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.
Four years after the financial crisis began, banks in the U.S. are still working to combat consumers’ negative perceptions of Wall Street. With good reason: According to a recent study we did, around 4 in 10 Americans consider financial institutions’ credit and lending practices an impediment to achieving the American Dream.
Back in 2010, we wrote about a campaign from JPMorgan Chase that sought to assure viewers by depicting the brand as an icon of responsible practices and an institution that’s all about helping the little guy. Now, Chase (the firm’s banking subsidiary) is showcasing how its Business Banking unit is assisting small businesses and communities in a campaign called Mission Main Street. A series of ads begin with the line “Every small business has a mission. At Chase, it’s our mission to help,” and then tell the story of one business (longer versions are housed on the campaign’s microsite). One shows the co-owner of a toy business explaining how a friendly Chase rep (“He understood our business, he had children himself”) allowed him and his partner to build their company. “With a little luck, with a little help from our partners like Chase and with a lot of hard work, Green Toys could be the next great American brand,” he says.
As we noted in our recent report on the American Dream, Americans currently see a range of obstacles to achieving the Dream; brands can position themselves as part of the solution, helping to enable success and knock down impediments. This campaign is a good example of a brand demonstrating how it’s doing this for small businesses.
Parents face constant anxiety about whether they are doing the right thing for their children, and when to say yes vs. when to say no. Arguably, today’s parents are more indulgent than ever, and the inclination is to give in to every desire and demand. Norwegian financial services firm DnB Nor takes this “new normal” to a very abnormal extreme by showing a mom who has granted her teen boy’s fanciful childhood wish to marry his parents so they could stay together forever. The mother explains how they had to move to a rural area outside Norway to get married and are now spending the boy’s savings on his long-ago dream of a rocket ship that will fly to Mars and hand out ice cream. We’re clearly far outside the orbit of sanity.
The surreal spot ends by advising, “Don’t give your children what they want, give them what they need” and pointing viewers to a new savings account for children. DnB Nor’s promise is to help people act more intelligently when it comes to money (a message conveyed with somewhat less offbeat humor in a 2011 ad featuring George Clooney) and more profoundly, there’s an implicit promise to help parents stay grounded in reality, doing what’s really right for their kids.
Managing one’s finances responsibly is anxiety-provoking at any age, but especially for young people just getting started in life at a difficult economic time. We’ve spotlighted efforts by Australia’s UBank to educate Millennials about smart saving habits (“Live fast, save young”). Now Charles Schwab is targeting this cohort with a similar approach, positioning the brand as an advisory figure that can help change irresponsible financial behavior (“Don’t blow your cash”). In a new online video campaign titled “Oh Chuck! I Blew My Cash,” several videos portray Millennials chatting with company founder Charles R. Schwab about amusing incidents of ridiculous overspending. One guy, for instance, has splurged on 90 pairs of sneakers, while a woman has bought pricey animal masks at a Renaissance fair. As they go on, Schwab remains cool and collected, offering advice on better ways the money might have been spent.
By illustrating real anecdotes (each vignette claims to be a true story), Schwab reminds viewers they’re not alone in their reckless habits. And by showing the company founder in conversation with these flummoxed spenders, the ads position the bank as an accessible and friendly but straight-talking confidant.
The auto insurance world is full of quirky spokespeople, from a talking gecko to Flo, the bubbly saleswoman. With multiple claims circulating from fictional characters, it can be tricky for consumers to determine whom to believe. Esurance addresses consumers’ concerns head on by acknowledging this and inviting people to talk with those they really trust: their peers.
A commercial points to the sometimes tenuous assertions of advertising, asking “What makes you trust a company?” The ad shows that neither a talking dog nor flashy commercials will inspire confidence. Instead, Esurance invites viewers to visit its Facebook profile and chat with real customers. Its Facebook page reads, “Keepin’ it real. Real customers. Real comments. (Really.),” and its wall features some gripes amid generally positive comments.
We’ve previously posted about inspiring confidence in uncertain consumers by using ads that feature uncensored, off-the-cuff consumer comments. (A Hyundai campaign, for instance, boasted of “Real people. Real comments.”) Esurance goes a step further by switching to social media and trusting that brand advocates will take over from there. This kind of transparency helps to inspire confidence while also allowing people to start a dialogue with the brand.
Convincing consumers to drink responsibly is no small task. Local authorities often create public service initiatives that confront drinkers with the potentially brutal consequences of over-indulging. The New York City Health Department, for example, is running an ad campaign that shows excessive drinking leading to violence and even hospitalization. And a controversial campaign from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board played up the link between alcohol abuse and rape. While these are designed to provoke guilt and shame among the target audience, one study has questioned the efficacy of this strategy.
By contrast, Heineken’s recently launched “Sunrise” campaign works to inspire a different anxiety: tapping into FOMO, or the fear of missing out. An 85-second video shows a man drinking responsibly at an epic Heineken-sponsored party; while some partyers appear to become incapacitated, this man eventually walks out to enjoy the sunrise with a sexy woman on his arm (celebrity DJ Audrey Napoleon). The tagline: “Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers.” A social media component asks all-night partyers to “Tweet your sunrise and celebrate with the world.”
Here, drinking too much means missing out on the best parts of a great night out. It’s a more subtle approach that spotlights the upside of curbing one’s intake: While a few beers can help fuel the fun times, any more than that and you risk dropping out of the festivities too soon.
