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.
As the cost of living in the U.K. rises and Brits become increasingly anxious about covering the cost of their weekly shop, supermarkets must work harder to keep customers loyal. According to recent research, the cost of living in the U.K. is 11 percent higher than the international average and an incredible 18 percent higher than it is in the United States. In addition, since the horsemeat scandal broke, U.K. advertisers can no longer rely solely on a “cheapest price” message. The public still wants their food to be as inexpensive as possible, but the scandal made it clear that there’s often a price to be paid when offerings appear too cheap to be true.
Low-cost supermarket Asda has previously focused on price against their competitors. In a marked departure from its usual method of communicating, the retailer is now engaging the consumer with the reality of juggling a busy household and bills in an amusing, charming and also honest way, before the lowest-price message comes along in all its glory. Asda’s new price lock initiative, which freezes the costs of essentials for a 12-week period, seems a clever tactic to prevent regular and potentially new consumers from shopping around week on week.
One of the most important and expensive purchases consumers make is a car, and the process is often fraught with confusion and fear. TrueCar aims to eliminate that by gathering market data and showing buyers what they can expect to spend on average for vehicles in their area, based on what others have paid; it also has a network of certified dealers who “offer a hassle-free car-buying experience.” The model is somewhat different from other price-comparison sites for car buyers, as The Economist outlined earlier this year.
A new TV ad opens by saying “Let’s talk truth,” noting that “Buying a car can be overwhelming” and is “a process filled with anxiety.” TrueCar emphasizes that it’s committed to openness, fairness and a better car-buying spirit, delivering the message that all deals and transactions are transparent. It induces confidence in the consumer, especially the promise to eliminate the fear of haggling. As Scott Painter, TrueCar’s CEO, said in a release, “Nobody wants to be a sucker and overpay.”
“Noooooo!” This month JCPenney introduced its new “Fair and square” pricing policy by playing off the idea that keeping up with sales and special offers is stress-inducing in the extreme. Various shoppers scream when they’ve just missed a sale, an item they’ve bought subsequently gets discounted, they’re stuck in a huge sales-event line or they’re overwhelmed with coupons. “Enough. Is. Enough,” viewers are told cryptically, then referred to the retailer’s Facebook page, which explains the new “Fair and square” pricing policy.
The spot’s screaming has been deemed “annoying and disturbing” by some, but the real question is whether “Fair and square” will draw shoppers who prefer straightforward pricing to the highs (and lows) of scoring deals. The new policy, based on a red, white and blue scheme, incorporates some discounting: Red prices indicate “great prices, everyday,” blue refers to “best prices” (clearance markdowns that take place two Fridays a month), and white indicates a month-long promotion (e.g., back-to-school specials). The aim is to end what new chief executive Ron Johnson termed “fake prices,” telling The New York Times last month that “Now most things are on 60 percent markdown, and every time we do that, we’re discounting Penney’s brand.”
Reactions have been mixed. A pricing strategy consultant writes on the Harvard Business Reviewblog that the retailer isn’t differentiated enough to succeed with value pricing, while an enthusiastic commenter who describes herself as a busy mom says she’s gotten “darn tired” of the pricing game. The downturn has not only trained many shoppers to find or wait for the best deals but also to understand fake prices for what they are. The time seems right for a more straightforward approach that acknowledges consumers are smart enough to see through the hype.
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.
After recently ending its famed two-year-old Assurance program that protected customers who lost a job following a vehicle purchase, Hyundai Motor America is introducing an Assurance guarantee designed to alleviate buyer anxiety about depreciation. The Trade-in Value Guarantee locks in a price (based on the Automotive Lease Guide forecast) for a vehicle in months 24 through 48 of ownership, which the car owner can then put toward a new vehicle, financed by Hyundai Credit. If a vehicle’s market value ends up being higher, the owner gets the extra credit. Customers must show proof of regular maintenance at authorized Hyundai dealerships.
Brand Channel points out that while the program could be a good tool for boosting use of the Hyundai dealerships, it’s not likely too many people would end up utilizing the offer, since late-model used cars have been rising in value.Consumer Reports notes the program’s potential benefit is mostly limited to buyers of bigger, more gas-hungry models, which are prone to price swings as fuel prices rise or fall. Still, the guarantee can only serve as one more incentive for car shoppers, since no extra cost is entailed (though reliance on Hyundai dealerships could add expense)—unlike Best Buy’s less appealing new Buy Back program for electronics purchases, which requires customers to pay in at purchase in order to participate.
With prices rising for many consumer goods, we’ve been waiting to see how messaging from brands will assure anxious shoppers. In most cases, brands aren’t acknowledging increases, frequently hiding them with “package shrink,” as The New York Timesreports. In the U.K., California Raisins is directly addressing cost increases, which in this case are as high as 30 percent in some instances, due to the removal of a type of subsidy last October.
