I’ve been dwelling on Rishi Sunak’s cashmere hoodie recently, and it’s nothing to do with the supposed dishy-ness of the wearer. Thoughts of this garment make me cringe as it reminds me how so many of us privileged, London-based media types are as woefully remote from and out of touch with the general population as our millionaire Chancellor regularly gets stick for.
“What more can I do?” a mum with two kids, three jobs and no heating, pleaded to Rishi on a recent radio phone in. It was heartbreaking. And horrendously representative. What worries me as both a human and a marketer is exactly how widespread this desperation is about to become.
At Carat, we’ve used Dentsu’s Consumer Connection System (CCS) data to predict the coming impact of the cost-of-living crisis and forecast that a massive 41% of UK adults will be at best ‘Budgeting to Survive’ over the coming year.
In human terms, this is also an emotional crisis. That 41% translates to 19 million people worrying about their finances and being forced to make difficult decisions practically every day. An overwhelming, almost incredible burden.
What can a media agency do?
This claim may seem crass, given the circumstances, but I’m an optimist. I look after an agency of 482 talented individuals dedicated to understanding people better than anyone else. And in collaboration with our wonderful clients and brilliant industry partners we create campaigns with the genuine ambition of being a force for good.
So, while we should never overstate the positive impact that marketing can have on people’s lives, I believe that as an industry we can and must respond to this crisis. Armed with an endless curiosity for understanding what people need and the confidence that the brands we work with have the power to make at least some lives at least slightly better, we can play our part.
If the above seems too ambitious, we can start closer to home. Across Dentsu, UK’s media agencies we are delivering weighted cost-of-living salary adjustments that prioritise our lowest earners – those who will be hit hardest by the crisis – and are bringing them forward to hit earlier in the year.
Emotional intelligence is vital
The power of empathy is something I have long championed as a leader, but lately it has started to feel rather passive; fully rounded emotional intelligence (EQ) is required to stimulate action and create genuine value for people and communities.
EQ works for brands and businesses, too. Carat’s Global Brand EQ Report revealed accelerated growth for brands with high EQ scores; the top 20 ranking brands for emotional intelligence saw share price growth of 682% between 2010 and 2020.
We’ve certainly seen people warm to brands showing their human side over the last two years. As we move forward, the economic challenge will be so endemic and all-encompassing we can’t just plan for growth based on what people can and can’t afford – brands must demonstrate an understanding of what people are thinking, feeling and what they need.
This broader, more comprehensive human understanding that drives better, more supportive solutions, is at the heart of Carat’s Designing for People process. As a proud northerner, I’m thrilled that we have brilliant Carat teams across Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh to help us represent the diversity of experiences across the UK. It’s this kind of collective approach to solving challenges that allows humans and brands to thrive.
Genuinely, let’s work on this together
A crisis of this scale can only be tackled by working in unison. In that spirit, we’re making our bespoke predictions, drawn from analysis of current circumstances overlayed with attitudes to finance, freely available within a new report so even more brands can understand how their customers will be affected and how they can authentically support.
Our sobering forecasts include the estimate that 18% of people will only just manage to keep their heads above water, living with constant financial worries. 23% will be budgeting to survive, watching every penny. 15% will budget to maintain a lifestyle, prioritising certain aspects over others, while a lucky 19% will be comfortably unaffected. 24% will continue to prioritise spend on life-enriching experiences no matter what #YOLO.
These difficult realities are considerably less comfy than a cashmere hoodie but being alive to the challenges so many face is the first step in enabling us to help people and our clients navigate the tough times ahead.