Build a Trusted Brand

Can online reviews revive consumer trust in advertising?

Friday, February 15, 2019
can reviews cure trust in advertising

When’s the last time you purchased something after clicking through a digital ad? If you work in digital marketing or advertising, chances are that you haven’t in some time.

And just as marketers and ad professionals are wise to the advertising maneuvers we’ve come to expect on every platform, consumers are catching on, too.

In the first half of our deep dive into consumer sentiments towards advertising we established that, regardless of ad format or online channel, few consumers perceive ads as being trustworthy, and rarely take them into consideration for purchasing decisions.

So, if the vast majority of consumers are skeptical of ads they come across on every digital channel, is there any ad content or messaging that resonates with consumers enough to shape their purchasing decisions? And if not, how do consumers form the intention to buy?

In part two of our report recap, we’ll walk through what kinds of messaging still carry weight with consumers, and the importance of “digital word of mouth” when it’s time to make a purchasing decision.

First things first.

Is there any convincing ad content out there?

Despite the widespread skepticism around every digital marketing channel, we have some good news for marketers. As it turns out, there are some advertising techniques and messaging that are still likely to resonate with even the wariest of consumers.

According to our survey, U.S. and U.K. residents alike are motivated by ad content touting an attractive price: When asked why they purchased something from an ad, over three-quarters of respondents in each region said they were driven by a good deal.


Another compelling factor, especially for Americans, was that the ad content reminded them of a product or service they’d previously considered. While this kind of reminder can occur organically, this type of friendly reminder is usually part of a carefully engineered retargeting campaign.

But why is it that consumers respond more positively to ads that peddle a good deal, or remind them of that intriguing product or service they were considering?

We couldn’t help but notice that the two most well-received advertising techniques share a common goal: they exist to drive the completion of a purchase, rather than raise initial awareness of a product or service.

In other words, these tactic work when the consumer’s intention to buy is already there. And for many individuals, the initial intention to buy comes from the insights gained from “digital word of mouth”, or online reviews.

The most trustworthy characteristics in online reviews

According to a recent study 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from the people they know — a telling contrast to the widespread suspicion around advertising discussed above.

The results of our survey confirm that online reviews are an important part of the customer journey: More than two-thirds of respondents said they usually or regularly consulted online reviews before shelling out for a product or service.

That said, in the eyes of consumers, not all types of reviews carry the same weight.


In both the U.S. and the U.K., about 6 in 10 individuals said that the inclusion of pros and cons was a key indicator of review quality and validity. This could stem from concerns about fake reviews, and an underlying assumption that balanced reviews feel more authentic than reviews that are overly or exclusively positive.

In the same vein, reviews featuring an image were rated as important for 37% of U.K. respondents and 45% of U.S. respondents. It’s likely that consumers see images in reviews as another form of proof that a review is authentic — and that the delivered product or service indeed resembles the brand’s claims.

Ordinarily reviews aren’t considered sponsored content, but they can certainly be put to use in a paid digital campaign. In these scenarios, user generated content reviews are more effective as ad content than alternatives like ratings or curated testimonials.

Authenticity: a principle fit for any platform

Though our findings vary somewhat by gender and geography, certain themes are clear: Regardless of platform, digital advertising is met with indifference or suspicion by most consumers.

Compared to the high volume of intrusive and unsubstantiated ads consumers dodge at every touchpoint, online reviews are the antidote to the consumer trust crisis around advertising. It turns out that most shoppers proactively seek reviews before completing a purchase.

Even though our study proves that online reviews are an effective channel, we don’t recommend that brands cease advertising altogether — nor should brands focus on driving exclusively favorable reviews.

When brands can back their ad claims with social proof from online reviews, they can transcend the widespread distrust of ads discovered in our findings. You’ll notice that this kind of approach is both holistic and transparent — and that truthful brand messaging endures across channels.

If you’re ready to use your advertising strategy as an opportunity to grow brand trust and show brand trust, schedule a demo today.

new UK/US CTA banner 1


We collected responses from 2,048 consumers via a survey. U.S. respondents were collected using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and U.K. respondents through Prolific. 49.6% of participants currently resided in the U.K., and 50.4% currently resided in the U.S. 86.4% of participants currently resided in England, 8.9% in Scotland, and 4.7% in Wales. 10.8% of participants resided in the East Midlands, and 7.1% in East of England. 42.6% of participants were men, and 57.4% were women.

Demographics with a sample size below 26 were excluded from the analysis; for this study, that included residents of Northern Ireland. Also, data presented in this study rely on self-reporting, which can introduce issues such as, but not limited to, selective memory and exaggeration. Statistical testing was not conducted in this study, and the research conducted was exploratory. Future research could explore reviews and purchasing behavior.

Fair Use Statement

Don’t worry, ad skeptics: We’re not buying or selling anything here. Still, we’d love to see the results of this survey shared with a wider audience. For that reason, this project’s information and images are yours to use for any noncommercial purpose. Please simply provide a link back to this page so that our team receives due credit for their work.



Related stories