Thought Leadership

Are brands guilty of adding to consumers' January blues?

In place of outdated messaging industry leaders discuss the power of optimism as an antidote for toxic ‘new year new you’ messaging.

Josie Shand

Share


Let’s face it, 2022 wasn’t as smooth sailing as most of us had hoped for. The dark mornings and dark nights, combined with economic headwinds are combining to make the concept of ‘January Blues’ very apparent. Yet, the start to a new year gives us an opportunity to recharge and reflect. 

A fresh beginning brings with it ‘new year, new me’ resolutions. Tedious as it may be, we still revert to the phrase because it allows us to make plans and think about what we hope to achieve. But how can brands help make sure that ‘new year, new me’ messaging helps audiences reach positive goals rather than places unrealistic expectations and pressures on people in an already challenging landscape? 

Fad trends and impulsive ‘new me’ messaging is often unrealistic as making positive behavioural change is hardly a short-term goal. Improving and developing our behaviours, however, whether that be mentally or physically is a more long-term shift. One that is about far more than what we look like. 

Brands have an opportunity to help consumers start the year with a sense of optimism and help consumers achieve their goals if they look to more robust messaging. With this in mind, we asked a selection of industry experts how they approach new years and the impact of resolution based messaging on consumers.

Lara Gueganton

Lara-Headshot.jpg

2050 London

Social Media Creative Strategist

Optimism can be powerful and, these days, very needed. But with this idea of ‘new year, new you’ comes a familiar pressure to suddenly be better - even if we were already doing our best given the circumstances. (And they’ve been difficult circumstances across the board lately.) Rather than feeling motivated, I tend to find myself remembering all the years I hoped for a ‘new me’ but finished the year having not quite achieved all of my goals anyway, somehow minimising how much I did accomplish. So yes, I certainly think it can contribute further to consumers’ January blues.

That’s not to say brands’ messaging shouldn’t be encouraging. Brands can absolutely recognise and highlight that the new year is a fresh start; it’s an opportunity for personal growth. However, instead of implying that a version of yourself you don’t even recognise should take the reins (and otherwise you’ve failed), they need to go about it the right way. We’re in the era where authentic brands reign: connect with your audience, rather than putting pressure on them.

Dove is an example of a brand that’s perfectly poised to double down on this. By first celebrating what consumers achieved last year - even if it was just getting through it - and then encouraging them to grow at their own pace, this new-year approach could align with their self-love positioning and emphasis on realising one’s potential. (And it would feel good!) There’s a whole host of brands who can do this authentically, helping consumers to take on the year with them at their side.

Amiee Luther

AimeeLuther-headshot.jpg

Managing Director

The Liberty Guild

I think the current shit show we are all facing has actually heightened awareness and sensitivity from a lot of brands, and this has been reflected in advertising. I haven’t caught sight of the usual slew of ‘buy this to get a reduced waistline’ or ‘drink more water and be healthier’ etc. The whole ‘new start, new you’ only works if we have excesses to get rid of. Most of us don't have the privilege to have excesses and rather than overindulging on booze and spending, people are trying to get by and level out at ‘normal’. Brands seemed to have tuned in and taken on board that normal is good enough, there is less about trying to improve ourselves and promote change and more talk around support and praising people for their resilience. There will of course be those few brands that turn a blind eye to what consumers really need at the moment and give in to the cliché. But for the most part brands are focusing their energy on not on drinking more water, drinking less booze, and spinning more, but being kinder, more generous with consumers' time, being thoughtful and aware of others and the priorities that we are striving to get back to normality.

Catrin Tyler

Catrin Tyler .jpg

Head of New Business

Dark Horses

After the excesses of Christmas, January is traditionally the time where we like to see ourselves getting back on track - moving away from the tubs of Quality Street and embracing a healthier return to normality. 

Multiple studies have shown the positive benefits of exercise on mental health. So even though most New Years resolutions tend to be abandoned pretty quickly, brands that help people embrace sport and fitness in some of those early, and arguably most depressing, weeks of the year should surely be regarded in a positive light. 

But they need to be careful about their approach. While there are brilliant communities such as 'Red January' which exist solely for the purpose of encouraging sustainable exercise to aid mental wellbeing, more often than not brands push aesthetically focused products or quick fix results. If they don't get their message and relationship with the consumer right they'll risk worsening the issue they could so easily help alleviate.

Sophie Gaskill

Sophie Gaskill Headshot.png

Executive Director, Brand

Interbrand

Managing a brand is an incredibly challenging job right now as we live in culturally complicated and polarised times. As a connective force between a corporation and its consumers - a crystallization and communication of values, purpose and promise – a brand has pretty tough job to do. So, how does it stay relevant to a broad enough base of consumers and communicate values that are – in the current cultural context - often divisive. 

As we think about New Year messaging and the challenge faced by brands, Equinox Gym is such an interesting example. New Year is a critical growth period for gyms – and yet Equinox wanted to steer clear of the “new year, new you” messaging and positioned against it with an authentic and human POV on the pressures people face to reinvent with ads that said: 

'January is a fantasy, delivered to your door in a pastel-colored box. It talks about change.' 'It needs a new outfit before it can begin. Short-cutting, giving up just a few weeks later.' You are not a New Year's resolution. Your life doesn't start at the beginning of the year. And that's not what being part of Equinox is about.’ 

Great, right? Yes. But then… 

'We go beyond what's possible. We defy expectations. We are not moderation. We want it all, every day. And you deserve it all. 

And as the negative press coverage shows, they didn’t get it quite right. It’s not a ‘new year new you’ message, but it is a ‘want it all / have it all’ message, which for many is just a different flavour of problematic. Who really feels like they’re ‘having it all’ right now?

It’s not enough to swap one tired old trope with another. The best brands will go deeper to understand the human condition and the deep motivations of their customers. Short cuts and proxies are problematic in the cancel era and brand managers need to be at their most sophisticated and their most empowered to get it right.

Agencies Featured