Archive for April, 2011

The new normal is still here, and here to stay

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

“I’ve found the cost of living has gone up substantially and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am not buying luxuries as often and I will change the way I deal with my finances.”

This sobering quote comes from a Scottish man we spoke to as part of our fifth in-depth review of how UK consumers are responding to the current economic situation. In our breakfast briefing held in London last week to launch this review, we highlighted four themes which describe the current environment:

  1. The New Normal is firmly embedded: Reflecting the broader economic uncertainty, individuals feel the outlook is gloomy: 25% feel the UK economy is going very badly these days, an increase of 10% compared to when the survey was last carried out six months ago. People are even less optimistic about their personal financial situation with almost half thinking they will be worse off over the next 12 months. The message is clear: no one expects things to go back to how they were and we are learning how to cope.
  2. Rising prices are hurting:Though inflation has recently dropped a fraction, our data showed levels of anxiety about rising prices similar to those seen in 2008. Many of the people we spoke to were highly sensitive to these changes, whether this was about an increase in the cost of petrol or bell peppers.
  3. Savvy shopping matters to consumers: 43% of consumers have had to dip into savings to make ends meet and they are trying hard to make their money going further. Deals and special offers are still very much part of this, but consumers are doing more than that: they are giving serious thought to what they really need and what they really don’t. One lady in Staines realised she didn’t have to spend £70 every six weeks at the hairdresser and could use a £3.50 home dye kit instead. However, she wasn’t going to cut back on her expensive make-up and perfume.
  4. It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of things: In our last survey, we identified three groups who represent the various responses to the current financial downturn, and this time round, ‘All Hands on Deck’ were the only group which had increased in size. Though people in this group feel the struggle to make ends meet most acutely, making the most of your budget is relevant to everyone, even for the relatively unaffected ‘Plain Sailing’ group. All want to feel they can loosen their belt without losing it.

I’ll finish with a quote from a young woman in Sheffield which sums up the dilemma the New Normal presents for some:
“I could lose my job tomorrow, so I should plan to protect myself against that – but then again, I could lose my job tomorrow…so why not live for the moment?”.

There are limited places available for a repeat of this breakfast briefing on 12th May. To find out more please contact Karen Kidson.

20 April 2011 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

From fear to pleasure

Alex Oliver writes:

Looking for better sex? Interested in ways to save money and lose weight? Want to be a better parent and live a long and happy life?

If these questions got your attention, they certainly grabbed mine at the recent Global Social Marketing Conference held in sunny Dublin last week, where Josh Hunt and I spent an intense couple of days presenting our recent behavioural insight work, chatting to academics and practitioners from across the globe, and attending seminars on the latest thinking in social marketing theory.

The conference covered a range of social policy challenges from contraception in African sex workers to breast feeding amongst Texan minority ethnic groups, to reducing extreme racist behaviour in deprived inner city London councils, and a whole bunch of interesting subjects in between.  But in amongst the many theoretical debates, one basic but hitherto understated insight was repeatedly reinforced for me.  That traditional social marketing theory has relied far too heavily on fear as the lever to challenge behaviour, rather than using pleasure or happiness as a motivator to drive change.

Academic research does show that fear can be a highly effective lever in motivating behaviour change. When it comes to men and drink driving, for example, the more that risk of death is highlighted, and the more grisly the description of death, the more likely the subjects are to report a change in attitudes.  And it’s not difficult to think of any number of government campaigns across the globe that have applied the same principle – the famous AIDS campaign of the 1980s, the motorcycle campaign (which I still can’t watch – my husband being the owner of a BMW 850R), and the ‘Heroin Screws You Up’ campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s. (The posters for these became fashion statements, opening up the idea of ‘heroin chic’.)

But it’s possible that over-exposure to these many frightening messages over time has de-sensitised us, or worse, made us angry and caused us to reject the moralising messenger? This was the compelling case argued at the conference by Professor Nadine Henley from Edith Cowan University Western Australia.

She proposed an alternative: that social marketers should make their subjects the heroes of the campaigns rather than the villains or victims.  So, instead of scaring people with the consequences of diabetes and heart disease, we might celebrate weight loss through game shows like The Biggest Loser. Or we accept that teenagers will have sex and tell them what types of contraception fit best with their lifestyle, however debauched it may be.

In practice, good social marketing campaigns will always use a range of levers and messages. But whether supported by academic research or not, intuitively it makes sense that we need to feel good about ourselves and the world we live in – a lesson that commercial marketers have certainly learnt, but governments perhaps need to think a bit more about.

18 April 2011 at 9:13 am 1 comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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