How consumers are responding to the cost-of-living crisis and what that means for brands
It's scary out there, and there are lots of fears to choose from; from a pandemic and climate change to war and an ongoing cost of living crisis. But there are ways that brands can help, says Sophie Lewis, Chief Strategy Officer at M&C Saatchi London, just remember these three things...
Jeez, it’s scary out there. And it’s scary in here. Luckily (for most of us), there’s still tea and biscuits.
In the current set of circumstances, you could be forgiven for sinking under the not-inconsiderable weight of the pile of crapola seemingly heaped upon us pretty much every day. In order: Brexit; global pandemic; millions of deaths; energy crisis; war in Ukraine; price rises; price rises; price rises; public services crisis; ongoing threat to life on the planet due to global warming.
You could be forgiven for sinking under the not-inconsiderable weight of the pile of crapola seemingly heaped upon us.
Unsurprising, perhaps, that as a nation our anxiety continues to grow. The thing is, right now, the problems are both macro and micro, global and local. It’s coming at us from all sides. Hence my point about the tea and biscuits.
Above: There has been a litany of bad news for consumers over recent years.
All of this chaos is important context for the three big themes we’ve seen in our On the Money study. We’ve just spent a month asking 50 people across the country, via the fully encrypted medium of WhatsApp, how they are feeling about their situation, as well as how they are managing their money and spending their limited budgets.
Each of the key themes we’ve observed is a pretty well-understood psychological response to fear:
‘Personal control’ as a way to deal with the chaos going on around us is a big theme. Through necessity we’ve become a nation of planners and spread-sheeters. It’s not about giving up nights out, per se (although there will be fewer of them, undoubtedly, or they will be socialising nights in, instead) but it’s about ensuring that maximum pleasure will be had by putting the necessary preparation into this to ensure you get the most out of it.
It’s not just about necessity. It’s about our desire to feel in control of something. Of anything.
We see control being exercised in all sorts of ways, from using cash (yes, cash!) to make sure you’re only spending what you’ve literally got in your pocket, to meal planning (people actually get pleasure from buying EXACTLY what they need, using it all up and becoming masters of the budget and the fridge shelves). If you’re not using it all up, down to the last old potato, are you even real? It’s not just about necessity. It’s about our desire to feel in control of something. Of anything. When so much is beyond our control, our instincts are to focus in on the small stuff which we can keep a tight rein on. Lists, plans, schedules; all help us to feel as though it’s down to us.
Marketers, in turn, should empathise with the need for control and consider how their brand can ‘show up’ for people. If customers are willing to spend more of their time ‘getting it right’, brands have an opportunity to engage with actions like highlighting cheaper product alternatives, providing more details on how long a product or service will last, and showing some degree of ‘appreciation’ for every purchase.
Above: Escapism is an important element of self-preservation.
This is a big one, especially in communications. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating being cavalier about the situation ordinary people find themselves in. I am just saying that, when things are difficult, people don’t want advertising to keep on telling them that, they know it already. Escapism is a vital part of self-preservation and a direct response to pressure and fear. Reality too much to deal with? Get out of it.
When things are difficult, people don’t want advertising to keep on telling them that, they know it already.
When we asked people about their media choices and how the cost-of-living-crisis was affecting them, almost everyone talked about the importance of entertainment, comfort and escapism in their viewing choices. Many told us they had stopped watching the news altogether. Series three of Ted Lasso is perfectly timed. It’s like they planned it.
In the main, the products and services we work on won’t change the world, but they might give you a happy five minutes. Know your place, know your role. Give people a little bit of light relief, if that’s the type of product you are. At the moment, if you can give them a laugh, then do it.
Above: It's time for tea and biscuits.
Fear isn’t good for us, mostly. It doesn’t result in positive personal outcomes. It’s connected to feeling under pressure and impacts on how we feel overall. What we heard is that maintaining our mental wellbeing is more important to people than ever before.
In the last recession we barely talked about ‘wellbeing’ let alone the idea of taking positive action to boost the health of our minds and bodies. What we see now is all sorts of categories and behaviours being justified as important for our overall sense of wellbeing. From getting our nails done, to socialising, exercise, sport, meditation, vitamins, to leafy greens and juices; you name it, it plays a part in our sense of mental and physical wellbeing.
It’s all about equipping yourself with the mental and physical fortitude required to deal with the daily onslaught of dreadfulness.
And, if your brand plays a part in that repertoire of ‘necessary’ products and services, then happy days. But we’ve seen a lot of trading down, too. So, you’ll keep up the vitamins, but you’ll buy the cheaper version. If you’ve got a price premium to maintain, you’ll have to justify it. Almost anything, in fact, can be justified under the broad banner of ‘I need to keep spending on that category because it’s good for my wellbeing’. Takeaways, going out, staying in, going to the gym, walking, eating, sleeping, meeting friends, talking, not talking, juicing, fasting, eating, gaming.
Right now, it’s all about how good you feel and equipping yourself with the mental and physical fortitude required to deal with the daily onslaught of dreadfulness.
Time for tea and biscuits?