Brands being useful

10th August 2022

The cost of living crisis is more than a media soundbite – it’s already impacting millions of families across Britain.

What’s more, it’s likely to remain a fact of life for many months to come as inflation and energy prices continue to soar and will get a lot worse before it gets any better.

The consequences are glaringly obvious: at best, significantly reduced spending power; at worst, life below the poverty line. In other words, literally millions of families struggling to make ends meet or simply going without. And, just like COVID-19, there’s an inevitable toll this will take on the nation’s mental health. So how do brands need to respond to the new reality and the resulting shift in the national psyche?

The risk of tone-deaf brand activity is ever-present, but especially during times of suffering.

It’s well understood that the marketing and comms industry’s track record in social mobility is poor, so maintaining an acute awareness of the mood is particularly relevant, especially if you’re still happily paying £4 for your iced frappe on the walk to work.

And that applies to every marketing execution, not just comms (let’s be honest, it’s usually the ad agency that forgets what the world is worrying about). Most people aren’t thinking about trading up, treating themselves or splashing the cash when they’re frightened to put the heating on. So make sure you’re capturing genuinely representative views.

Similarly, campaign testing – using in-depth focus groups – is always good practice, but could save your bacon in times like these and prevent the car crash that can leave reputations a twisted wreck.

And remember: hardship doesn’t distribute itself evenly. For such a small island, there are huge differences from town to town, never mind region to region. If you don’t believe me, spend a day in Brighton followed by Blackpool.

And while humour always has its place, struggling isn’t funny. Just listen to any radio phone-in on the topic or visit your local food bank. Utility is in, futility is out.

On the other hand, as previous recessions have shown, brands that are empathetic and helpful can make enormous gains and garner a level of brand love that most can only dream of. Remember those brands that pivoted their comms in the pandemic and struck a chord with millions of us trapped in our homes climbing the walls? Think hacks, tips, advice.

And consider how your purpose agenda can flex to achieve maximum relevance. While almost all of us will feel less well-off, the day-to-day lives for the very poorest in society will be dire and distressing. What can you do that’s both right for your brand and meaningful for others?

The three-word summary? Make yourself useful.

This article originally appeared in PRWeek. Martin Currie is managing director of Citypress.

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