It seems that British consumers are beset by the blues at this time of year. Last January, we wrote about a commercial from The Sun newspaper in which a young girl declares that “January sucks” and suggests that we “kick January where there ain’t no sun.” Now Heat, which uses the tagline “Heat makes you happy,” is telling readers that the magazine is “turning the most depressing month of the year into the happiest.”
The effort is focused around a lighthearted petition to David Cameron to create a public holiday on the third Monday in January and call it Blue Monday. A holiday would help counteract the “recipe for national misery” that comes with bleak weather and the financial fallout of the holiday season. On this year’s “Blue Monday,” the brand will attempt to cheer up consumers with a “kitten cam,” a live stream from a pet shelter (viewers will be able to adopt an animal too). Hey, you can’t go wrong with kittens at any time of year, especially during one of the lowest points for consumer mood.
Photo Credit: Heat
British Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement brought positive news for the U.K. economy. The forecast GDP growth for this year improved to 1.4 percent from 0.6 percent and was revised up for 2014, to 2.4 percent. Osborne claims that austerity is working. JWT’s latest Austerity Index suggests this is not the full picture and that many Britons are not seeing evidence of a recovery where it matters most: in their wallets. In fact, almost half of the 800 respondents we polled for our Q3 study reported having somewhere between nothing and £50 in disposable income each month.
At the same time, some have been able to relax the purse strings a little. The “Efforts to Restrict Spending” Index figure has fallen 81 points since Q2. While this is still small-scale movement in the greater scheme of things, it might suggest that consumer confidence is building in places. This suggests a two-speed recovery, one where some find their lives getting back to normal while others continue to struggle. The JWT Austerity Index shows wide disparities in the impact of austerity, with a difference of 251 points between the highest and lowest income groups.
Our finding is supported by recent analysis from Manchester University’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, which shows that London and the Southeast have recovered more rapidly than other regions of the U.K. and that higher earners have become more prosperous since the crash compared with middle and low earners. With the U.K.’s first “social supermarket” for those on welfare opening in Yorkshire, it’s poignant to note that 13 percent of parents said they have been obliged to skip meals so their children can eat.
This polarization is not going unnoticed: In our study, 81 percent agreed that austerity has deepened the social divide in our country. And they want businesses to do their part: 65 percent call for brands to help those most affected by austerity. Contrary to Osborne’s assertion, austerity is not working for everyone, and as systems and institutions fail to address the growing chasm, there is a clear opportunity for businesses to seek ways to even out the disparities in economic fortune.
The Austerity Index survey was conducted using SONAR™, JWT’s proprietary online tool. The JWT Austerity Index is a quarterly study that analyzes the impact of prolonged economic adversity on British consumers and markets. The Q3 report is available to download here. The Q1 report is also available for download, here, as is the Q2 report, here.
Photo Credit: JWT London