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.
During World War II, propaganda posters represented America’s unity: It was “us vs. them” during a difficult time. Today’s Americans may also feel they live in difficult times, with the economic climate enduringly bleak and the nation’s leaders mired in partisan bickering. But if there’s an “us vs. them” mentality, it’s a sense of the people vs. big institutions, especially the government. Americans feel deserted by their leaders—perceived as putting political interests before those of the people—and there’s no longer a sense that we’re all on the same team. (For instance, in a JWT survey conducted last year using our propriety online tool SONAR™, almost 8 in 10 expressed dissatisfaction with the government and only 12 percent viewed Congress favorably.)
In response, the 2-year-old Chamomile Tea Party has bought backlit platform ad space in the Washington, D.C., Metro to display posters inspired by WWII-era propaganda, speaking out against Washington’s partisan bickering and stalemates. For example, one headline reads: “I lost my job… And my home and my health care and my retirement and my self-esteem, while you played party politics.” The organization, founded by a graphic designer, is dedicated to disrupting partisan gridlock. The posters are bold and striking in tone and imagery. And by harking back to old propaganda messaging, they remind us of a time when America came together, a sobering contrast to the divisiveness of today. As the election nears, it will be interesting to see if other organizations or marketers tap into Americans’ discontent with and anxiety over the status quo.
Australians are stuck in the middle of a tussle between the tobacco industry and the government, which is seeking to mandate plain (unbranded) cigarette packaging. The tobacco manufacturers cannot appeal to the sympathy of the public in opposing these measures, so they’re appealing instead to the growing anxiety that Australian society is becoming over-regulated, or a “nanny state.” Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, which means existing civil liberties always appear to be under threat whenever new regulations are proposed. (Wrote a Sydney Morning Herald columnist recently: “Ours was a history of extending freedom, of resisting and repelling the enforcement of conformity. Now, we stand by and witness the curtailment of the many for the protection of the few.”)
While 2011 Newspoll telephone research shows that more than half of Australians are in favor of plain packaging for cigarettes, positioning this as another example of our eroding civil liberties strikes a nerve. “More and more, the government is telling us what we should and shouldn’t do,” notes the campaign’s website. The TV spot shows a severe woman labeled “nanny” who declares, “I make the rules around here!” A voice argues that he’s over 18 and that “it’s legal,” but is warned to “Do as you’re told!” The campaign may well gain support for the opposition, even if the tobacco industry is clearly more concerned with keeping its brands than with the liberties of the Australian people.
The general sensation that politicians are disconnected from reality gets even more pronounced during a downturn, often contributing to anxiety. Several years ago an infamous incident showed Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s disconnect from everyday life: During a TV debate with citizens, a man asked him how much a coffee costs, and Zapatero answered “80 cents,” 40 cents under the actual price. “Zapateros’ coffee” became a classic media buzzword, indicating how out of touch politicians are with their countrymen.
Earlier this year, as Spain’s consumers continued to grapple with high unemployment and other effects of the downturn, JWT created an 80 cent “ZP’s coffee” promotion for Dunkin’ Coffee. Since this low price had existed only in the optimistic mind of the prime minister (nicknamed ZP), we made it real, demonstrating that a “better world” can exist! With only point-of-sale marketing—copy read “This month, have a coffee with a different frame of mind”—the “ZP coffee” got significant media coverage. This simple way of leveraging a catchphrase put a smile on people’s faces and transmitted the brand’s connection with its customers’ needs.
As the U.K. counts down to the May 6 general election, a tight three-way race, an ad campaign from The Independent is tapping into the political anxieties of its target readers and attempting to inspire them. “A few people count way too much,” an election-themed video warns, listing Rupert Murdoch (who will “throw the weight of the country’s two biggest newspapers behind one party”) and the millions spent by the Tory-supporting Lord Ashcroft and by unions.
The point is not only that The Independent will provide the facts—“Truth matters” is the campaign’s tagline—but that the facts will empower voters (“People should not fear their government. Government should fear you”). Outdoor ads distill the message—says one: “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election. You will.” The campaign, which coincides with a major redesign of the newspaper and the arrival of a new owner, seems like a smart way to connect with readers at a tense time.
Meanwhile, IKEA is tackling election anxiety with levity on its U.K. site, presenting “kitchen designs inspired by our would-be PMs.” Each candidate gets a suitably Swedish name—for example, Brown becomes Brün; his kitchen is “durable and prudent for the economically conscious.” The idea reminds us of 7-Eleven’s recent whimsical elections-themed promotion in the Philippines.
As of April 16, the Census deadline, one in three Americans had failed to return their form. Many are reluctant to share information with the government, assuming it may be used to restrict their civil rights. The Census Bureau’s Web site attempts to debunk such myths and help Americans overcome any reluctance to participate.
The Real Life Stories section showcases two dozen Americans of diverse backgrounds and cleverly ties their stories to the many benefits of the Census process. Chris is a compelling example of someone who’s converted into seeing how easy and innocuous the Census is. One would think that as a white male—stereotypically the most powerful demographic in America—Chris would have no issues with the Census. On the contrary, the Texan was concerned the Census would ask questions that could lead to more restrictive legislation on taxidermy, his livelihood. We see his mind change on camera as he looks over the form and realizes the requested information is “not bad.” Surely the Census Bureau hopes illegal immigrants and other groups identify with Chris’ story.
While the marketing communications for this Census have tended to be either saccharine or at the other end of the spectrum (making light of it, such as the Christopher Guest spots), the “Real Life Stories” are engaging and heartwarming. When it comes to addressing anxiety, a real human testimonial can often go a lot further than an organization or brand in delivering a message.
In January, the day after the German government discussed a measure to pay people €2,500 ($3,250) toward a new vehicle if they scrap a car at least nine years old, some 270,000 people called the relevant federal hotline. And that was before the measure had passed.
New car sales rose a whopping 40 percent last month—an improvement over February’s 21.5 percent gain—and the government has extended funding for the program until May, but hopes to let it run through the year if funds can be secured.
Not everyone is scrap happy. While small, cheap cars roll out of dealerships at a record rate, big car sales are tanking, and Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and Audi are struggling. Some economists see it as a short-term, shortsighted solution, and while the program has been officially labeled as “environmental,” angry environmentalists say it has nothing to do with ecology.
Similar programs in Italy and France have reversed falling auto sales, however. The Dutch government is implementing a scrapping program, and U.S. legislators have introduced a bill that would pay buyers of American vehicles up to $5,000 to trade in their older car.
Even though these are government initiatives, there is a lesson here for all brands: strategic imagination (uncertain creative solutions even) seem to be our safest bet in these times when most of what we’ve worked hard to understand needs to be unlearned and market dynamics are following rules we are discovering along the way.
To help stimulate spending and help people suffering the ill effects of the recession, the Thai government is paying citizens to shop. Well, sort of. It’s distributing 2,000 baht checks (about $56) to people with a monthly income below 15,000 baht ($424) from March 26-April 8.
Brand opportunities? Some retailers, such as the Central and Robinson department stores, are launching “extra value” campaigns for shoppers who redeem their checks at the stores—these customers get discount coupons worth 2,200 baht, so the check can effectively double in value.
Even in hard times, there are always opportunities to strengthen a smart brand—be it a government or a retailer—and build deeper consumer relationships.