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Why creatives need to be sympathetic to the cost-of-living crisis

The biggest risk for brands and their agencies right now is being tone-deaf.

Claire Hollands

MullenLowe Group UK

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve most likely seen the videos trending on social media about the ludicrous cost of Lurpak in the UK at the moment. From tubs kitted out with security tags to tutorials on how to turn cream into butter, people will find any way to avoid paying over the odds for products. But, while it’s in the British public’s nature to use humour to cope during hard times, this does highlight the stark reality of the current cost of living crisis. 

With experts predicting the average energy bill to rise to around £3k a year, and 91% of adults reporting that their cost of living has risen, there’s increasing clamour for the Government and advertisers to take action. 

As with all these things, consumers are doing their best to adapt their behaviours to cope. This includes switching to cheaper alternatives, reducing spending on non-essentials, and paying closer attention to their heating and electricity consumption. While this is clearly a major business concern for the telecoms, supermarket, and energy sectors in particular, all brands must be careful not to turn a blind eye to the reality affecting millions of consumers. As creatives, we have a responsibility to help them do that.

Reasons to be hopeful 

The biggest risk for brands and their agencies right now is being tone-deaf. 

Understanding your audience and showing empathy should be at the heart of every creative brief, yet these are things so many continue to get wrong. This difficulty in addressing consumers is something we explored in the context of ageism in our recent Invisible Powerhouse research project, and is an ongoing struggle for the many brands.

Brands striking a balance between being aspirational, light-hearted and remaining empathetic is a challenge that has become increasingly evident. It’s the industry’s obligation to help steer them away from creating dry, insensitive, or purely explanatory content. 

The IPA recently commissioned a survey on what shoppers want brands to focus on at the moment, which revealed fair pricing and value to be the two most important factors. The big four supermarket chains have all outlined cost-cutting measures and pledged to support consumers in recent months, but this still doesn't appear to be enough. According to research from BritainThinks, only 6% of people say they have ‘a lot’ of trust in the ability of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons to keep costs down.

Brands striking a balance between being aspirational, light-hearted and remaining empathetic is a challenge that has become increasingly evident. It’s the industry’s obligation to help steer them away from creating dry, insensitive, or purely explanatory content

Claire Hollands, Managing Director, MullenLowe

On top of the much-needed price cuts, brands should equip consumers with the tools they need to be savvier with their money. What I don’t mean by that is creating content that’s downbeat and entirely humourless – in fact, I think that approach is likely to do more harm than good.

Television personality Stacey Solomon is a great example of how to do this well with her DIY, organisation, and craft projects. She was recently in the news for her £55 room makeover. In doing so, she’s giving people the tools to do a home renovation in an affordable way, which makes it accessible for most and allows them to remain hopeful. The irony to this, is she’s doing it from a £1 million point house, however, there’s no risk of a backlash because she knows her audience and caters to them extremely well, using humour and wit along the way.

For everyday household brands, knowing your consumer, having empathy, and keeping that all-important element of hope will become even more important over the coming months. 

Supermarkets can learn from broadcasters

Broadcasters are doing a lot of good work in this space, which supermarkets can learn a lot from.

For example, BBC and Channel 4 lead the way when it comes to having their finger on the pulse of the nation. Their programming around how to spend better and save more strikes all the right notes. Programmes like 'Eat Well for Less' don’t focus too much on the cost-of-living crisis, but they do lean into it. While it’s important for all of us to be aware of the hardships people are facing right now, it’s also understandable that UK consumers don’t want to be continually bombarded with negative messaging. Instead, talking about saving money to be able to afford a holiday maintains that element of hope and aspiration. 

I’m yet to see supermarkets deliver their communications in a normal, everyday way. For example, there are some successful influencers who create great content on how to make seven family meals a week for just £35. The influencer generation is playing to the cost-of-living crisis because they’re living it. As a result, their content has become much better than what some of the major brands are currently producing.

While the long running campaign ‘Feed your family for a fiver’ is useful – that only covers one meal. As a mum, I want to know how to turn Sunday roast leftovers into two more meals that my family will enjoy. I think that’s where we, as an agency, can play an active role in helping brands to strike that balance between being genuinely helpful and just putting a positive, energetic spin on things.

My question back to the industry is what can we do to help more of our clients proactively make a meaningful difference?

Claire Hollands, Managing Director, MullenLowe

Every industry is affected by this crisis 

The supermarket, telecoms and energy sectors are at the forefront of this crisis. That said, every sector is now experiencing this. The cost-of-living crisis is biting hard enough that anything brands can do to create a meaningful difference in people’s lives will be well received.

For example, we’re currently working with a client on a loyalty programme, which rewards people in the running community for achieving their goals. If someone said to me that I could get a complimentary item that I wouldn’t be able to afford because of the current economy, I’d be chuffed to bits. They’re not asking consumers to scrimp and save - instead, they’re ensuring their prices aren’t an obstacle to people living their normal lives, even during a financial crisis.  

In lockdown, our industry was innovative in solving the nation’s problems as we were all stuck at home. For example, we pivoted the long running Persil ‘Dirt Is Good' campaign to ‘Home Is Good’ giving parents lots of tips and advice of activities to do with their kids.  I see the cost-of-living crisis as an equally pertinent opportunity for us to problem solve on behalf of our nation. So, my question back to the industry is what can we do to help more of our clients proactively make a meaningful difference?

Guest Author

Claire Hollands

MullenLowe Group UK

About

Claire joined MullenLowe, the advertising and content arm of MullenLowe Group UK, in November 2021 as Managing Director. At MullenLowe, Claire oversees brands with both a global and domestic foothold from Unilever and Bayer to the NHS and BUPA. She has led several pitch teams to win since joining and is building out the Agency offering ensuring creativity is at the core. Prior to this, Claire was Chief Client Officer at AMV BBDO, which won Cannes Agency of the Year in 2021.

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