JWT London’s Austerity Index charts austerity era’s widening social disparity

Austerity Index

British Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement brought positive news for the U.K. economy. The forecast GDP growth for this year improved to 1.4 percent from 0.6 percent and was revised up for 2014, to 2.4 percent. Osborne claims that austerity is working. JWT’s latest Austerity Index suggests this is not the full picture and that many Britons are not seeing evidence of a recovery where it matters most: in their wallets. In fact, almost half of the 800 respondents we polled for our Q3 study reported having somewhere between nothing and £50 in disposable income each month.

At the same time, some have been able to relax the purse strings a little. The “Efforts to Restrict Spending” Index figure has fallen 81 points since Q2. While this is still small-scale movement in the greater scheme of things, it might suggest that consumer confidence is building in places. This suggests a two-speed recovery, one where some find their lives getting back to normal while others continue to struggle. The JWT Austerity Index shows wide disparities in the impact of austerity, with a difference of 251 points between the highest and lowest income groups.

Our finding is supported by recent analysis from Manchester University’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, which shows that London and the Southeast have recovered more rapidly than other regions of the U.K. and that higher earners have become more prosperous since the crash compared with middle and low earners. With the U.K.’s first “social supermarket” for those on welfare opening in Yorkshire, it’s poignant to note that 13 percent of parents said they have been obliged to skip meals so their children can eat.

This polarization is not going unnoticed: In our study, 81 percent agreed that austerity has deepened the social divide in our country. And they want businesses to do their part: 65 percent call for brands to help those most affected by austerity. Contrary to Osborne’s assertion, austerity is not working for everyone, and as systems and institutions fail to address the growing chasm, there is a clear opportunity for businesses to seek ways to even out the disparities in economic fortune.

The Austerity Index survey was conducted using SONAR™, JWT’s proprietary online tool. The JWT Austerity Index is a quarterly study that analyzes the impact of prolonged economic adversity on British consumers and markets. The Q3 report is available to download here. The Q1 report is also available for download, here, as is the Q2 report, here.

Photo Credit: JWT London

Nescau, Sports Authority show how they help get kids off the couch

As more people “rage against the machine”—that is, come to resent and fear technology, one of our 10 Trends for 2014—they’re increasingly concerned that their kids are spending too much time with tech devices and games and not enough time in the real world. They worry that physical activity is limited to thumb movements. Brands are speaking to this anxiety by showing how they can get kids moving.

A spot by JWT Brazil for Nestlé’s Nescau drink shows that each time a mother leaves the house, her son sits on the couch playing video games until he appears to meld with the furniture. Alarmed, the mother makes him a Nescau drink, which helps to boost energy: The kid runs outside, breaking free of the couch, and joins friends playing soccer.

With a similar sentiment, a U.S. ad for the Sports Authority retail chain encourages people to “give the gift of sport” this holiday season. We see people (mostly youngsters) playing baseball, soccer, volleyball and other sports as the voiceover says: “This does not require an operating system or a username and password. There are no hashtags, no emoticons, and chances are there will not be better versions of these games coming out next year.” Sports Authority tells parents and others to “give something meaningful.”

Over the past few years we’ve seen a range of ads that tap into the ongoing trend to temporarily De-Tech, as we’ve termed it. Watch for more brands to tie this in with an embrace of physical activity, a clear counterbalance to digital-induced inertia.

Unilever’s Project Sunlight video asks, ‘Why bring a child into this world?’

Issues like global warming, terrorism, food safety, pollution, epidemics, etc., stir up dark visions of the future among many. And while potential parents have long asked, “Why bring a child into this world?”, the question seems increasingly potent. Unilever addresses this anxiety in a documentary-style four-minute video that ties into its new Project Sunlight sustainability initiative, which is aimed at “[creating] a better future for our children.” The theme seems to be hitting a nerve, with the film reaching No. 4 on Ad Age’s Viral Video chart last week and accumulating almost 8 million YouTube views since its Nov. 19 release.

The ad shows pregnant couples from around the world speaking about their anxieties associated with becoming parents, with one man saying, “We are scared—we are scared seeing the present, and we are scared for the future.” They are then shown a video that starts with a somber tone and images of war and poverty, but then turns into positive message: A voice-over explains that thanks to various Unilever initiatives, more crops are being grown every day, clean drinking water is becoming available to hundreds of millions, and everyday products will help prevent illnesses that affect millions of children today.

The spot ends with the words, “Breathe calmly—bring your child into this world; there has never been a better time to create a brighter future for everyone on the planet and for those yet to come.” Unilever is taking an almost universal worry among new parents and showing a different way of looking at the issue—focusing on the positives rather than the negatives—and its own role in that more hopeful outlook.

