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.
With America’s national political conventions on the horizon, the economy remains a hot topic. A new campaign for Norfolk Southern Railway, a large freight train company, acknowledges America’s prevailing anxiety with a message centered on resilience and rebuilding. Targeted at political heavyweights, the spot positions Norfolk Southern as a catalyst for growth and recovery.
“City of Possibilities” delivers the message in a lovely dreamlike execution that harkens back to the imaginative world of childhood and kids’ fascination with trains. A boy plays with a train in his bedroom, and a toy city forms around him. The message taps into the idea that children believe in limitless possibilities, with the voiceover conveying the optimistic message, “Wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life. Norfolk Southern. One line, infinite possibilities.” The spot makes its message relevant by alluding to our economic anxieties but through a positive lens, laying the rails for other messages promising growth and commitment to the nation’s recovery.
A supermarket in Rome, now owned by Carrefour, was looking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening. Meanwhile, battling the economic crisis, Italians had started to cut back on groceries. The solution was a one-day promotion in which some prices were rolled back to 1961—a time of economic boom in Italy. That also meant posting prices in lira rather than the newer, controversial euro. For further nostalgia, the campaign copied the look and feel of ’60s ads.
The campaign went beyond a simple discount event, because more consumers visited the store for a few days even after the event ended. (The event itself attracted 20,000 customers, and over the next few days, the supermarket got a 25 percent boost in traffic.) People usually yearn for the past in times of economic crisis, and this promotion managed to provide a sense of the security and trust that today’s consumers associate with times long gone by.
Even as economies are easing out of the downturn, we’ll again see brands digging into their bag of recession-era tools to motivate anxious shoppers to spend. That’s because the price of most consumer goods is rising, even as climbing gas prices squeeze consumers still trying to recover from the downturn. Wegmans, a family-owned supermarket chain operating in five Northeast states, has launched an initiative to address consumers’ cost-of-living concerns (driven both by actual increases and by media buzz around the topic).
The company is pledging not to change prices on “40 of the products most important to families” through 2011; most of these are the house brand, and in the video here, company president Colleen Wegman says they include “essentials” like ground beef, chicken, orange juice and bananas. She also pledges to “do our best” to keep storewide price increases to a minimum. “We’re very concerned that rising prices will cause budget difficulties for many of our customers,” Wegman says.
The well-timed move looks like a smart one. As Brand Channel puts it, Wegmans “can ease shoppers’ fears about price inflation at the same time that it has an opportunity to boost regard for its own fare, perhaps picking up market share from CPG brands for the long term.” Watch for more brands and retailers trying to assure customers anxious about price or to prove that they’re worth a steeper price.
With sales increasing by more than 30 percent and 2.68 million vehicles sold, China took over the U.S. to become the world’s No. 1 vehicle market in the first quarter. Even as GM struggles at the verge of bankruptcy, its China operations have been experiencing fast growth. And in a recent market visit of Ford dealers across China, there was widespread sentiment that the financial crisis is welcome if it means China is now the largest auto market.
China has been exempt from a direct loss in the global financial crisis. The one badly hit part of the economy is the export sector. But with by far the largest economic stimulus plan in the world, China seems to have weathered the worst of it. Government policies aimed at developing the huge rural market and brands’ price promotions seem to have worked together to keep the economy out of trouble.
It’s no wonder most brands haven’t fine-tuned their messages to reflect a mood shift—there hasn’t been a detectable one as of yet. Indeed, brands have an opportunity to ride on and persuade skeptical consumers to keep spending.