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.
The ongoing “Beer Economy” campaign from Tooheys New beer is based around the idea that beer is Australia’s second, unofficial currency: If someone does you a favor, you thank them with a few beers, and the official currency here is Toohey’s New (or so it goes). “Tooheys New Crew,” the CSR component, connects a team of tradesmen and volunteers to communities, where they work on “building projects that will make a difference.” Every contribution is measured in its beer equivalent, and the goal is to reach a million beers’ worth of favors. The brand’s YouTube channel showcases their efforts, such as a recent project for a local Rugby League Club.
The idea of doing good in the community fits well within the campaign but is also a refreshing example of a CSR endeavor whose tangible results consumers can see for themselves. The timing is right, given that Australians currently have a difficult relationship with big business. Retail chains have not passed along the falling cost of imports brought about by the strong Australian dollar; mining companies are compulsorily acquiring farmers’ land to establish damaging coal seam gas wells; and a recent study shows resolute condemnation of big business’s response to this year’s Queensland floods. Plus, the widespread expectation among today’s consumers is that “Companies need to do more good, not just less bad,” as a recent JWT study found (for more on the study, see our new “Social Good” report).
As East coast residents held their breath awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Irene last weekend, The New York Times announced via Twitter that it would offer all its digital storm-related content for free. (The paper introduced a paywall in March, limiting nonsubscribers to 20 free online articles per month.)Newsday, a Long Island paper, did the same. The gesture reminds us of Lonely Planet’s decision to give select digital travel guides away for free during the massive air travel disruptions caused by Mount Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption in spring 2010.
During times of distress and uncertainty, these simple acts of public service can go a long way in creating goodwill while reminding those who may scoff at the idea of paying for digital content that shelling out a few bucks provides access to information you need, whenever you need it.
As the world pools resources to help in the wake of Japan’s tragic earthquake and tsunami, brands across the globe are donating to relief efforts. In crises such as this, where access to information and connecting people can mean the difference between life and death, we’ve seen a few communications companies respond by providing free services. Now, in an act of goodwill (or perhaps just good PR), U.S. carriers AT&T, Sprint, Verizon andComcastare offering free calls and messages to Japan for the rest of March and into April. And, according to endgadget, Dish Networks is offering free access to TV Japan so viewers can stay informed.
In a world accustomed to hyper-connectivity, lack of communication and information scarcity in the wake of natural disasters feels magnified to those affected, as a Brazilian blogger pointed out after 2010’s deadly earthquake in Chile. At a time when so many are grieving and worried about loved ones in Japan, relieving consumers of the cost of making long-distance calls and sending international texts is a smart exercise in empathy and overall goodwill.
Coca-Cola’s campaign for this Christmas in Spain tries to go beyond the message of hope and happiness it airs traditionally. Instead the brand has created a digital free-cycling space, called The Hope Store, where people can donate up to three items and then acquire what others have listed; Coca-Cola pays for the shipping for the first 40,000 items. Since participants can select only as many free items as they’ve uploaded, giving more means receiving more.
Increasingly, to survive in a world of consumption-shy consumers, brands will have to shift focus from simply selling products or services to helping consumers. This may mean building communities, providing advice, offering entertainment, etc. In this case, Coca-Cola is helping people donate to others while helping those who may be unable to afford Christmas gifts get some free goods.
A Pepsi promotion in Mexico that seemed designed to address consumer anxiety ended up causing some angst instead. The major causes of anxiety in Mexico, a country beaten down by regular economic crises, are uncertainty about future income, job loss and rising food prices. (For more on anxiety in Mexico, click here to download our AnxietyIndex Mexico report.) In the states of Puebla and Veracruz—where poverty rates are high and families regularly struggle to buy the basics—Pepsi distributors launched a promotion in which people could redeem two specially marked bottle caps at small corner stores for an egg (yes, a fresh egg).
