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.
Two years ago, we wrote about FirstBank’s “History Lessons” campaign, which cautioned consumers to stick to sound financial decisions, highlighting examples of past investments gone wrong (Holland’s tulip mania in 1637, stock speculation in 1929 and the recent housing bubble). With consumers anxious over being caught in a vulnerable financial position, the ad dissuaded them from “Get rich quick” schemes. Now, the Colorado-based bank wants to “Restore your faith in free.”
A commercial shows a brand new leather couch, flat-screen TV and floor lamp in the middle of a public square, with a large sign declaring “Free.” Footage captures passersby strolling past the items with a fleeting glance, looking around for “the catch” or approaching with extreme skepticism. Some go in for a closer look, but poking and prodding does little to assuage their doubts. The voiceover asks: “Have you ever noticed how skeptical people are of ‘free’? As if the word ‘free’ automatically means something must be wrong. But what if ‘free’ really just meant ‘free’?” The ad closes with FirstBank’s free offerings.
Print ads proclaimed “Free happens” and included giveaways that ranged from free pedicab rides to and from Colorado Rockies home games to 1,500 free meals from a food truck, which posted a sign stating, “There is such a thing as a free lunch.”
It’s easy to be skeptical and cynical today, so FirstBank reminds consumers that if they can turn off their anxiety, not everything is too good to be true.
During the 16-day shutdown of the U.S. government, around 800,000 federal employees were furloughed without pay. While some brands referenced the shutdown via social media—expressing shared frustration with citizens or jokingly ensuring consumers that they wouldn’t be shutting down—others made efforts to ease the burden of those out-of-work employees, even if it was little more than a free cup of coffee. For example, AMC offered a free small popcorn to anyone with a valid government or military ID, while Starbucks—which also petitioned Congress to reopen the government—instituted a “pay it forward” offering, giving a free coffee to any customer who bought someone else their favorite drink, as part of its “Come Together” campaign.
When it came to the larger financial difficulties that furloughed employees faced, several companies offered some relief. TD Bank launched TD Cares, which allowed customers to incur checking overdrafts at no cost, request late-fee refunds on Visa card payments and receive mortgage assistance. Citizens Bank made a similar offer to affected customers. Hyundai added a payment deferral plan for federal employees to its Assurance program, and Toyota announced “payment relief options” to those affected, including businesses hurt by the shutdown.
From local retailers to multinationals, a range of companies were flexible enough to recognize that some customers needed a boost—and whether it was a small token or a crucial payment deferral, the effort signaled that the brand could relate to those going through a difficult time through no fault of their own. During such a financially stressful and uncertain event, even the little things can be reassuring.
Starbucks has a track record of addressing social and political issues causing consternation among consumers, from its progressive stance on gun control and smoking to supporting and leading job creation initiatives. With Americans anxious about the government shutdown, Starbucks created a petition to Congress—asking it to reopen the government, pay U.S. debts on time to avoid another crisis, and pass a long-term budget deal by the end of the year—and provided it in U.S. stores from Oct. 11–13 for employees or customers to sign. This was accompanied by full-page ads in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, and appeared on the NASDAQ MarketSite Tower in Times Square.
Starbucks announced yesterday that the signatures were approaching 2 million as they continued to tally the total. Starbucks’ Facebook post about the petition earned nearly 190,000 likes, and an Instagram video of CEO Howard Schultz signing the petition collected more than 30,000 likes. Today, the company plans to deliver the collected petitions to Congress and President Obama.
Using its scale, Starbucks provided customers with an actionable outlet as they watched the government approach an unprecedented default. The initiative provided strength in numbers for many who were unlikely to take action as a lone voice.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Coca-Cola’s Summer Love Festival: three days of parties, games, spas and music for Israeli teens—all with unlimited access to Coca-Cola. Of course, not every teenager who’d like to go can attend, setting up those who are absent for a serious case of FOMO: the fear of missing out, and in this case, the uneasy feeling that your peers are having a better time than you are. So Coca-Cola created a solution for a few of those left out: Social Robots, which allowed teens to join the fun virtually.
Controlled by users from their homes, these robots wheeled around the camp, equipped with webcams and microphones that allowed for interaction with festival-goers. Users could watch shows and even participate in competitions. Teens at the festival embraced the novel avatars, dancing and sunbathing with them. The robots also attracted attention from local media outlets.
By addressing FOMO—which is especially strong among social media-immersed teens—with a creative use of robots, Coca-Cola injected some novelty into this year’s festival, boosted engagement among attendees and brought its “Share the happiness” theme to life in yet another way. (Coca-Cola’s “Small World Machines” in India and Pakistan are another recent example.) Meanwhile, robot avatars have interesting potential, allowing brands to bring vicarious enjoyment to far-flung consumers; as part of its “Three Minutes in Italy” promotion, San Pellegrino recently let people take virtual tours of Taormina in Sicily using five remotely controlled robots.
A JWTIntelligence study featured in our latest trend report, “The State of Men,” explores several sources of anxiety for men today. One is physical appearance: Factors including the constant sharing of photos on social media and the hyper-competitiveness of job markets are helping to drive pressure on men to look their best. According to a survey we conducted in the U.S. and the U.K., more than three-quarters of men agree that “These days, there’s more pressure than in the past for men to dress well and be well-groomed” and that men face as much pressure as women to stay in shape/have a good body. Our survey, conducted from April 29-May 2 using SONAR™, JWT’s proprietary online tool, found that men are particularly sensitive about their midsection, whether it’s love handles, a beer belly or an insufficient six-pack. And there’s some evidence that such anxieties are starting early: Boys are becoming more concerned with body image at a younger age, according to a U.S. study published in Pediatrics.
