If you didn’t hear, transparency was deemed the 2016 word of the year by members of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). 

For the third consecutive year, the ANA polled its members to name a single defining word that represented 2016. The winning word follows content marketing in 2015 and programmatic in 2014.  

So, what does it mean for marketers? Well, according to Merriam-Webster, transparency is defined as follows: “Something transparent or free from pretense or deceit," or in layman’s marketing terms, not being shady, secretive or deceitful in your marketing or advertising, i.e. building trust with your target audience. 

Two hundred and sixty-seven respondents took ANA’s “Marketing Word of the Year” survey, and transparency received the most votes. Other contenders included customer experience, influencer, and again, content marketing and programmatic

Of the respondents who selected transparency for “Marketing Word of the Year,” some commented the following (verbatim):

  • “[Transparency] is the single most important issue in marketing and has the greatest potential benefit in terms of improving marketing ROI.”
  • “Transparency, or lack of transparency, defines all media agency relationships and provides a new perspective to consider these relationships.”
  • “The K2 findings have served as a milestone encouraging change in how clients and agencies partner on media deals.”
  • “Fraud and lack of transparency are killing the digital ecosystem for advertisers.”
  • “Because of the important K2 report and the light it shed on the broken agency/client model, coming to a common ground that works for marketers is crucial to the future of this relationship.”
  • “Transparency affects everything we communicate in marketing, from our product formulations and labels to how we communicate in all channels to our internal culture.”
  • “Consumers want to do business with brands they can trust. That goes to the heart of transparency.”
  • “Trust between agencies and clients has never seemed worse, especially in the world of programmatic and data.”


What does this tell us?

For years, marketers and advertisers have faced societal criticism, and it’s only getting worse. According to a recent Gallup survey of more than 1,000 US consumers, just 35% of adults hold a positive view of the advertising & PR industry, a figure equaled by the 35% with a negative view of the industry. With a net positive rating of 0, the industry is down from last year’s rating of +7. 

And as if that isn’t bad enough, the internet industry has seen a 15% drop in positive view from last year. With such a poor view of these two industries facing 2017, marketers and advertisers have an even tougher mountain to climb. 

What can we do?

Make transparency marketing 110% part of your 2017 marketing strategy. Building trust is essential to a brand’s success, and transparency marketing is the best approach to building that trust. 

But don’t mistake transparency marketing for something that can produce overnight success. Transparency marketing that leads to trust has to be earned. Consider a couple things when embracing transparency marketing—be open about the “why,” and talk about your losses. If you can show your audience your real self, along with your scars, they are more likely to connect with what you have to say. 

If you take your time to develop a content marketing strategy that embraces transparency, the dividends will be abundant. Things like a larger following, greater valuations, and more internal loyalty are the rewards of transparency marketing. 

Need a little inspiration? Check out these 5 brands that employed transparency marketing and won

If you can show your audience that you are willing to be vulnerable, they will repay you by becoming customers, or maybe even by sharing your vulnerability with others. And that’s the ultimate prize, isn’t it? Connecting with customers on a level that no other brand can? 

Challenge your brand in 2017 with this marketing tactic. You might just surprise yourself in the process.


Pair transparency marketing with attitudinal marketing for an even better marketing strategy.