WAN-IFRA Webinar takeaways: How publishers can win back trust in advertising

Most publishers around the world have felt the pinch of advertisers pulling their spend during the Coronavirus pandemic. As a result, they have no choice but to prove their worth and value to those clients.

by Neha Gupta | May 29, 2020

Take Bonnier, the large Swedish publisher is reaching out to its clients to show them independent data that helps to prove its readers and consumers trust not only its content during this difficult time but its advertising as well.

Serdar OK, Head of Business Analytics at Bonnier News Sales in Sweden, and Lauri Löfveblad, Head of Strategy and Products, Syno International in Sweden, joined WAN-IFRA in a recent webinar to talk about ad trust in news content.

To set the stage for the session, Dean Roper, Director of Insights at WAN-IFRA, presented some of the key findings of the Ad Trust Survey and Report that WAN-IFRA produced in association with Syno International, a consumer data intelligence and market research specialist.

The survey targeted 40,000 respondents (panels set up or purchased by Syno from 40 countries across five continents). Advertising trust was evaluated across a variety of media including printed newspapers, online newspapers, commercial radio stations, search engine pages, online video etc. Printed newspapers and local newspapers emerged as the most trusted mediums for advertising, while social media was the least trusted.

Here are a few takeaways from the report:

  • Ads In traditional media platforms such as print are still trusted by most.
  • The medium in which ad appears plays a role in a consumer’s purchasing decision.
  • Ads on online media platforms were found to be least trusted. This could negatively affect purchasing decisions.
  • Across continents, South Americans (at 38.5, a net ad trust score is calculated based on the percentage of how many people agree minus those that disagree, for example), followed by Africans (28.9) and Asians (25.6) were all significantly more likely to trust advertising than North Americans (9.8) or Europeans (-0.8).
  • Women generally showed a higher level of ad trust than men.

Crucially for publishers, the study found that 94 percent of trust in ads across media can be explained by the trust in content. “We are looking at how the correlation between trust in content and trust in ads is shifting between countries, brands and media,” said Syno’s Löfveblad. “If you have a high trust content platform, it is going to spill over strongly in trust in ads.”

Global Trust in Ads

Global Trust in Ads

Challenges in advertising at Bonnier

Bonnier, the biggest news media company in Sweden, has registered a record growth in subscribers during the pandemic, OK said. According to a recent WAN-IFRA webinar that featured representatives of programmatic advertising marketplaces that work with premium publishers, most publishers have faced the conundrum of registering increased traffic and subscriptions during the peak of the pandemic while taking a big hit in advertising revenue.

Even before the pandemic hit, many publishers were facing numerous challenges with their digital advertising revenue. Keyword blocking around Coronavirus content has only exacerbated the problem.

“It is a challenging time,” said OK, “because our consumers want information about the pandemic, which has helped us hike up our subscription numbers. However, we have had to use data and numbers to show advertisers that our readers are still consuming content and that advertising next to COVID-19 related news is not going to affect the business negatively.”

Bonnier and Syno survey

Bonnier News and Syno carried out a survey in the first two weeks of April 2020 about how people in Sweden and their news habits have been affected by the pandemic, but also in relation with advertising. The survey included consumers between the ages of 18 and 80 and the sample comprised 50 percent of responses from Bonnier’s reader panels and 50 percent from external research panels.

The survey found that media consumption increased in almost all mediums, except outdoor advertising owing to social isolation rules.

 Bonnier media consumption survey

Bonnier media consumption survey

With massive focus on the epidemic prevailing in media coverage, relatively few respondents (one in nine) viewed advertisements negatively in connection with the Coronavirus – running counter to brands keyword blocking anything related to the topic. An equal proportion were found to react positively to relevant advertising, in connection with the reporting of the epidemic. The most negative to advertising related to Coronavirus were people who were directly affected by the crisis and lost their jobs.

Elderly people were found to be more worried about the ongoing situation, and 74 percent of the respondents believed it will get back to normal by this August.

“Several sectors still see the relevance in advertising,” Löfveblad. “International and local travel and restaurant businesses are down but other sectors, that make up the other 80 percent of the market, thought ads were relevant even during the crisis.”

Serdar OK’s recommendation to publishers that were hit hard by the advertising crunch? The same as Bonnier did: Engage with their ad clients who have perhaps cowered in the past months, showing them such independent data as well as increased traffic to renew their trust, he said.

Positive effects of a pandemic

A World Editors Forum report outlines how newsroom operations have been coping with the disruptions of the pandemic, but we haven’t heard much about ad operations. Even though Sweden was not completely under the COVID-19 lockdown, Bonnier implemented a partial work-from-home policy. Initially, the newspaper’s ad sales and analytics teams found it challenging to communicate virtually but soon adapted to the “new normal.”

“That is one positive that has come out of this is that we realise many of our meetings in the future will probably be more online than in-person with our clients, at least for the foreseeable future. And this period has prepared us for that scenario quite well,” OK said.

The situation has been the same for Bonnier’s branded content studio that has seen tremendous success during the past few years. While branded content and native advertising can be done remotely, naturally, actual studio production is more ideal.

“We have to follow the regulations of our government for working from home and office. We are still doing the same things but it has been much more challenging,” Serdar said.

Despite that, OK said almost all of Bonnier’s news brands are sold out of native advertising. During the pandemic, the brand’s TV department has been working vigorously with online video, making it more commercially appealing and viable for advertisers.

Virtual meetings with customers and agencies for Bonnier’s ad sales team have resulted in conserving time and travel costs. The brand is also working on an internal product that measures cross media sales between Bonnier products. “Our subscriptions are up, and we have seen record page views. The challenge now is to see if we can retain these readers and subscribers post-corona,” OK said.

Ad Trust Index offers publishers a benchmark

Syno and WAN-IFRA will distribute the global Ad Trust Survey for this year within days. It will also include questions to gauge the impact of COVID-19. Again, it will be distributed to 40,000 people across 40 countries, representing 85 percent of the world’s purchasing power.

The target group is a nationally representative sample featuring age, gender, region and in a few countries, local parameters such as education, income, etc. The goal of the Ad Trust Index is to give insights into how advertising and content is being viewed by consumers in a market and region, and especially this year, to gauge the changes in media consumption behaviour pre- and post-corona.

Once the survey is complete, WAN-IFRA will analyse the results and produce a summary report, freely accessible to WAN-IFRA Members. Publishers that want to dive deeper into benchmarking their markets on a deeper level, can subscribe to the Ad Trust Index database. If publishers are interested in a customised view of how their brands stack up, they should contact: Dean Roper at WAN-IFRA ( or Löfveblad at Syno.

Join WAN-IFRA for a crucial and timely mix of online panel discussions and town halls on the future of news media. Content will revolve around digital revenue, editorial decision makers (WEF), and policy and strategy.

This online event is part of the World News Media Congress 2020, to be held 17-19 September in Zaragoza, Spain.

Neha Gupta

Multimedia Journalist

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