The Publicis media agency Starcom has published a report ‘Future Tensions in… Consumer Confidence’ that aims to explore the seismic impact of the “once-in-a-lifetime” phenomenon of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Here, two of the report’s authors Starcom Research Director Heather Dansie (pictured) and Emma Johansen, Strategy Director at Starcom, talk to NDA about the findings and why they matter.
They believe that the pandemic has changed not only consumer behaviour but business behaviour, too, and illustrates the importance of advertising in our society. Arguably, it has never been more important, they suggest.
Says Dansie: “Advertising has a big role in how people feel – mood is an important topic and with the pandemic, the first in our lifetimes, advertising has been given permission to talk about new things and I don’t think we’ll be going back [to the way things were].”
She cites purpose-driven initiatives such as Vodafone allowing people to access any and all NHS content or communications that drive people to relevant information, education and entertainment.
Dansie continues: “Brand purpose has taken on new meaning. No matter what the product or service is brands [are saying] we’re here to serve and contribute.”
The report, which can be read in full here, looks at consumer confidence through the lens of consumer tensions, asking not just what will be different but what new tensions will arise from macro, society changes.
It posits that only be identifying new conflicting needs can advertisers and their partners anticipate new behaviours and define new solutions. It challenges: do advertisers have a responsibility to encourage consumer confidence.”
Johansen says that advertisers have stepped up to deliver on that challenge and suggests: “Advertising can influence the mood of the nation.”
She adds: “Lots of brands have contributed to every day lives in new and meaningful ways. Advertising can influence the mood of the nation.”
Consumer confidence as a metric is analysed by GfK on behalf of the European Commission and factors both an individual’s personal financial situation as well as the general economic situation.
Its latest data from November reveals and extremely low number of -33. Yet while advertising can do little to shift the dial in terms of the perception of personal finances, the authors believe it has enormous power in affecting the perception of how the country is doing.
They say that advertising has a subtle but important impact on how we feel; that the advertising community has a responsibility to support each other; that people believe in the power of businesses. Almost two-thirds (65%) of Brits believe that CEOs should take the lead on addressing the pandemic rather than waiting on government guidelines, according to research from Edelman.
Continues Dansie: “I certainly think that as an industry we’re all in this together, and we’ll survive or fail together.”
Of particular importance, she suggests, is supporting “high quality” media partners, more important than ever in a year dominated by bad news and fake news. “We need to support them almost as essential services”.
Another silver lining after advertisers initially sought to cut or suspend spend has been a change in the quality and output of advertising, as well as the rapid reorganisation of agencies to respond to the challenge.
“There has been a pivot where brands have realised they can make great stuff really quickly,” she says. “I definitely think that the coming year could be exciting because we as an industry has moved on. Agencies are changing their models and how they approach things as a result.”
Johansen urges advertisers to not lose hope and retrench to overly short term thinking, saying that it shouts of fear over confidence.
She says: “I hope that everyone stays true to the fact that there will be an end to this, that parties and good times will return. You only need to look at the years after the Spanish pandemic in 1918 and the subsequent Roaring 20s to see this or a similar effect following the Vietnam War. Remember, confidence begets confidence, but fear begets fear.”
The report concludes by suggesting strategies to deal with three consumer tensions.
In that between normality and progression, they advise enabling people to get back to normality or progress by empowering or supporting them. The tension between survival versus requires brands to help people survive or help them splurge through helpfulness or hopefulness.
Finally, it recommends enabling confidence from scale or from sales by collaborating or innovating.