Advertising Today Takes Three Ts: Trust, Truth, and Transparency

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It wasn't until the very last Advertising Week New York panel I attended that I realized what I'd been hearing repeatedly all week: It's all about trust.

Before attending three sessions from Verizon Media specifically focused on various aspects of trust, I ventured into other sessions where trust permeated the discussion. In a conversation with Altice and a4 , for example, Sarah Baehr , executive vice president and co-chief investment officer at Horizon Media, got a huge laugh of recognition from the audience when she talked about the natural skepticism that comes after meeting with many media, data, and ad tech vendors, and the need to tease out what is really meaningful. "No one ever comes in and says, 'We're the third-best at this,' or 'We're working towards that, but we're not there yet,'" she said. "It never happens. It would be refreshing to hear absolute truth like that."

A Monday session, featuring ABC Contributor and former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, got me thinking about honesty and transparency. "Let me explain something as a recovering politician," Christie said. "When we don't answer a question, it's [mostly] because we know the answer is something you won't like. It's that simple."

And when ABC's Rebecca Jarvis, who was moderating, asked how he squares that with smart and well-informed voters, he answered that the reason is based in how politicians think. "They think, 'The longer I don't tell you, the more you may give me the benefit of the doubt…' and maybe you won't figure it out."

Any media buyer who has worked with a medium where salespeople, websites, or marketing materials are full of buzzwords but aren't clear about what's being offered will recognize this type of thinking.

The next day, a session titled "The Future is Transparent: Building Trust in Ad Tech" should have made the theme clear to me. The panel, moderated by Vijay Rao, vice president and head of platform sales and strategy at Verizon Media, featured executives from Anheuser-Busch , CBS Interactive , Fox , OMD , and Publicis . They discussed bringing increasing levels of openness to programmatic advertising, including fee transparency, measurement transparency, and supply path optimization. They also touted the benefits of brand-safe, measurable, premium content, as well as standardization and collaboration across the industry for advertisers of all sizes.

Immediately following that session was "Trust in Innovation: Disruptive Brands in a 5G world," a panel moderated by Jeff Lucas , vice president and head of North American sales and global client solutions at Verizon Media. That one started off with the theme of trust, with Lucas asking the panel about what it takes to develop brand-building, creative work.Burke Morley, Purple's vice president of brand and executive creative director, answered simply: "Consumers are so well-informed nowadays that [the work] must be based on truth."

The panel discussed the idea that messaging that is true, relevant to the audience, and grounded in real customer insight is most likely to attract a consumer's attention. Panelist Rachel Rayne, Toyota's head of nameplate marketing, explained that using key consumer insights led to a campaign for the Toyota Camry, executed with Verizon Media, that generated over 30 percent lift in brand recall.

On Thursday morning, a late train kept me from seeing the second session of the week featuring Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, Verizon Media's vice president U.S. field sales, and Viacom's executive vice president, ad solutions, Valerie Bischak . Their panel discussion focused on monetizing content. And, thanks to Advertising Week's streaming capability, I didn't miss hearing Herbst-Brady's opening statement, which summed up why I'd heard so many Verizon Media executives talking about trust.

"[Verizon Media is] founded on the pillars of trust and innovation. We bring it to life by focusing on brand safety, diverse insight, and connected channels." Herbst-Brady talked about how trust and transparency are coming to the fore now, and that curated and professionally produced content is critical to gaining the trust of advertisers.

The idea that stuck with me on that panel was from Bischak, who said that trust goes both ways — and that brands that trust their media partners and share a complete picture of their needs get better advertising. "We can be more successful in delivering results if we understand the bigger picture," she said. "The partners that share that deeply, we're able to do better work for them."

Others picked up on the trust theme, too — including the conference's biggest celebrity session, featuring athlete and entrepreneur Serena Williams touching on the theme in conversation with Verizon Media chief executive officer Guru Gowrappan. Williams discussed the challenges of building a brand that is authentic to her values. And, echoing Bischak's sentiment, emphasized the need to work with trusted partners.

In an industry where trust is paramount to performance, it was inspiring to hear so much importance placed on ensuring that agency, brand, and media partnerships are steeped in building and maintaining it.

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