Thought Leadership

Do brands need to do more than offer consumers’ ‘empty empathy’ in the wake of permacrisis?

In times of crisis brands must find ways to create authentic connections with consumers

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


There is no marketing playbook with a step-by-step guide to navigating a cost of living crisis. But, with crisis being the only certainty of the past few years it's been an unavoidable challenge for marketers and consumers alike.

Recent research from the IPA uncovered worrying findings that 40% of Britons aren’t coping on their current salaries and that in such an uncertain economic environment, consumers are increasingly putting long-term plans on hold. These kinds of issues cannot be solved by a ‘we’re there for you’ strapline. Customers can see right through empty empathy, especially when it comes from certain brands that seem to actually be profiting off crisis.

Permacricis communications are no easy feat but creating connections and supporting communities are a good place to start. Increasingly customers need real, tangible support be it through loyalty schemes or through price cuts. On the flip side when morale is low some humor, joy and escapism has far more appeal than a sad pat on the back.

With no clear end to the crisis in sight, we asked industry experts: do brands need to do more than offer consumers’ ‘empty empathy’ in the wake of permacrisis?

Alex Perry

Alex Perry - The Romans.jpg

Client Services Director

The Romans

“There’s nothing wrong with empathy. Indeed, it’s one of the major levers that brands pull on in their continual quest to “emotionally engage” with their audience. Because who doesn’t want to feel heard, acknowledged and understood?

The problem is how this empathy is then translated into comms. When uplifting words aren’t quite enough as your mortgage goes up threefold. As in reality, people don’t really want advice from brands on how to cut energy bills or reduce plastic consumption; they can Google that pretty easily if they’re bored on the bus home.

They’d prefer brands to take responsibility. Create less plastic. Invest in stuff they care about. Stop flying execs around the world. Take meaningful action and reward brand loyalty through tangible incentives and discounts. Actual help; not just some lovely copy about how we’re all in it together.

And maybe equally as important as taking action? Distraction.

Consumers want brands to create moments that give them lovely memories, rather than the horrors from doomscrolling etched into their minds. A branded meme they can have a laugh with their mates about. A free, branded experience to take a date to. Just silly stuff that interrupts the ‘perma’ of it all.”

Corinna Field

Corinna Field - Red Lion.jpg


Red Lion PR

Put bluntly, sh*t’s been getting real for years now, and brands that feign purpose just won’t cut it.

So the answer from me is a resounding yes, from an ethical but also a commercial perspective. Consumers increasingly want brands they invest their hard-earned cash in to reflect their own values, with 84% of global consumers agreeing that, “more brands should do their part in helping the world” (source: Amazon Ads).

Arguably this increased awareness was initially driven by the growing number of social media users (57 million and counting in the UK), as consumers with online profiles seek brands that align with the values they wish to be known for.

But it’s no longer just about this. We’re a comparatively privileged nation, but we’ve been through a pandemic, we’re battling a cost-of-living crisis, the demise of the NHS, ongoing strikes, and that’s not to mention climate change, plus warfare on our doorstep. The best communicators know their audience, and whatever the demographic, this nation has a list of bona fide anxieties longer than its arm. Leaning into authenticity is the only way to keep the consumers coming whilst the world turns upside down.

Chris Taylor

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Ever since the pandemic, brands have been racing to tell us how much they care. Flooding pages and screens with a sea of bland, non-committal statements like “we’re here for you” and “we’re all in this together”. They were so concerned they needed to say something that they managed to say nothing at all of value. But the answer isn’t just to do more.

Without truly understanding their customers’ lived experiences, any action can feel as empty as those messages. At worst, it’s just plain insulting. Energy companies rightly caught flack for sending socks to customers or telling people to do star jumps to keep warm while they hiked energy prices and registered record profits.

Actions need to feel authentic to the brand and relevant to their customers’ challenges. While economic instability looks set to be the norm, brands need to go beyond just the data and speak to real people, not at them. Discovering what their actual worries are and see how they can add value and be a reliable presence in their customers’ lives. Because no-one’s finding comfort in empty gestures created in a vacuum.

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