Men are addressing these anxieties by turning to everything from cosmetic procedures to cosmetics. Aside from providing practical solutions, brands can speak to these anxieties by, at minimum, being sensitive to them. Men are seeing ever more highly sculpted male bodies, from Hollywood’s leading men to tongue-in-cheek advertising hunks like the Old Spice spokesmen and Kraft’s Zesty Guy. So marketers can dial down on the intimidation factor with more realistic models and positive messaging that avoids aggravating anxieties. For example, several underwear brands now perceive an “abs fatigue” among male shoppers, The New York Times reported in May. A designer with the 2(x)ist label said the company is shifting toward something “a little less steroid-y” in its images.
Childhood offers nearly limitless opportunities for anxiety and embarrassment (and anxiety over potential embarrassment). Parents get to relive those moments through their kids—or, turning the tables, serve as the cause of humiliation. Ragú’s “A Long Day of Childhood” campaign lightheartedly addresses the pitfalls of growing up and suggests the spaghetti sauce brand as a solution for parents looking to provide comfort. The campaign features a series of TV and radio spots that highlight common childhood “traumas,” from having Mom wipe your face clean with her spit and friends drawing on you at night during a sleepover to walking in on your parents during their “intimate” time. Each spot ends with a country-twanged song featuring the lyrics, “They need Ragú, ’cause growing up’s tough. Give them Ragú—they’ve been through enough.” The spots end with the line, “A long day of childhood calls for America’s favorite pasta sauce.”
Ragú also created two YouTube videos from user-submitted photos of their awkward youth—full of bad haircuts and outdated styles— and will later include online and mobile phone apps that let parents share their children’s troubles with multimedia and even personalize the song’s words. Although embarrassing at the time, these anxiety-riddled moments have an inherent humor that Ragú successfully taps into, at the same time reminding viewers of how much their favorite brands offered some solace all those years back.
Thoughtful moments and kind gestures can make all the difference in everyday life. And while courtesy can be its own reward, a florist in the Detroit metro area is taking it one step further. Lori Morrison of Ribar Floral is asking people to nominate community members who have made a positive impact—anything from helping someone move to showing appreciation for the mailman running his route each day—and she will deliver one “Good Job Bouquet” each week to a nominee. In a city infamous for its crime and economic decline, the “Good Job Bouquet” provides a little recognition to those who help make life a little bit better. And in the process, Morrison’s small business is getting some attention too.
In a survey conducted by JWT last summer, 90% of adults from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada felt that “Companies need to do more good, not just less bad.” Brands big and small can give back to the communities that foster them, and they’re all the better for it when they do—there’s a shared value in positive actions (a rising belief in this concept is one of our 10 Trends for 2012).
A new year, a new tax season—and with it nightmares of audits, unexpected amounts owed and the panic of yet another impending April 15 deadline. It’s that time of year reserved for the begrudging acceptance of life’s other certainty. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, however, is aiming to change those longstanding connotations—or at least remind taxpayers of the brighter side.
A new ad campaign, “Jackson Hewitt’s How You Do It,” highlights the potential reward of filing one’s return—the coveted refund check. One commercial, set to Montell Jordan’s 1995 track “This Is How We Do It,” shows customers and employees in a Jackson Hewitt office celebrating with awkward dance moves and exaggerated expressions after one customer earns a refund. Another ad begins with a girl falling in midair after her mother, who’s just heard about the family’s refund check, tosses her in joy at the news; more awkward dancing ensues.
Tax season may always conjure some anxiety, but Jackson Hewitt is right to emphasize the light at the end of the tunnel, especially since the company targets “Main Street Americans,” or moderate-income consumers who have struggled since the downturn, according to The New York Times. The prospect of dance-worthy good news could make those who normally rely on tax preparation software (or no help at all) think twice.
With the New Normal gradually becoming simply the normal, entertainment media is beginning to reflect this reality, as we highlighted in a recent post about the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, which has now been deemed a hit. In another example, Sesame Street recently aired a primetime special addressing the issue of hunger and food insecurity, something faced by more than 16 million American children, according to USDA figures. To convey its message, Sesame Workshop—the nonprofit that produces the show—created a new Muppet, Lily, a 7-year-old girl living in a food-insecure household (which the USDA defines as one that’s “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food”).
Through Lily, Sesame Workshop explored the issue in a positive and healthy way while putting a face—albeit a Muppet’s—on this growing problem for viewers big and small. As the negative effects of the New Normal become more pervasive, expect to see more content creators tackling the struggles of everyday Americans.
Michael Pollan has been urging “If You Can’t Say It, Don’t Eat It” for a while now, and slowly consumers have become more wary of ingredients pronounceable only by chemists and more inclined to question, What is my food? This anxiety is having an impact not only on brands that sell chemical-packed products but on any packaged-food marketer—in Argentina, rumors began circulating that Lay’s chips aren’t made with real potatoes, according to a PepsiCo ConoSur exec quoted in Ad Age. So Lay’s embraced Maximum Disclosure (one of our 10 Trends for 2010) to set the record straight in a unique way.
Set to start traveling around to Buenos Aires supermarkets, the Lay’s Machine looks like a vending machine but requires a shopper to deposit a potato (provided as part of the promotion) instead of coins. What follows is a “hyper-realistic” video of the chip-making process with the illusion that “your” potato is being turned into chips. At the video’s end, a bag of chips drops into the slot, heated to give the sensation that it really was your potato being transformed.
As customers see that the product is just made from real potatoes, vegetable oil and salt, they can feel assured that the “natural” claim is authentic. More engaging than an online video or classic promotion, the Lay’s Machine is a fun, interactive way to assuage people’s fears that they’re consuming something strange and unnatural by showing that neither is the case.