We saw some marketers highlighting their bailout-free credentials in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. government’s bailouts, like under-the-radar firm Sun Life Financial. This still seems to be a selling point today. Financial services firm Ameriprise is underscoring its long heritage and the fact that it’s never taken a bailout in two commercials featuring Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Errol Morris (the one below, and this one). Ameriprise highlights its ongoing self-reliance and financial solvency, reassuring viewers that it will be there when you need it.
Ford spotlighted the fact that it wasn’t among the automakers getting bailout funds in one commercial in its ongoing campaign featuring real customers speaking in a press conference-style setup. A Ford owner explains he chose the brand because “I wasn’t going to buy any other car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on their own.” There was some minor political flap over the ad, which is no longer airing, pointing to how heated a topic the bailout remains.
With the ongoing Occupy protests and the ever-worsening European debt crisis, anxiety about fiscal responsibility and stability remains high. Watch for more American brands to assure consumers they are stable, dependable companies and responsible corporate citizens—and, in that respect, closely aligned with traditional American values.
In the spirit of good old chicken soup, a new Heinz program allows U.K. customers to send a personalized can of soup to sick friends, via F-commerce. Upon liking the Heinz soup Facebook page, users can choose between two classic flavors (Cream of Chicken and Cream of Tomato); then they create a custom “Get well” message, to be printed on the front of the can. Heinz sends the product directly to the recipient. The total price is £1.99 (roughly $3).
Soup is a classic comfort food, and this promotion not only reinforces that for Heinz but provides an outlet for giving (a comfort to the purchaser) and turns the can of soup into a way to express caring. This works especially well for an iconic brand (Cream of Tomato soup was first imported to the U.K. in 1910), with Heinz’s heritage representing an additional source of comfort.
Committing to a 12-month mobile contract can be a bit anxiety-provoking in this economy, so service provider T-Mobile is aiming to make U.K. consumers more comfortable with annual plans via its new You Fix program. Unlike most other such plans, which can lock consumers in for 24 months with few opportunities to make changes, T-Mobile’s program is a 12-month offering, with built-in flexibility. Customers select from a range of low-cost plans, but if they find their choice too restrictive, they have a “pay as you go” option to buy modular packages for extra minutes or texts. The handset is free.
For consumers worried about incurring additional fees, You Fix provides the chance to exercise what T-Mobile refers to as “spend control” and avoid “nasty surprises” at the end of the month. (A stunt to promote You Fix involved fake traffic officers giving parking fines—the nasty surprise—to legally parked drivers, who ultimately realized there was actually cash in the faux tickets.) This easy solution provides basic mobile plans to financially strapped consumers, as well as the latest handset, another plus for tech-hungry, cash-poor shoppers. Expect more of these hybrid offerings, which require some commitment from the consumer but provide greater flexibility and peace of mind.
For many consumers who are unsure of their employment status, the prospect of buying a large item right now is daunting. But last month, Best Buy announced a program to help anxious consumers make big ticket purchases. The retailer has partnered with Rent-A-Center to test an in-store program where people can rent items in order to buy them.
Best Buy will sell items directly to Rent-A-Center, which will then offer the merchandise directly to consumers at select Best Buy locations. According to Rent-A-Center’s website, consumers can rent items by paying a fee every week, two weeks or once a month (depending on their preference). If they have paid for the total value of the item within 90 days—via a combination of rental fees and additional payments—they will own the item outright. If at any point the customer decides they don’t want the item—or can’t afford it anymore—they can cease rental payments and Rent-A-Center will collect the purchase free of charge. The total balance remains frozen, so consumers can pick the tab up again whenever they want. This program is aimed at anxious consumers for whom job security is a concern, or who have encountered financial difficulty in this economy. There are very few approval requirements (all participants need is a residence, a job and some references) and there is no credit check.
With continued recessionary spending patterns and a reluctance (or inability) to make big-ticket purchases, these kinds of schemes offer one solution for retailers to increase sales. Best Buy shoppers who are inclined to put off buying an appliance could feel more confident about a purchase when given the choice to rent before owning. By eliminating an element of risk, rent-to-own payment plans seem to assuage an anxious consumer and entice them to make purchases.
We’ve seen a few brands playing up their role in creating jobs, from Volkswagen and Woolworths in the heat of the recession to McDonald’s earlier this year. Now Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is going a step further by becoming an advocate for corporate hiring. Following the U.S. debt crisis, Schultz circulated a company-wide memo emphasizing the corporation’s responsibility to “ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company” given the “uncertain times.” In a subsequent “Letter to America,” he outlined ideas to “get things moving,” aimed both at America’s politicians and its businesses. A new politically focused organization, Upward Spiral, is promoting these ideas, which include opening up jobs (employers can make a “pledge to hire”).
Starbucks has said it expects to hire 70,000 people in the U.S. over the next six to 12 months, according to The Seattle Times, although the company has not said how many hires represent new positions rather than simply turnover. In his “Letter to America,” Schultz highlighted their pledge to break an economic “cycle of fear and uncertainty.” Schultz is positioning Starbucks as an agent for positive change at a time when U.S. unemployment is on the rise, the news media summarizes recent layoffs under headings like “Job killing companies” and finance giants such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and UBS—perhaps key barometers of stability—have been dramatically cutting their global workforces. Layoffs send out powerful messages to an anxious public, with the companies responsible becoming the target of consumer frustration and animosity. Given the climate, Starbucks’ stand can comfort consumers by championing their cause, at least until the company is forced into more layoffs of its own.