Print and online ads convey the message that “despite recent retail price increases, California Raisins still represent incredible value when compared with some other dried and fresh fruit,” as the website puts it. Some ads try to sell raisins as individual items with headlines like “75 pieces of fruit for 40p?” while others emphasize their health credentials (“0% fat / 100% value”). While people who buy raisins are likely already sold on the nutritional advantages, perhaps what’s most important is simply confronting the increase head-on with consumers so they’re prepared when they get to the shelf.
Colombia has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in Latin America and the fastest adoption rate, according to comScore. Yet the majority of Colombians don’t have a high-speed connection at home, instead frequenting Internet cafes to get online. While Colombians can afford computers, most are hesitant to invest in broadband due to the monthly fees, so broadband has yet to become a commodity. In a recent campaign for Telmex, a local Internet provider, JWT Bogotá used this insight to directly address price anxiety surrounding the cost of at-home Internet connections.
One day last October at Colombia’s busiest bus terminal, 35 people boarded a bus for the long journey from Bogotá to Calí. As the trip began, a mystery man boarded and told the passengers that thanks to Telmex broadband service, they would be traveling by plane, an experience most had never had before. An eight-hour bus journey became a 35-minutes plane ride—a tangible demonstration of Telmex’s promise of “high speeds for the price of low speeds.”
By placing real people in a storytelling-based activation, Telmex effectively humanized its service, countering the misconception that high-speed broadband (just like flying on a plane) is an out-of-reach experience for everyday Colombians.
People. At least, this is what Delta’s new “Keep Climbing” campaign conveys as it tackles several current anxieties surrounding the airline industry. In one of two black-and-white commercials, narrator Donald Sutherlandsays, “Bad weather, congestion, the price of oil—those are every airline’s reality.” In another he acknowledges, “This crazy world of no liquids, take your shoes off, cost-cutting and route cancellations.”
These issues are mostly beyond Delta’s control—what’s not are its employees, and the spots tell us that “it comes down to the people.” The ads assure us that Delta’s people set the airline apart and make all the difference in the flying experience, that the staff “knows how to put themselves on the other side of the counter” and that “someone in this industry still has the passenger’s back.” For travelers contending with ever more fees and discomfort, this is good to hear.
It’s also good to hear after recent negative news about airline employees. Last year came the stunning news about the pilots who forgot to land at their destination. And who can forget Steven Slater, the JetBlue ex-flight attendant who stuck it to the man when a passenger took it too far? With human foibles only adding to airlines’ many problems, Delta’s decision to position itself as a place for the Captain Sullys of the industry seems like the way to go.
With True Life Costs, Volkswagen puts a simple long-term-value message—“To see the big picture, you need to think beyond the one-off purchase price,” as an intro tells us—at the center of a U.K. website that has visitors consider a car’s costs in the wider context of living expenses over a lifetime. That serious-minded calculation is balanced out by whimsy: The setting is an Edward Scissorhands-colored bucolic toy village, and there’s a winking tone, both in the upper-class voiceover and the copy (“The patter of tiny feet is often swiftly followed by the whir-click of the cash machine”).
Part of the automaker’s “Unbelievable value” campaign, the site asks users to choose categories like food and family, house and holiday, then has them move a slider to indicate their spending in various subcategories (e.g., in Education, increasingly costly options include “home schooling,” “posh private lessons” and “off to boarding school”). The Car section asks users to consider purchase price, servicing, efficiency and running cost for Volkswagen’s range. A “cost report” shows average lifetime expenditures based on the user’s responses.
The downturn has forced people to think about each expense—and in many cases to switch to “good enough” products—but not necessarily to take a long-sighted view. Brands that are selling value need to convey ideas like “The number on the price tag might be only half the story” (as VW’s voiceover says)—a basic message, but here nicely integrated into an original, fun-to-use package.
In pitching cost-saving railcards to young people, families and the more senior among us, National Rail has moved from a positioning of pure cost savings to equating those savings with the warmer, cuddlier things in life. It seems that they’re seeking not only to address anxieties about the cost of rail travel (which is on the increase) but also those tied to the fact that we don’t connect face-to-face as much anymore. A headline of “1/3 off hugs with mum” is paired with the line “because a text won’t get your washing done”; “1/3 off hugs with grandad” adds the line “because it’s hard to play hide and seek on a webcam.”
We’ve seen a similar idea from Nescafé in Australia, where a “Get a little closer” campaign urges consumers to “turn off the gadgets, turn on the kettle and enjoy a cup of coffee together.” These campaigns tap into the trend of Savoring Simple Pleasures as well as the growing urge to unplug in an increasingly digital world. Quality face time certainly feels like something the modern world needs. A virtual hug via Facebook really isn’t the same, is it?