With Helpouts, Google adds new platform for solving consumer questions

Armed with myriad tutorials and information from across the Web, today’s consumers feel empowered and confident to take on just about any project. But they may still have questions or self-doubt, and should things go completely awry, online tutorials offer no place to turn for quick assistance. Google’s recently launched Helpouts—“Real help from real people in real time”—aims to connect consumers with experts who can teach or troubleshoot via around-the-clock video chats.

Helpouts are available in a wide range of categories including health, fashion and beauty, home and garden, art and music, and cooking. The platform has 1,000 vetted experts so far, some of whom represent brands, among them Weight Watchers, Rosetta Stone and Sephora. Some of these are free, and some have fees, paid in 15-minute or 1-minute increments. Rather than trying to provide one-size-fits-all solutions for consumers, Google is positioning itself as a key player in helping people learn and solve problems.

Indian jewelry brand Tanishq boldly celebrates remarriage

In India, remarriage has been a thorny issue, much more so for women than for men. In a patriarchal culture, there is some stigma around marrying a widowed or divorced woman, even in India’s fast-changing modern society. A TV commercial for jewelry brand Tanishq breaks new ground with a sweet, sentimental portrayal of a woman getting married for the second time around.

A bride with a dusky complexion (instead of the stereotypical fair-skinned beauty) is getting ready for her wedding but looking apprehensive. She talks animatedly and fondly with a little girl and walks with her to the mandap (the traditional Indian wedding ceremony). As the couple begins walking in a circle as part of their vows, the girl calls out to the bride, her mother, that she wants to go round and round with them. As the situation gets awkward and everyone tries to hush her, the groom calls out to the girl, picking her up before continuing with the ceremony. At the conclusion, she asks her stepfather, “Do I call you Daddy from now on?”

The brand smartly encourages India’s middle and upper middle classes to get more comfortable with the concept of a second marriage and helps to empower women with this progressive portrayal, showing the bride-to-be believing in herself. Tanishq has a history of offering modern portrayals of the Indian woman: A few years ago on our sister blog, JWTIntelligence, we wrote about a Tanishq commercial that depicted the new breed of independent, working women who don’t want to be rushed into the traditional arranged match.

In São Paulo, Advil soothes pain of daily commute

Brazilian capital São Paulo is infamous for its traffic: Traffic jams on Friday evenings can stretch for many miles. What’s worse, given the Brazilian media’s propensity to focus on dramatic, gory stories, many drivers are bombarded with bad news along the way, only compounding the headache. So for one day, Advil stepped in to help reduce the pain of the commute by lightening drivers’ moods.

The painkiller brand partnered with Metro, one of the city’s largest daily papers, to create a cover that showcased positive stories. The biggest headline announced that the city’s famous and much-loved Ibirapuera Park would be staying open for a full 24 hours. On page 2, an Advil ad asked, “Did you feel like you didn’t have a headache on the first page?”

Several other brands have focused campaigns around upbeat news, including LG and Tropicana, which sponsored a Good News section on The Guardian’s site. And we’ve written about campaigns that have focused on easing anxiety for commuters in New York (also Tropicana) and Bogotá (Coca-Cola). Advil brought these themes together nicely. The brand also addresses The Super Stress Era, one of JWTIntelligence’s 10 Trends for 2013: As stress becomes a more pressing health concern, we’ll see brands and governments ramping up efforts to help prevent and reduce it.

Orange calls on customers to favor family over phone

People are now accessible to one another anyplace, anytime, and employees are constantly connected to their workplace. (As a recent Amstel “cell phone locker” initiative we wrote about put it: “Nowadays every professional with a smart device can confirm that it is impossible to get away from work.”) This increases accordingly the level of anxiety when trying to achieve a balanced work/family life. In a campaign from Orange in Israel, a family is seen enjoying themselves in an amusement park when the father receives a call from his boss. He hesitates: not answering the call could be a bad career move, but this family outing is valuable to him.

The park characters then come to life, singing to him to persuade him not to answer the call, to put his phone on silence mode and to dedicate his time to his family. In the end, Orange delivers the message: “There are times when you should put your cell phone aside, but at other times you have Orange Ultranet.” Orange tackles the work/family issue by encouraging its customers to change their behavior and reduce the amount of time on their phone in favor of quality time with the family, encouraging smarter consumption.

With ‘free’ campaign, FirstBank seeks to overcome cynicism

FirstBank Free HappensTwo 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.

Photo Credit: FirstBank

From Hyundai to AMC, brands lent a hand to federal employees during US shutdown

Starbucks Come Together

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.

Photo Credit: Starbucks

Starbucks’ ‘Come Together’ petition strikes a chord

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.