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Wavemaker Insider: Finding a better way to grow in a downturn with Campaign 


In times of uncertainty, it’s common for brands to slash marketing budgets to save the bottom line. In pressured environments, many default to short term-thinking and deprioritise sustainability initiatives or neglect diverse audiences from their communications. But brands that do so, do so at their peril.  

That’s why, last week (on Thursday 20th October), we hosted an exclusive breakfast event for brands looking to come out of the cost-of-living crisis stronger than ever.  

It was the first of Wavemaker’s global programme of events, all in partnership with Campaign, which are designed to help our clients get maximum value from their media and manage budgetary challenges and cuts during these tough times. The session was also recorded live and will be turned into a podcast episode for Campaign’s series. 

Kicking off the event, Toby Jenner, Global CEO of Wavemaker, welcomed attendees to our brand-new collaboration space at our HQ in Sea Containers, before Gideon Spanier, Campaign’s Editor in Chief, introduced himself as host for the morning and handed over to Kathryn Saxon, our Head of Audience Science, for a deep dive into our latest consumer research on the cost-of-living crisis.  

Kathryn’s team continuously speak to consumers about how they’re navigating the challenges that this crisis presents. Their latest research (which was in field from the end of September to the beginning of October) revealed that all age groups, including those who are more financially stable, are feeling less confident about their financial future since the last wave of research, which took place in June. As expected, people are evaluating where and how they spend their money and 81% are trying to cut back on non-essential spending. 

Kathryn went on to explain that what we’re beginning to see is a financial lockdown – there are signs that we are cocooning and decreasing our mobility due to the pressures that we’re feeling. For example, 54% of people are spending less on day trips and 61% of respondents have spent less on going out to pubs, bars and nightclubs. But, the crisis is impacting everyone in different ways, and it’s important for brands to pay attention to their target audience and really understand where consumers are willing to spend their money. 

Kathryn continued: “We are also seeing evidence of a silent crisis, and we need to be mindful of those who won’t raise their hand, considering how we can talk to them in a helpful way”. Speaking on the relation to consumers’ mental health, Kathryn stated that 51% of those surveyed said that their mental health is being impacted, and more than half of those people wouldn’t admit that they’re struggling, or seek help – a particularly concerning finding. 

We also learnt that people have already started planning how they can cut back on spend during the festive period, with 40% of people stating that they won’t be seeing family at Christmas this year in order to save money. This is evidence that consumers are rethinking their Christmas habits and plan to spend less on Christmas in general. 

Following Kathryn’s insightful presentation on the findings, we were joined by a panel, which was chaired by Gideon and consisted of Carolina Cordero Mcnamara, Marketing Director, Beauty, and Head of Media and Sustainability at Henkel; Jo McClintock, VP of Brand at Trainline; and our resident experts Elliott Millard, UK Head of Planning and Mudit Jaju, Global Head of eCommerce.

Gideon directed the first question to Carolina and Jo, asking them what plans they had to prepare and protect their brands. Carolina said, using the example of schwarzkopf, that they are planning to dial up investment in retail brands so that people can still feel good, and connect with consumers on platforms like TikTok, which is where people are often going. She stated that despite rising concerns about money, “people don’t want to give up on moments of pleasure”.

Show consumers your offering and make your products go further to help them find small moments of joy during a challenging time.
Carolina Cordero Mcnamara, Henkel

Jo followed by noting that Trainline has a digital product which can save consumers up to 35% of their train fare. She said, “we are responsible for letting people know how they can save money”, and that the brand will continue to invest in media and creative to deliver the message. 

Strive to offer a better value proposition and don’t be complacent.
Jo McClintock, Trainline

Moving on to Elliott, Gideon requested a strategic planning point-of-view on dialling down marketing during a crisis. Elliott answered, “we really want to help clients understand their own situation. The evidence for continuing to spend during a downturn is robust, but you must understand your risk”. Concluding his answer, Elliott gave two specific examples – if you’re a supermarket, you should definitely continue to spend during a downturn, but if you’re a cinema, you may want to dial it down, because it’s likely that less people will be going due to the potential cut backs in out of home activities. 

Gideon then turned to Mudit for an eCommerce point-of-view on messaging. Mudit advised that, “there’s nothing wrong with a clear CTA, and having a clear addressable strategy is imperative”. He went on to say that being very clear about your value proposition is imperative and brands owe it to consumers to do that.

Brilliant basics are not optional and are so effective.
Mudit Jaju, Wavemaker Global

On the topic of messaging, Kathryn’s cost-of-living research found that consumers aren’t looking for humour in messages at the moment, and Carolina echoed that by saying that consumers want purposefulness instead. On the other hand though, as Elliott noted, humour, when used correctly, can be very powerful.

Increasing or maintaining marketing budgets is often smart, but what’s really smart is looking at how you’re behaving or how your category is behaving. Be nice to people and exploit unexploited places.
Elliott Millard, Wavemaker UK

When asked what brands can do to find a better way to grow, Elliott said that “it’s about the way we treat people – there’s a difference between things that you do vs things that you put in advertising”. He continued, saying that consumers want brands to step up, and that that’s an opportunity brands should absolutely lean into. 

Click here to listen to the podcast episode of this event and fill out the form below to download a copy of our cost-of-living research report.

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