JWT’s AnxietyIndex is designed as a place to discuss how brands and consumers are responding to the global recession. With daily content updates, AnxietyIndex.com includes contributions from around JWT’s network, offering a truly global perspective.
As a clean and efficient city with an ultra-modern sewage system, Singapore is not a place you would associate with flooding. But one freaky Wednesday morning in June, an intense and prolonged rain caused knee-high flooding in several parts of the island, including the tourist haven Orchard Road. Shops were flooded, buses were stuck on the road, and cars were floating in apartment buildings’ basement parking areas.
In a display of quick thinking amid anxiety, NTUC Income—a once stodgy state-owned insurance company—ran print ads the very next day. One headline assured readers that “We won’t leave you high and dry. Even when you’re waist-deep in water,” while copy in another ad promised that “you won’t have to worry about footing the bill, when you set foot on dry ground again.”
The resulting buzz has been phenomenal. But more than being clever advertising, this is a great example of how a speedy response is the best one in the real-time world we live in (especially for an insurance brand)—and that pre-empting anxiety is just as effective a strategy as responding to it.
Among Singaporeans, there’s a long-running anxiety about the rising number of foreigners settling in the country, giving its natives the sense that they’re being denied the best opportunities and that the local culture is being diluted. Planning for country brands needs to consider this type of “citizen anxiety” as an important input. But a new tourism campaign from Singapore has only aggravated this anxiety.
The campaign, “Your Singapore,” is centered on a new destination site that aims to help people create their own experience of Singapore. Television and events in the U.S., U.K. and other key markets carry the same message. What’s most interesting about the campaign is the polarized reaction to it. Foreigners (the direct target) love the new direction. But many Singaporeans see it as another sign that their country is being handed over to foreigners to enjoy as they see fit (this is how one blogger expresses it).
While citizens aren’t necessarily the direct target of country campaigns, they see themselves as stakeholders of the brand and will inevitably project their anxieties against its behavior. Country brands should be rooted in a vision that galvanizes citizens and makes them feel proud of the country.
The global recall of Toyota vehicles over a gas pedal problem is a case that will be interesting to watch over the coming weeks. How will consumers respond to a deeply trusted brand with a long history of success like Toyota suddenly failing on the public stage? Whether we like it or not, the rhythm of our lives is deeply linked to the brands we patronize. And if a brand as trusted as Toyota can fail its customers, who knows what’s next? It’s enough to make people anxious about brands. Especially given that faith in corporate institutions is already weak, with huge, seemingly solid financial brands having collapsed (e.g., Lehman Brothers) or come close (e.g., Merrill Lynch).
Some Americans have already taken action on their own through www.toyotarecall.org, an unofficial portal for all things on the recall. Toyota, your move.
Though well-intentioned, a recent TV commercial from leading Singapore bank OCBC has put a spotlight on the promises that brands make to customers. The spot—which is intended to support the bank’s recently launched Sunday Banking service—tells the story of a customer who visits the bank on her birthday, which happens to fall on a Sunday. In a show of the bank’s commitment to delighting its customers even on Sundays, its staff brings out a birthday cake, much to the surprise of the customer. The story was told so convincingly that some people believed the bank gave out birthday cakes on customers’ birthdays. Two days later, a blogger posted an account of what happened when she went to a OCBC branch on her birthday and was not offered a cake. The scathing entry has generated over 500 comments and created a controversy over the ad that was picked up by The Straits Timesnewspaper.
While one can dismiss the blogger as being overly literal—and probably a bit of a smart ass—what’s interesting about this reaction to the ad is how consumers could expect a real payoff. In our 10 Trends for 2010, we said people are Reading the Fine Print to get the best value and determine whether a company’s claims are sincere. I suspect that in a less wary time, consumers would let OCBC simply slide. But after a reality check in the form of an economic slowdown where people have lost jobs, defaulted on financial obligations or sold their belongings to get by, empty promises such as this are not welcome. For brands, this means being more conscious about how their advertising is perceived. Is the company giving customers the impression they will receive a benefit from that company? If so, is the message something the company can make good on? If not, perhaps the message needs to be tweaked. After all, in these times when customer satisfaction is utmost, no one wants an angry customer, especially one with a blog.
