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9 steps to build trust: Ethical advertising principles

Purposeful marketing means leading with responsibility, values, and inclusion. People are looking for brands to be authentic and act with purpose, especially in the face of change and uncertainty, and marketers play a powerful role within their companies to build trust and business value through purpose-driven marketing. The big question around trust is how best to create it. Leading with values builds trust by putting customers and communities first. The key is authenticity and genuine, personalized experiences woven together through an ethical advertising strategy.

What is ethical advertising?

Ethics are a set of moral principles that govern a person’s or organization’s behavior, or the conducting of an activity. Ethical advertising is about truth, fairness, and equity in messaging and consumer experience. An ethical advertisement is honest, accurate, and strives for human dignity. It also considers the advertising environments that are chosen for placement, and it examines potential for data bias in analytics.

Based on the latest Edelman 2020 Trust Barometer, ethics are more important to creating trust in companies than competence. Transparency is the most important ethical guiding principle, as well as the need to conduct ourselves, our businesses, and our relationships with consumers in a fair, honest, and forthright manner.

Percent of predictable variance in trust explained by each dimension:

Pie chart depicting survey results that articulate the importance of varying drivers of trust in companies. 76 percent said ethics, which are comprised of integrity (49 percent), purpose (12 percent), and dependability (15 percent), are most important, while 24 percent said competence, which solely is comprised of ability, is most important.

Trust is not something naturally given. It is earned. Consumers are not readily trusting of the digital environment, making it even more critical for brands to focus on building trust with their consumers — particularly younger consumers, who are not naturally predisposed to trust.

As trust is foundational to purchase consideration, “support[ing] ethical practices within [a] company to promote positive economic, social and environmental impact” ranks high in creating trust. Amongst consumers, it ranked of even greater importance in driving trust in the Retail (index of 108) and Financial Services (index of 101) verticals.

Line graph depicting survey results across age groups. 71 percent of people ages 18-25 agree “If you take reasonable precautions, the internet is a safe place,” while 75 percent of people ages 25-44, 72 percent of people ages 45-54, and 68 percent of people ages 55-65 agree. 45 percent of people ages 18-25 agree “It’s only a matter of time before my personal information is stolen online,” while 55 percent of people ages 25-44, 49 percent of people ages 45-54, and 46 percent of people ages 55-65 agree. Lastly, 37 percent of people ages 18-25 agree “Most online companies can be trusted with my basic personal information,” while 55 percent of people ages 25-44, 43 percent of people ages 45-54, and 43 percent of people ages 55-65 agree.

Ethical advertising is extremely important to consumers and 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 we have lost, especially among younger consumers. Consumers want and expect advertising to be held to high ethical standards. It’s an industry-wide shared responsibility that we must further enhance if we are to rebuild consumer trust for our profession and brands.

Ethical advertising principles — 9 steps to build trust 9 steps to build trust

Microsoft Advertising supports the Institute for Advertising Ethics (IAE). The IAE has a set of 9 Principles for Ethical Advertising that are the foundation of their approach to building a more trusted digital marketplace. They are based on the premise that all forms of communications, including advertising, should always do what is right for consumers, which in turn is right for business. These principles serve as great guidelines to ensure that you don’t risk losing trust with customers due to your advertising practices.

  • PRINCIPLE 1: Advertising, public relations, marketing communications, news, and editorial all share a common objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public.
  • PRINCIPLE 2: Advertising, public relations, and all marketing communications professionals have an obligation to exercise the highest personal ethics in the creation and dissemination of commercial information to consumers.
  • PRINCIPLE 3: Advertisers should clearly distinguish advertising, public relations, and corporate communications from news and editorial content and entertainment, both online and offline.
  • PRINCIPLE 4: Advertisers should clearly disclose all material conditions, such as payment or receipt of a free product, affecting endorsements in social and traditional channels, as well as the identity of endorsers, all in the interest of full disclosure and transparency.
  • PRINCIPLE 5: Advertisers should treat consumers fairly based on the nature of the audience to whom the ads are directed, and the nature of the product or service advertised.
  • PRINCIPLE 6: Advertisers should never compromise consumers’ personal privacy in marketing communications, and their choices as to whether to participate in providing their information should be transparent and easily made.
  • PRINCIPLE 7: Advertisers should follow federal, state, and local advertising laws, and cooperate with industry self-regulatory programs for the resolution of advertising practices.
  • PRINCIPLE 8: Advertisers and their agencies, and online and offline media, should discuss privately potential ethical concerns, and members of the team creating ads should be given permission to express internally their ethical concerns.
  • PRINCIPLE 9: Trust between advertising and public relations business partners, including clients, and their agencies, media vendors, and third-party suppliers, should be built upon transparency and full disclosure of business ownership and arrangements, agency remuneration and rebates, and media incentives.

There has never been a more crucial time in our business, and our society, to use ethical principles to guide us in the advertising industry. Trust is gained in drops and lost in buckets, so the risk of not paying attention is real. 63% have stopped purchasing from a brand because they lost trust and 69% of them would never purchase from the brand again. Ethical advertising means doing the right thing, being honest with what you are advertising, and being true to your brand purpose while looking for those shared values and delivering those product truths.

For more tactics, research, and strategies to drive growth through trusted brand experiences, visit the Marketing with Purpose content hub and download the Marketing with Purpose Playbook and join us on the journey to our best collective future.