The “Now Pepsi is worth an egg” campaign, which ran during April and part of May, was supported with TV, press and, of course, posters outside the corner stores. Problems began to surface when shopkeepers would not redeem the Pepsi caps, even those that displayed the promotional materials outside. Consumers started blaming Pepsi, though the point-of-sale materials stated that Pepsi was not responsible for the availability of eggs.
The idea of demonstrating the brand’s empathy and solidarity with struggling consumers, and helping them in a real way, was a good one. But Pepsi distributors failed to fully consider the logistics behind the idea. Once a brand launches a promotion, it has to deliver an immaculate implementation, strengthen it, ensure the participation of partners, put monitoring and control programs in place, provide a call center for consumers and so on. In this case, something that could have been historical became hysterical.
Over the past 50 years, living standards, life expectancy and material wealth have increased—the only thing that hasn’t is happiness. Numbers from the World Database of Happiness confirm this. During a recession, happiness naturally performs even worse, with consumers experiencing status anxiety more deeply: “Why do others have more than me?”
That’s one of the reasons the happiness economy becomes more important. As a brand that has been leveraging the concept of happiness for years, Coca-Cola has turned out a slew of ads during the downturn that put a creative and inspiring spin on the idea. In one of the latest spots, a university’s Coke machine becomes a “happiness machine,” dispensing everything from sunflowers to pizzas along with a bounty of Cokes.
Smart brands are gaining followers on Twitter by offering real-time discounts or giveaways to get customers into their stores. Borders, the bookstore chain, is offering free or discounted books at certain locations. Baja Fresh, the Mexican fast food food chain owned by Wendy’s International, offers freebies or discounts during lunch hours to customers who show the Tweeted offer at the register.
This kind of promotion is smart for a couple of reasons. Establishing consistent rapport with consumers during a downturn helps a brand remain top-of-mind when the economy improves. And for chain retailers, which are often seen as having no real connection to the communities where their stores are located, a promotion like this evokes a sense of local familiarity. The tactic is also extremely measurable—return on investment is easily calculated based on the number of Twitter followers a brand has and the number of people who follow through on the giveaway.
Plus, this is a great way to participate in the online conversation, the constant stream of social media chatter that brands need to join. Our most recent trendletter, “The Now Web,” explores how brands can leverage the Web’s shift to real-time communication.
The struggling restaurant industry is pulling out every trick in the menu, given that NPD Group reports total U.S. restaurant industry traffic declined 2.6 percent in the quarter ending in May 2009 versus the same period in 2008—the sharpest drop since 1981. “Over half of the industry’s decline this past quarter traced to fewer supper visits from parties with kids,” NPD notes. To win these diners back, IHOP is now touting a month-long offer of free kids meals from 4-10 p.m. A few other chains are trying similar strategies—Fazoli’s is offering gratis kids meals on weekends in August; West Coast operator El Torito does it for lunch on Saturdays—but IHOP’s offer is by far the boldest.
“Free is magic,” Swarthmore psychology professor Barry Schwartz told USA Today. “It will seduce people into eating out who shouldn’t.” It can certainly help generate good will, and these offers are a good way for family-oriented chains to demonstrate empathy with parents.
Earlier this month, Best Buy accidentally put a $3,999 52-inch TV for sale on its Web site for $9.99. Oops! By midday, a Best Buy rep had posted an apology, calling the glitch an embarrassing error; the offer was canceled, and customers who’d bought the bargain TV got their money back. By contrast, in a similar incident last June, Dell Taiwan also refused to fill orders after a pricing glitch, but those who’d attempted to take advantage of it were compensated with discount coupons.
By brushing off the mistake, Best Buy missed an opportunity to spin an error into a brand-building activity, at a time when the company faces tough competition from online rivals and consumers are putting off big-ticket purchase. In his book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson argues for the rise of free as a business model—the model is based on cross-subsidy, with consumers encouraged to pay for a product via give-aways (e.g., a free video game with the purchase of a gaming system). While it may have been impossible for Best Buy to ship thousands of TVs for $9.99, the company could have compensated shoppers in a way that played off the radical price while creating an incentive to encourage people to buy something else.