Survey: Consumers don't hate ads

Majority of respondents believe ads fuel economy

NEW YORK -- They may not quite be grateful for advertising. But consumers realize it pays the bills for much of the content they enjoy -- and, for that matter, that it helps the economy to function. Those are among the significant findings of a newly released global survey by Nielsen, AdweekMedia and The Hollywood Reporter's parent company.

Conducted in some 50 markets in March and April, the polling found 67% of respondents agreeing (including 14% agreeing "strongly") that "Advertising funds low-cost and free content on the Internet, TV, newspapers and other media." Likewise, 81% agreed (22% strongly) that "Advertising and sponsorship are important to fund sporting events, art exhibitions and cultural events."

More broadly, the survey found 71% of global respondents agreeing (13% strongly) that "Advertising contributes to growth of the economy." Sixty-eight% agreed (16% strongly) that "Advertising stimulates competition, which leads to better products and lower prices."

Respondents also acknowledged that advertising is useful to them personally as they navigate the marketplace. For example, 67% agreed (14% strongly) that "By providing me with information, advertising allows me to make better consumer choices." Respondents even confessed to enjoying advertising, at least some of the time, with 66% agreeing (13% strongly) that "Advertising often gets my attention and is entertaining."

There was some regional variation in the incidence of agreement that advertising enables consumers to make better choices by providing them with information. Among respondents in Latin America, 82% subscribed to that statement, as did 72% of those in North America. In Europe, though, just 50% of respondents endorsed that view.

The survey also detected regional variation in the degree to which consumers trust various forms of advertising. TV advertising is a conspicuous example. On average, 62% of global respondents said they trust TV advertising at least "somewhat." But the figure ranged from 74% in Latin America down to 49% in Europe, with North America splitting the difference, at 61%.

The regional pattern was similar when the survey measured trust in online advertising. Among respondents in Latin America, 53% said they trust that sort of advertising at least somewhat, as did 42% in North America and 36% in Europe. As for newspaper advertising, 75% in Latin America said they trust it at least somewhat, vs. 66% in North America and 50% in Europe.

The survey's global findings belied the notion that consumers trust advertising in traditional media more than ads in new media -- or vice versa. Brands' Web sites outscored other ad media in the numbers of respondents saying they trust them "completely" (13%) or "somewhat" (57%). On the other hand, text ads on mobile phones were at the very bottom of the trust rankings, with just 2% saying they trust these completely and 22% saying they trust them somewhat.

And there was a lackluster rating for "ads served in search-engine results," with 4% trusting these completely and 37% somewhat. Ratings for old media were closely bunched, with TV getting a typical rating for these of 8% "trust completely" and 53% "trust somewhat."

You'd expect the economic turmoil of the past year to have eroded consumer trust in markets and marketing. As such, there's a counterintuitive aspect to the findings that trust in advertising of all sorts of media was higher in the new survey than it was in a similar 2007 sounding. For instance, the proportion of respondents saying they trust brand Web sites at least somewhat rose from 60% in 2007 to 70% this time around. There was a particularly large gain for "ads before movies" -- from 38% then to 52% now -- which suggests that objections to such ads are fading as people become more accustomed to them.