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 McDonald’s’ transparency kick in the U.K. (the site What Makes McDonald’s) and Canada, where yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca invited consumers to ask whatever questions they had, “even the tough ones.” Those efforts followed an Australian TV documentary sponsored by the brand, McDonald’s Gets Grilled, which showed several consumers touring various company operations, sometimes asking challenging questions. The latest effort to address anxieties about fast food—exactly how it’s made and with what ingredients, etc.—is an American campaign that answers consumers’ most frequently asked questions.
A YouTube video series features Grant Imahara from the show MythBusters visiting McDonald’s suppliers. Another video shows people asking questions at an outdoor ad that solicited queries. Naturally these are all questions that McDonald’s can answer easily; answers are posted online (e.g., Chicken McNuggets do not contain pink slime and are made from the tenderloin, breast and rib, ground with a bit of chicken skin and a marinade). The company is also soliciting questions via tweet and tweeting responses.
The simple act of opening up to questions may reassure some of today’s increasingly skeptical consumers. But as the ranks of curious, educated and anxious eaters keep growing, McDonald’s will have to do more to boost confidence that it sells “real” food made from wholesome ingredients. With both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola stumbling at the moment—“Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors,” writes Slate—we’ll see food companies not only marketing in new ways but also changing their products to meet rising demand for better-for-you ingredients.
We recently posted about hypermarket chain Leclerc and its price-comparison site Quiestlemoinscher.com (“who is the less expensive”), a popular tool for French shoppers. With consumers in many markets anxious about the cost of everyday goods and exceedingly price-sensitive, shoppers are ever more apt to research the lowest-price options. In response, mySupermarket aims to “bring price transparency to the shopping experience and help you shop smart.” The online-shopping service launched in 2006 in the U.K., where it claims 2.9 million registered users, and is now expanding to the U.S.
In the U.S., the service lets shoppers choose among staples sold by eight major retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Target, Soap.com, Diapers.com, Drugstore.com, Walgreens and Costco), alerting users when they can save further by choosing a different size or alternative product. Shoppers check out via mySupermarket, which “optimize[s] your cart to get you free shipping,” according to a promotional video. According to TechCrunch, the company is also planning a mobile app that would notify shoppers about relevant promotions when they’re in stores.
While many brick-and-mortar retailers are fretting about showrooming, it’s a trend that generally hasn’t applied to supermarkets—but they’re still vulnerable in the face of new digital tools that give consumers more workarounds and comprehensive data. At the same time, however, marketers might find opportunities here: The company told TechCrunch that its app will enable brands to communicate with opted-in consumers—for instance, alerting them to price decreases on favorite items or sending a reminder to stock up on various staples.
For insurance purchasers who aren’t moonlighting as lawyers, the legal jargon used to describe the terms of these products can be complicated and confusing. According to the 2012 Global Consumer Insurance Survey, most customers in Asia Pacific don’t fully understand the terms of the product at the point of purchase. Last year, leading Singaporean insurance company NTUC Income set out to address this issue, tackling consumer stress and confusion by overhauling its contracts into plain English.
A TV campaign comically outlined the shift, showcasing oddball scenarios in which everyday people attempt to hide behind jargon. In one spot, a groom’s vows are abruptly interrupted as he veers off and speed-talks his way through a legal-sounding outline of the terms and conditions of their lifelong arrangement. In another spot, a fishmonger responds to a question about whether his fish are fresh by cheekily explaining that he reserves the right to define “fresh” as caught within the past 20 days. In both spots, onscreen text asks, “What if everyone hides behind legal jargon?” before a voiceover explains that NTUC believes insurance should be made simple, honest and different.
This initiative stemmed from the insurer’s “Honest insurance” philosophy and a stated mission to identify and solve customer pains. By making it easier to understand the company’s policies, NTUC is helping customers make better informed decisions.
Aiming to address a range of consumer anxieties about fast food—exactly how it’s made and with what ingredients, etc.—McDonald’s has been on a transparency kick in several markets. On our sister blog JWTIntelligence.com, we recently wrote about an Australian TV documentary that the brand sponsored, McDonald’s Gets Grilled, which showed six consumers touring various company operations (from farm to factory to retail), sometimes asking challenging questions. In the U.K., McDonald’s recently retooled its five-year-old transparency-focused site, MakeUpYourOwnMind.co.uk, into What Makes McDonald’s, because “there are still lots of myths out there about McDonald’s, and lots of things that people simply don’t know about us,” a U.K. marketing VP told Marketing magazine. The site includes articles and videos that take consumers behind the scenes of company operations.
In Canada, yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca invites consumers to ask whatever questions they have, promising to answer “even the tough ones.” Questions touch on a range of issues, such as pink slime, chemicals in Big Macs and conditions that chickens are raised in. Two weeks ago the brand generated buzz after posting a video response to a question about why the food looks different in advertising. The director of marketing for McDonald’s Canada takes viewers through the food-styling process, explaining why various tricks and tweaks are applied to the basic burger. Consumers responded to the brand’s “unwrapping the process” (one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2012): The video generated a few million YouTube views in a matter of days.
Competitive pressures are forcing manufacturers and retailers to take transparency to the max—as we noted in one of our 10 Trends for 2010, Maximum Disclosure—revealing ever more about everything from nutritional data to sourcing, as well as the people and processes behind the brand. The ranks of the curious (and anxious) consumer keep growing, though in many cases the simple fact of disclosure will matter more than the specific information revealed.
The recent start of the National Hockey League playoffs, caused a great deal of buzz around the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not on the ice—the Leafs missed the playoffs for the seventh straight year—but in the form of a full-page apology letter to the fans, taken out in all the Toronto papers on the same day. The chairman of the team’s board assures fans that their passion and loyalty are not taken for granted, acknowledges that the team’s performance was “unacceptable,” and says the organization makes no excuses for the disappointing results.
There’s great deal of anxiety around this team on all levels. It was a dreadful season, and fans are angry. But if consumer anxiety makes wallets tighten, somehow the Leafs have found a way to split the defense. Games are always sold out; TV revenue is through the rafters. High consumer anxiety = continued loyalty? A lot of businesses would love even a little bit of that Toronto Maple Leaf “magic touch.” While most businesses will never have it as good as the Leafs, there’s something to be said for adopting practices that allow for greater transparency and a sense of humility. They can bring a much-needed level of respect to customer relations—no matter what business you’re in.
The auto insurance world is full of quirky spokespeople, from a talking gecko to Flo, the bubbly saleswoman. With multiple claims circulating from fictional characters, it can be tricky for consumers to determine whom to believe. Esurance addresses consumers’ concerns head on by acknowledging this and inviting people to talk with those they really trust: their peers.
A commercial points to the sometimes tenuous assertions of advertising, asking “What makes you trust a company?” The ad shows that neither a talking dog nor flashy commercials will inspire confidence. Instead, Esurance invites viewers to visit its Facebook profile and chat with real customers. Its Facebook page reads, “Keepin’ it real. Real customers. Real comments. (Really.),” and its wall features some gripes amid generally positive comments.
We’ve previously posted about inspiring confidence in uncertain consumers by using ads that feature uncensored, off-the-cuff consumer comments. (A Hyundai campaign, for instance, boasted of “Real people. Real comments.”) Esurance goes a step further by switching to social media and trusting that brand advocates will take over from there. This kind of transparency helps to inspire confidence while also allowing people to start a dialogue with the brand.