Opinion leaders doubt credibility of advertising

28 January 2010

NEW YORK: Advertising and social networks are not regarded as being "credible" sources of information by "opinion leaders" in major markets such as the US, China and India, according to a new report.

The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer was based on a survey of 4,875 "informed publics" in 20 nations around the world, including the ten biggest countries in terms of annual GDP.

Edelman defined "opinion leaders" as 25–64 year olds with a college education, being in the top income quartile for their age group, and having a keen interest in news content.

Overall, only 17% of its participants viewed product or corporate advertising as a "credible source of information" about a company, the lowest score for the various channels assessed by the PR firm.

This figure stood at 19% for social networks, with other "corporate communications" on 32%, newspaper articles on 34%, online search engines on 35%, and TV news coverage on 36%.

Conversations with "friends and peers" received a rating of 37%, with radio news on 38%, while business magazines and stock/analyst reports took the two top spots, on 44% and 49% respectively.

Previously, the PR specialist has reported that 60% of this demographic need to hear a message about an organisation "three to five times" before they believe it is true.

This total falls to 16% for people who have to be exposed to a particular viewpoint twice, and 6% for those who will acknowledge the accuracy of a specific claim having consumed it just once.

Moreover, 79% of contributors to Edelman's most recent poll believed that a company which "communicates frequently" is likely to engender a higher level of trust than one which does not.

By contrast, only 45% of its cohort said financial returns were integral to shaping corporate reputation, with 48% affording this status to innovation, and 58% to "fair" pricing.

A further 64% attached a similar importance to being a "good corporate citizen", with "transparent and honest practices" and credentials revealing a company to be one "I can trust" both posting 83%.

This evidence suggested that corporations "must build a mosaic of trust by cultivating a wide circle of expert spokespeople, communicating through a variety of channels, and partnering with NGOs to advance the common good," Edelman said.

More broadly, the number of respondents in the US who said that they trusted "business to do what is right" rose to 54% from 36% recorded in the same study last year.

Some 67% of Indians exhibited the same degree of confidence, down 4% on an annual basis, with Japan off by 6%, to 57%, Brazil by 5%, to 62%, and Russia by 10%, to 42%.

China was static, on 62%, and while the UK, France, and Germany all registered upticks, sentiment in each of these nations remained below 50%.

Trust levels were highest for firms in the technology industry, peaking at over 80% in China and India, while banks received corresponding totals of under 30% in the US, France, the UK and Germany.

A majority of consumers worldwide expect companies to return to "business as usual" following the downturn, including 82% of Indians, 78% of Germans and 76% of the Chinese panel.

Just 49% of Japanese shoppers had the same expectations, as did 59% of their counterparts in the US.

Data sourced from Edelman; additional content by Warc staff