“Fake News.” “Troll Farms.” “Shadow Banning.”

It seems like new terms that call content and information into question are being introduced to the collective consumer psyche every day. While the growing list of conspiracy-tinged vocabulary is growing, every new entry adds to the skepticism and doubt consumers face while attempting to connect with content online.

The CMO Council, in partnership with Dow Jones, conducted a study in late 2017, asking 2,000 consumers about their reaction to fake news and what lengths they would go to in order to root out validated and authenticated content and news. Granted, this was a “simpler” time – before trolls, bans, etc – but the feedback came thru loud and clear. Consumers were worried about fake news and were calling everything from news to advertising into question.


  • Three in every four consumers were increasingly concerned by the number of fake or overtly biased news and content sources online
  • 60 percent admitted that this fake news trend was causing them to actively seek out a more selective and validated set of trusted news and content sources
  • 64 percent said that they had a more positive attitude and outlook on brands that advertised in these trusted sources
  • 88 percent said that seeing advertising on fake news sources or adjacent to fake, inappropriate or vulgar content would cause them to no longer do business with that brand

While hearts and minds are swept into fierce debates over fake news and trolls, marketers are left to figure out how to conduct business as usual. But today’s environment is far from usual.

Today we must weight the value of efficiency versus the value of trust: The money that can be saved by programmatic buying schemes and the money that will be lost should poorly crafted or executed buying strategy lead to lost trust and lost business from customers. It is a treacherous debate to be sure as it is much easier to assume that strategy will pay off, black lists will be accurate and that the machine won’t fail as it learns where to place our ads for the best dollar value.

But if today’s culture has revealed anything, it is that our customers are more in control than ever and ready to send brands a message with their wallets. So, what can be done?

That’s a much bigger question than can be answered in this note, but I would propose that a starting point might be for CMOs to take on a bigger role in reinventing the brand/agency dynamic. In post-Cannes coverage, it was amazing to see how many brand leaders were willing to lament over the state of transparency and the reality of fraud in advertising today. So now, its time to roll up our sleeves and work arm in arm with our agency peers to reinvent the dynamic. If you are looking for a place to start thinking, I highly recommend this recent article in the Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today section, penned by our friends at Deloitte.

In it, the authors, David Cutbill of Deloitte and Christopher Dahl of Media Management, Inc. outline key terms that should be included in new contracts with media agency partners. From “transparency language” to “audit privileges”, the article outlines some key contract inclusions specifically designed to ensure both brand and agency are on the same page strategically and financially.

It is a new age of transparency that extends from the brand/customer dynamic through to the contracts binding brand to agency. If there are any pitfalls along the way, trust is sacrificed and revenue lost. The common thread that must hold both relationships together is the CMO. We are the trustees of trust. Let’s take that job as seriously as we take our role as growth driver and storyteller.

Now, go enjoy the rest of summer! Until next month.



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