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Ethical advertising: Protect your brand and customer trust

A parent and child sitting on a couch smiling while they look at a tablet screen.

Ethical advertising is extremely important to people and to our marketplace economy. With the explosion of new technologies and the proliferation and use of consumer data, ethics in online advertising is becoming increasingly essential to regain some of the trust brands have lost, especially among younger consumers. People want and expect truth and responsibility in advertising. It’s an industry-wide, shared responsibility that we must further enhance if we’re to rebuild consumer trust for our profession and brands.

Graphic showing the importance of truth in advertising, and the top brand attributes to building trust, love and loyalty.
Source: “Accelerating Brand Performance Through Trust, Love and Loyalty” as referenced in the Marketing with Purpose Playbook, Microsoft Advertising Research, 2019.


In our research, Accelerating Brand Performance Through Trust, Love and Loyalty, we found that one of the most important attributes to creating trust with consumers is truth in advertising. The fastest way to break a customer’s trust is to promise something in your advertising that does not hold true the second they get their hands on the product. There are many ethical issues facing advertisers today that go beyond just truth in advertising, and that can jeopardise your brand reputation if you’re not following some guiding principles. We provided a simple list of nine ethical advertising principles, which you can find here: The 9 steps to build trust: Ethical advertising principles.

What you need to know to protect customer trust

Wally Snyder on the left, and Lynne Kjolso on the right.

I recently interviewed Wally Snyder, President of the Institute for Advertising Ethics (IAE), who has devoted his entire professional career to working on advertising development, regulation, and ethics. As Wally describes himself, “I started my career with the Federal Trade Commission as a prosecuting attorney in advertising. And then after 16 years, I moved over to the American Advertising Federation, at first as a general counsel and then as president. But my entire career was based on advertising. And what I learned from that was how important truthful advertising is to the consumer and to our economy.”

Watch the video interview:


In my interview with Wally, he shared some important research that the IAE conducted on the importance of ethical advertising, and the steps advertisers can take now to protect customer trust and prepare for more regulations around consumer privacy.

“Transparency is so important in building trust and trust is all about what we're doing here within our marketing, and so it's very critical that we now come up with ways in which we can build this trust through greater transparency.

— Wally Snyder, President, IAE


One notable way advertisers can protect consumer trust and prepare for more regulations around consumer privacy is completing the new IAE certification called Certified Ethical Advertising Executive, or CEAE. Once professionals pass the course by completing two workshops and answering test questions, they can add this certification to their title. The course takes people through why ethics are important, some of the ethical dilemmas advertising professionals will be facing, and how they can solve these dilemmas.

When it comes down to it, this is how Wally described the efforts of the IAE and the importance of ethical advertising:

Well, we're doing principles for the companies and the companies are going to do better, and their employees are going to do better because the company's doing better. You need to feel better about what you are doing at work so you can sleep at night, and the sleep test is an ethical test for doing the right thing.


Explore more on the topic of ethics and data bias in the Marketing with Purpose Playbook. We cover topics including:

  • Research on the importance of ethics and ethical advertising to trust
  • Ethical practices
  • Examining ethical advertising platforms
  • Creating policies to protect trust, including ethical targeting, and contending with data bias

Resources