While much of the Western world is still anxious about the global economy, the sentiment in Asia is quite different. Nielsen’s most recent Global Consumer Confidence Index, released in October, showed significant spikes in Asia. Many Asian countries registered much higher increases in consumer confidence than the global average of 9 points, including Vietnam (+24), Hong Kong (+23), Korea (+22), Indonesia (+21), Singapore (+16) and Thailand (+13).
However, these improvements in sentiment haven’t yet translated into consumer behavior. Across various categories, consumers in many Asian markets appear to be eager to spend—but only if the situation continues to improve. It seems then that anxiety in Asia is no longer centered around the recession but rather the recovery—i.e., a desire that it just happen already so things can go back to how they used to be.
Brands that haven’t already need to shift the conversation from damage control to “How can we help people prepare for the eventual recovery?” We wrote about hope-fueled vs. fear-fueled marketing in our second AnxietyIndex Quarterly report, and amid the anxiety over recovery, nurturing optimism and hope seems to be more relevant than ever.
Singa the Lion is a Singapore mascot introduced in the early 1980s as part of a National Courtesy Campaign. These days, Singa is being used as an ambassador for responsible behavior amid the rise of H1N1. Life-size Singas wearing a mask have appeared across Singapore to encourage people with worrisome symptoms to see a doctor.
It’s a cheeky way to deliver an important message, and one that gets attention. Could there be a lesson here? Just because an issue is anxiety-provoking one, communications don’t have to be serious or heavy-handed—a light-hearted approach may be a smarter way to break through.
With fewer people in the workplace and workers fearing redundancy, people are putting in ever longer hours. According to a global online survey recently conducted by recruitment agency Robert Walters, people in Hong Kong and Singapore are working harder than ever: Of those surveyed, 62 percent in Hong Kong and 59 percent in Singapore said they’ve been putting in more overtime. The global average was 55 percent.
For brands, this could be a great moment to provide some much needed relief through entertainment, humor and plain old fun. How can our brands bring a greater source of joy to people in these gray times?
Two news stories with one clear picture: Like people in many other parts of the world, Singaporeans are finding comfort at home these days.
A Straits Timesarticle observed that Singaporeans are eating out less frequently, yet spending more on fresh food and groceries. Two days later, a report in business portal AsiaOne noted that delivery services have seen orders triple in the past year, suggesting that more people are dining at home. This is happening despite the fact that delivered food is quite expensive, at SGD40-100 ($28-$69) a meal.
With cocooning relevant once again, brands here would do well to find a way to help keep the proverbial cocoon safe, warm and well-stocked.
One of the positive effects of the economic crisis is that it’s encouraging more community-building among people. Recently, a private-sector group in Singapore, the Young Business Leaders, launched an initiative called Beat the Recession with two goals in mind. First, to equip young businesses with best recession practices via a Web portal where YBL members share business strategies as well as recession lessons learned, policies implemented and measures taken. Members can also discuss how they survived past recessions.
The second goal is to persuade businesses to continue corporate social responsibility activities during the recession. This includes offering affordable training to people looking to gain new skills during the downturn.
As communities become more important support systems amid the recession, what role can our brands play in enabling, nurturing, interacting with or even expanding these communities?
In Singapore, a recent survey by the Institute of Policy Studies found that eight in 10 locals prefer to rely on themselves rather than the government in these uncertain times. This is a surprising result, as the Singapore government has historically provided direct assistance to people and businesses.
Self-reliance is a predictable reaction to uncertainty. What is more intriguing is the idea that this may be the start of a shift back to individualistic values. Will people become more self-directed in the next few years? Will the zeitgeist be about “me” instead of “us”? As societal values of the time shape how we plan for brands, this possibility seems worth investigating.