Why Trust is rightly top of DMEXCO’s agenda

DMEXCO’s theme of ‘Trust in You' couldn’t be a more relevant and timelier topic for when the top minds in advertising, media and technology gather in Cologne this year.


We have long debated the role that data and digital has had in disrupting and transforming our industry. Now, in a post-GDPR era, it is trust that will play a major force in transforming and challenging businesses, brands and the bonds we create.

Before diving into the impact of trust, I want to take a moment to consider what trust really is. Trust is a central part of human relationships – just think of your personal life and how/why you feel loyalty towards a brand, person or anything really. Trust is necessary to any relationship because we rely and depend on the people and things that we trust – they become a part of our values and identity. The same applies to which leaders, opinion formers, authors, musicians we choose to follow and listen to; trust creates an emotional/personal connection and sense of belonging. It’s like being at a concert of your favourite music artist – it may have been ten years since you last saw them on stage in a venue with thousands of others, but the affinity you feel towards them means that the words they are singing are, in that moment, just for you.

Bringing it back to the media industry, trust – or, more specifically, a lack of trust – has had a massive impact in shaking-up digital advertising in recent years. The rise of clickbait, misuse of programmatic technology and the spread of disinformation and offensive content on social media platforms has led to a reassessment of how, when and where brands communicate with customers. With headlines about household brands appearing next to extremist content on YouTube, trust quickly rose to the top of CMOs’ agendas and a renewed focus on the importance of advertising appearing in the right context of trusted, premium environments. Keith Weed summarised it best in saying, “At the end of the day, a brand without trust is just a product and advertising without trust is just noise”.

In a research paper for WARC earlier this year, I drew upon various studies to look at media consumption and marketing trends in the ‘Amazon era’, where people now expect easy access and fast delivery for just about everything in their lives – they want brands that they can trust, rely on and that are relevant to them. Trust is not a given, it can’t be forced or bought, it needs to be earned. Whilst trust is hard to define and see, we know when it’s lost. In the news space, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report shows that consumers are relying more on “reputable brands” as trust in news more generally continues to fall with rising concerns of negativity, fake news and overload of information. In this global study, nearly a quarter of people said that they would stop using sources that had a “less accurate reputation”.

Trust is a fundament part of CNN’s business and something we’ve been focusing on for nearly 40 years. We understand that as an international news brand, if we fail to keep true to our vision and mission, we will lose the trust of viewers. In a bespoke research study, we found that our network rated 4.6 times higher on average than other news brands when it came to trustworthiness and reliability. Diving deeper into what audiences expect of us, participants in the study said they come to CNN:

  1. to find something unique that they can’t get elsewhere;
  2. for relevant content;
  3. to better understand what is going on in the world today
  4. for news that is important to them personally

Put simply:

Audiences want relevant content that they can trust and rely on. This delivers a truly meaningful experience and, therefore, creates a valued relationship between the publisher and the consumer.


By nature of what we do, it is paramount for news companies to live up to these expectations, but the same applies to brands too. The challenge is for brands to use content to build a two-way relationship with consumers – based on trust, relevance and reliability – at a time when there are decreasing attention spans and higher expectations of the nature and quality of content. Only if brands meet this challenge can they truly influence decision-making and inspire loyalty and advocacy. From a recent Deloitte study we know that 58% of audiences say a particular brand is their favourite for emotional reasons, while 76% have been loyal to their favourite brands for more than four years. When trust and that connection is created, customers are more likely to adopt new innovations, act as brand advocates, share personal data and stick with the brand through thick and thin.

While I won’t be on stage at DMEXCO this year, someone I have absolute trust in is my wonderful colleague Pippa Scaife who is taking part in a publisher session. As Commercial Director for CNN’s emerging brands such as Great Big Story, Pippa shares a similar philosophy to me that trust and authenticity is central to everything that CNN and our clients need to be doing. Trust me, it will be a session not to miss.