Marketing Brand Strategy Cost of Living

Stop ‘holding up a mirror’ to consumers in the cost-of-living crisis, urges ITV director


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

January 24, 2023 | 4 min read

Consumers don’t want to be shown the bleak economic reality in brand advertising.

Kate Waters offers advice to brands to navigate living cost crisis messaging

Kate Waters offers advice to brands to navigate living cost crisis messaging / Unsplash

Brands should avoid showing the cost-of-living crisis in their messaging and instead create uplifting marketing, according to ITV’s director of client strategy and planning.

“You don’t have to hold up a mirror to your audience’s lives. They know it’s tough out there, they don’t need to be reminded of it all the time,” Kate Waters said speaking at the Navigating Tough Times event hosted by Ogilvy UK and Coley Porter Bell.

The UK cost-of-living crisis is showing no signs of easing with inflation at 10.5% and shocking statistics such as food banks handing out an emergency parcel every 13 seconds. But while Waters said it’s important to empathize with consumers during this period, that doesn’t mean you should reflect their struggles back at them.

"You’ve got lots of brands with absolutely noble intentions being empathetic towards their audiences, but when you look at communications that start with ‘look how hard it is’, what audiences are really seeing is just how tough life is,” Waters explained.

ITV recently ran tests with System1 to understand if joyful ads still performed well when consumers were going through tough times. Using data from 100 ads seen pre- and post-Covid, System 1 found that ‘good, joyful, uplifting’ ads continue to resonate even in tougher economic conditions.

“Brands have been spending huge amounts of effort trying to figure out what their noble purpose is and that’s fine. But actually some brands and certainly in some of their communication, it is purpose enough to give people a little bit of everyday magic or anything that can make them feel happy,” she said.

Waters added that entertaining “is a really valid strategy”. It counters the IPA consumer research, published in October, which found only 4% of customers wanted brands to prioritize entertainment during the crisis.

But Waters stressed that she was not discouraging brands from talking about price in their marketing. However, when they do, it must be linked with the notion of “fairness”. The approach is based on recent ITV research that revealed customers are happy with the price point if it feels “fair or just to them”, that includes if it’s good quality, reliable or will benefit them.

She referenced Greg Jackson’s, chief exec of Octopus Energy, appearance on the Martin Lewis Money Show, who managed to help the fuel company's brand reputation after explaining the reasons why energy prices had gone up.

“He [Jackson] explained why something that felt so unfair, was perhaps not quite so unfair and that there are genuinely good reasons why energy prices were going up,” she said. “He faced things head-on and tried to deal with this notion of fairness.”

Marketing Brand Strategy Cost of Living

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