by Wayne Naidoo (@WNaidoo) 2019 is set to be another challenging year and, with trust already on shaky ground, we’re barreling into it without a firm footing. Trust. It’s a word that has been fundamentally eroded, from politics and agency relationships to reporting data and influencer authenticity; there’s a very good reason why “fake news” was Collins Word of the Year 2017.


We have to be honest with ourselves; our customers would far rather continue watching their episode of whichever series currently being viewed than have their evening interrupted by a message which they don’t trust and, with prevalence of ad blockers, they won’t tolerate either. Our consumers are cynical, untrusting, irritated.

In tandem with this, clients are increasingly procurement-led; this brings more of the all-important transparency in supplier-client relationships. Except, too often the evaluation points which define decision-making aren’t necessarily in line with how agencies or companies could best be evaluated. While this is happening, consultancies offer business transparency and bigger-picture thinking, as they encroach on our world with some pretty good work, too.

Influencer marketing continues to rise, but with an insincerity. Yes, there is power in authentic relationships and endorsements yet the public is quickly seeing through the empty endorsed posts that, just like the endorsement ads of old, are now merely regarded as an awareness channel. In the meantime, we fall deeper into our own echo chambers, driven by social and search algorithms (which might make us feel understood, but shouldn’t be trusted as a true representation of the world).

Rise from rock-bottom

This erosion of trust has been long in the making but it was never as acute as it was in 2018. And 2019 is the year we rise from rock-bottom.

At the heart of trust lies accountability, or integrity, as many might say. Clients absolutely deserve this. Reliable transparency — it’s not a business model; it’s the only one.

Trust and ethical behaviour go hand in hand. This runs on both agency and client side, as we see increasing dishonesty in pitches, clients’ adoption of work or ‘misplaced’ concepts. This short-termist strategy is non-sustainable. If something calls your morality or integrity into question, walk away. As Jack Welch said, “Can you look in the mirror in the morning and be proud of what you’re doing?”

This has to be owned and demonstrated by the leaders of our industry. Ethical business practices in a country, and world, so riddled with corruption is absolutely, fundamentally essential. When more junior staff see their leaders standing up for what is morally right, it sets a precedent for future business. And it lays a foundation of trust, integrity and so many other things we need in our country right now. These are things which are essential in an agency environment, which has flux and evolution as constants.

The most powerful currency

2019 looks to be a perfect, beautiful storm. It’s a time when technology and innovation have become the fundamental driver of our every single need. But it’s also the time when the human values of trust and integrity, honesty and authenticity will be the most powerful currency in our industry.

See also


MarkLives logoWhat are the industry expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2019? Kicking off our “Big Q”  column for the year, a panel of key agency and marketing executives discusses the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for in the year ahead. 

Wayne Naidoo (@WNaidoo) is the founder and CEO of DUKE. He has well over 25 years’ experience in the marketing and advertising industry, having begun his career in marketing as the marketing manager of the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid Committee. He has also been Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) chair, an AAA School of Advertising board member and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) chair.

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