81%) and online reviews (76%), and the least in social (49%) and advertising (47%). But with just 300 North American consumer respondents, these findings rely on a very small sample.

Separately, a SheKnows Media survey of 1,470 women (as reported here) indicates that female shoppers put most of their trust in “real peoples’ product and service recommendations.” Respondents to the survey were substantially more likely to say that influencers do the best job of making them feel connected than to say the same about brands or celebrities.

For more on attention to advertisers across media, as well as the reported impact of purchase influencers across several channels, see the MarketingCharts report, Advertising Channels With the Largest Purchase Influence on Consumers.

About the Data: The Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey was conducted between Feb. 23 and March 13, 2015, and polled more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on its internet users and is weighted to be representative of internet consumers. It has a margin of error of ±0.6%.

The Nielsen survey is based only on the behavior of respondents with online access. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60% internet penetration or an online population of 10 million for survey inclusion. The Nielsen Global Survey, which includes the Global Consumer Confidence Index, was established in 2005.