January 17, 2017

Marketing Chart: Which advertising channels consumers trust most and least when making purchases


Unless you’ve lived in a hole or have the world’s most effective crystal ball, the past year has probably made your head spin with the amount of disruptive shifts in attitudes and behaviors.

Chief among those that should concern marketers is a new national conversation about the media. Do Americans trust the media? Do your customers? And most importantly, as you set your media budget, how much do they trust different media as advertising channels?

Read on to see recent data from 1,200 U.S. consumers about which ads customers trust when making a purchase decision.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

In October 2016, we asked 1,200 consumers: “In general which type of advertising channels do you trust more when you want to make a purchase decision? Please sort the options into ‘Ads I trust’ and ‘Ads I don't trust that much’ categories.” Below you can see the results for the “Ads I trust” category.

Prints ads most trusted, online pop-ups least trusted

With the digital marketing industry abuzz about ad blocking, it’s not surprising that online pop-ups were significantly less trusted than other advertising channels we asked about — only a quarter of Americans (25%) indicating they trusted these ads when making a purchase decision.

However, if you believe the latest chatter about newspapers and magazines, you might be pretty shocked by the most trusted advertising channel — prints ads. The conventional wisdom after the 2016 election would have us believe that the majority of Americans no longer trust the mainstream media in general and newspapers in particular.

But the overwhelming consensus of the 1,200 U.S. consumers we surveyed paints a different picture, at least for advertisers and marketers. While we have no data about their trust of newspaper journalism, consumers do trust newspapers and magazines more than any other advertising channel at the point in time that matters most to marketers — when they are making a purchase decision.

Prints ads were the top advertising channel according to our survey, with four out of five Americans (82%) telling us they trusted newspapers and magazine ads. In fact, there was a clear schism between traditional/offline advertising and digital/online ads.

The five most trusted channels were all traditional channels while the bottom eight channels were all digital. Search engine ads led the pack for digital advertising, garnering the trust of 61% of consumers, and online pop-ups fared the worst.

Why are print ads the most trusted?

There are likely many reasons for these results, and feel free to share your own analysis while sharing this article on Twitter or LinkedIn.

In my opinion, print’s scarcity and standards make it more credible. While that online pop-up is annoying in and of itself, when it’s popping up over low-value online content, it becomes even less trusted. While the vaunted New York Times features “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” digital content pretty much just stops at “All.” There’s very high value online content (like MarketingSherpa, natch), and even most print publishers publish online as well, but that real value is drowning in a sea of mediocrity (or worse), and as a whole, it damages customers’ trust.

Then, of course, there are the privacy, virus, and data hacking issues introduced by the online environment, as well as that fact that print ads are much less obtrusive than many other forms of advertising. As one respondent said, “Print ads only. DO NOT TRACK ME. NO, NONE, ZERO PHONE CALLS!”

And print ads can provide real value to customers. For example, there are forums and Facebook groups online dedicated to the topic of buying the Sunday newspaper simply for the coupons. As one respondent said, “I really like to read ads in print such as in newspapers. Coupons are great for advertising products!”

I asked Louis Gudema, President, revenue + associates, for his take on the data. He told me, “It is interesting to see…traditional advertising channels — print ads, TV ads, mail catalogs, radio ads and outdoor ads, such as billboards — are the ads that people trust the most.”

“Many marketers are different from their customers, and probably assume that customers see and trust digital ads, but that is not the case. Marketers need to get out of their digital bubbles to understand what people are really reading and viewing,” Gudema said.

And those pesky online pop-ups

With all the talk of ad blocking, I’m sure it won’t surprise many readers that online pop-ups are the least trusted form of advertising. Online pop-up ads are the digital equivalent of trying to have a serious conversation in a coffee shop with an old friend while a toddler who just ate too much sugar is sitting on your lap. “Dad. Dad! DADADADADADAD!”

Respondents simply told us that “Pop-up ads are annoying” and “I don't like pop-ups. I generally prefer print, radio, TV ads due to threat of viruses and being hacked through electronics.”

How to use this data in your media buying

This isn’t to say that you should only buy print ads or avoid online pop-ups entirely. Each channel can have its place. Just know that advertising in newspapers and magazines will tend to add credibility to your product or service, while an online pop-up add will reduce the credibility for your product or service.

Just the ad placement itself.

But there are many other factors — from the message to the execution to the product to the offer — that will affect consumer trust.

So if you do choose to use online pop-ups or another less trusted channel, keep those factors in mind. If you have a pop-up on a credible site that is delayed enough for visitors to absorb what’s on the website that includes a relevant or timely offer in a non-garish (FLASHING NEON!) way, you may still find success with the tactic.

Consider how customers perceive the channel itself, and then look at what else you should do to enhance credibility and trust.

Customer-first marketing

This chart is from the MarketingSherpa Customer Satisfaction Research Study which explores the factors that influence customer satisfaction.

“It’s gratifying to see the results of the study since they validate a more sophisticated approach to marketing,” Gudema said. “Many people confuse marketing with advertising and promotion, but marketing starts with understanding the customer and creating products and services that address [his or her] needs and wants. This is what customer-first marketing is all about.”

Related Resources

The Difference Between Marketing and Advertising (and Why It Matters)

How to Use (and Measure) Print Ads to Drive Ecommerce Sales

Driving Traffic from Print to Web: 50% increase in website traffic in six months

Consumer Trust Is Evolving in the Digital Age (by Jeremy Kressmann on eMarketer)

Looking for something to enhance your marketing career? Explore how you can work with MECLABS Institute and the University of Florida to earn an accredited graduate degree. Learn More.

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