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Young Adults More Trusting of Advertising


No consensus on who is trusted to regulate advertising industry

New York, NY – If advertising is created to sell a product, service or even an idea, it’s helpful if the message is not only clear but also believable to the intended audience. However, only one in five American adults say they trust that advertising is honest in its claims all or most of the time (19%). Rather, a majority say they trust that advertising is sometimes honest in its claims (65%) and just over one in ten say that they never trust that advertising is honest in its claims (13%).

These are some of the findings of a new Adweek Media/ Harris Poll, survey of 2,098 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 5th and 7th, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

Differences by Age

Although all adults seem somewhat unsure about the believability of advertising claims, older adults are more suspicious than younger adults.  While fully nine in ten young adults aged 18-34 say they trust that advertising is honest in its claims at least sometimes (90%), fewer older adults agree – 86% of those 35-44 say this, as do 84% of those 45-54, and 81% of those 55 years and older.  Conversely, almost one in five adults 55 and older say that they never trust that advertising is honest (18%), compared to less than one in ten 18-34 year olds who say the same (8%).

Regulating Advertising Claims

When asked who they trust to ensure that advertising is honest in its claims, Americans are split as three in ten say that they trust regulation by the government to ensure advertising is honest in its claims (29%), while 23% say they trust the self-regulation by advertisers and advertising industry more.  However, half of Americans say they trust neither (48%).  Just as younger adults showed less skepticism about advertising honesty, younger adults also show more confidence in the various regulatory checks and systems.  Adults aged 18-34 are more likely than those 55 and older to say both that they trust government regulation (33% vs. 26%) and advertising self-regulation (26% vs. 18%) to ensure that advertising is honest.  Not surprisingly, more than half (56%) of older Americans, 55 and older, say that they trust neither the industry nor the institution to regulate advertising honesty, compared to less than half of those 35-44 (44%) and 18-34 (41%) who say the same.

While younger adults tend to trust the various systems of regulation more than older adults do, Americans with higher education say they trust the government to regulate advertising much more than those with less formal educations do – almost two in five who have graduated college say that they trust government regulation (38%), compared to three in ten who have attended, but not graduated, from college (29%), and less than one-quarter who have not attended any college (22%).

So What?

The advertising industry appears to be in a tough spot.  Many people don’t believe that advertising is honest in its claims, yet there is no consensus on who is trusted to regulate and control the industry.  Thus, it seems regardless of what principles or statutes an advertiser conforms to, it may not convince many consumers about the quality of the product or promise being promoted.  However, the fact that younger Americans are less skeptical than older Americans may be a positive indicator for the ad industry.  It’s possible that both the honesty of ad claims and the regulation of the industry are improving, yet older Americans may still be cautious, especially if they have memories from previous negative experiences.




This Adweek Media/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between October 5th and 7th, 2010 among 2,098 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll ® #136, November 5th, 2010

By Samantha Braverman, Project Researcher, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit

About AdweekMedia

AdweekMedia encompasses the publications, websites, digital products and events produced by Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek. Through this dynamic media network, each brand keeps the agency, marketing and media communities competitive and connected by delivering the latest news and expert analysis most relevant to their specific needs.

AdweekMedia is part of Nielsen Business Media, which is a unit of The Nielsen Company. Nielsen Business Media is a leading market-focused provider of integrated information and sales and marketing solutions, helping businesses go to market more effectively and efficiently. For more see






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