James Thompson
Jan 8, 2018

When trust is snapped

Diageo's decision to pull ads from Snapchat following an ASA ruling reflects a broader problem with media trust, argues the global MD of the company's luxury portfolio.

Rum brand Captain Morgan sailed adrift of Advertising Standards Authority rules in the UK in a Snapchat campaign (different from the one depicted above).
Rum brand Captain Morgan sailed adrift of Advertising Standards Authority rules in the UK in a Snapchat campaign (different from the one depicted above).

Trust. Small word, big concept. JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, foresaw the life of a marketer when he said “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” While pixie dust is still thankfully around in abundance, I am getting concerned about an increasing lack of trust around the world in which we operate.

Recently Diageo (my revered employer and benefactor) announced that it will no longer be placing ads on Snapchat globally. We had been found culpable by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority of, amongst other things, over-trusting Snapchat’s age filters to ensure that alcohol marketing content was not seen by those under legal alcohol purchasing age (in this case, 18 years old). Diageo is now assessing the incremental age-verification safeguards that Snapchat is implementing.

I’m not debating here the rights and wrongs of the specific case which involved the Captain Morgan brand. I can honestly say that Diageo takes its responsibilities very seriously and does not want to come up short in any area surrounding alcohol’s impact on society.

The most notable element of this case, at least to me, is that a company was judged to have been less than fully diligent by trusting a well-known media supplier’s account of its capabilities. Never has the Russian proverb 'trust but verify' been so apt.

Surely the big digital-media companies have brought this environment upon themselves. Concerns around fraud and brand safety in the digital world are pervasive. For too long these companies “marked their own homework” in terms of reporting delivery against targets.

For commercial reasons of their own, the holders of the richest stores of data ever known to our species can be miserly and non-transparent in terms of sharing access to it. Big marketing organizations are turning away from some types and channels of digital media as if they had the plague. Digital media companies say they can’t control the very robots they had a hand in inventing. Frankenstein no longer knows his own monster. This is not healthy for anyone.

The best thing for the digital media industry to do now would be to admit its challenges openly and set itself a deadline for addressing them completely and transparently. The deafening silence from these organisations only plays into the hands of refuseniks who want to believe that they are being conned by latter-day snake oil salesmen.

It is time for these organisations to emerge from the shadows and accept responsibility for what they have created. Doing business without trust is very difficult. It is time to restore it.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo's luxury portfolio). 


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