Are Financial Services Ads Really The Least Trustworthy?

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The headline “Americans Trust Soft Drink Advertising” caught my eye, so I clicked on the link. The article really grabbed my attention when I saw a sub-header proclaiming that that “financial services companies have the least trusted ads.”

The news that banks are suffering from a lack of public trust is hardly new news. But what we continually see — and that I’ve have railed against in the past — are advertising efforts on the part of financial services companies trying to rebuild trust. I have argued before — and will continue to argue — that you can not advertise your way to trust.

And when I saw the sub-header, I thought “Aha! Proof for my argument.”

But, alas, in this case, the research is simply not worth hanging my hat on.

At first glance of the data, it looks like 34% of survey respondents said that they trust soft drink advertising, 22% trust fast food ads, 18% trust pharma ads, 14% trust car ads, and 13% trust financial services ads.

But when I saw the note on the chart that “percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding”, I wondered why would they need that message. Then I realized: The respondents were basically asked “of the five categories, which do you trust the most?” (Add up the five numbers).

Do you see a problem here?

Assume for a moment that there were 100 kids in your high school graduating class. Your GPA was 99.6 (out of 100). Pretty good, eh? I’d say so. But further assume that that GPA only put you in fifth place (the four nerds who did better than you had 99.7, 99.8, 99.9, and 100 averages, respectively).

Were you the worst performer? Out of the top 5, yes. Did you do poorly? No.

This is the problem with the aforementioned research study. Financial services ads were NOT deemed not trustworthy. They were simply RANKED the least trustworthy out of the five categories that the researcher asked about.

Which raises a whole host of questions: Why did they choose those categories? Why didn’t they ask about other categories? Why didn’t they simply ask how trustworthy each category’s ads are? And…Can I have some of what they were smoking when they designed this study?

Does this mean that I think bank ads are trustworthy? No. But I can’t conclude from the data that they’re not trustworthy.

People don’t trust banks (today). That’s a given. But it’s wrong to simply assume that because there’s a lack of trust in banks, that people find the ads not trustworthy.

Despite the flawed research, I’m not so sure what people were thinking when they responded to the study.

You mean to tell me that the ads from Taco Bell, which attempt to position its fast food as a “healthy choice”, are trustworthy?

Or that pharma ads like the ones from Enzyte are trustworthy?

How about the “tone-deaf” ads from Pepsi?

The ads from financial services aren’t any less trustworthy than any other industry’s ads. [Cut to Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry: “Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down…..”]

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