In every Christmas card I have received so far, there seems to be an added note: “Here is to a bit more normality next year!” Part of me agrees… and part of me doesn’t. Let me explain why.
As part of Starcom’s ‘Future Tensions in Consumer Confidence’ study that launched this month, we asked ourselves; what signals make people feel that all is right with the world? What encourages a feeling of confidence? Consumer confidence is key to spending, thus to the survival of UK businesses and the wider economy. Advertising as part of our cultural landscape, reflects the mood of the nation back at it, so has a subtle yet important impact on the perception of the wellbeing of the country at large.
We explored the tension that lies within confidence; the desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible, alongside the desire to shake things up and make things better than they were before.
People like stability. If we can predict our income at the end of each month, of course that makes us more confident in our purchases. We like to know there is bog roll on the shelf, that the store will be open and that normal people, just like us, are shopping there too. Even if we are struggling, there is comfort in ads that don’t hit us over the head with our troubles, but rather entertain and behave as normal. There is joy in celebrating the pleasures of eating, travelling, socialising, even we personally (and collectively) aren’t able to do so. It offers the sense of possibility, that the brand is fit and ready for your business, that we can plan and dream, just as we did in 2019.
So whether it is Tesco, working their strapline, ‘Every Little Helps’ into practical action, citing the small steps that make shopping feel as normal as possible, to Disney’s tear-jerker Christmas advert, where timeless Mickey Mouse symbolises both the importance of family connection, but also that of the passing of time. Promoting a sense of normality, that things will return to how they were, is crucial to calming fears and restoring confidence.
But many of us question whether, whatever we call ‘normal’ is good enough. Do we have to return to February 2020? Many wonderful things have been discussed, actioned and championed during 2020 that we shouldn’t lose, but rather in 2021, continue pressing forwards.
Starcom’s online forum community The Street, made up of people from across the UK, talked at length about how this year has marked a transition in their lives. They are re-evaluating habits, ambitions, the people they keep in their lives and even the media they consume; all to enhance what makes them feel good, and dump what doesn’t. Being forced to stay at home has given issues that have been bubbling under the surface for years – whether it be discrimination, sustainability or wellbeing – greater attention because firstly, we have the brain capacity to do so. But secondly, because learnings must be made from such a terrible year.
Companies, politicians and regular people have shown over the past few months extraordinary things can happen under pressure. Great expectations are also on the shoulders of brands too, providing a powerful licence to interact with people in new spaces, with new meaning. For a cynical British public this is a rare opportunity and brands should seize the moment. Indeed, many have, with the idea of brand purpose finally feeling like a necessary, indisputable approach for businesses to take. Brands as diverse as Deliveroo to Burberry support Marcus Rashford’s campaign to fund free school meals for vulnerable children during the holidays. Primark has signed the UN’s Fashion Charter to reduce emissions. VISA has continued their annual Christmas campaign to champion local independent retailers and encourage us to support a high street we don’t want to lose. Brands are taking leadership knowing that the next decade will continue to see unprecedented change and continued instability.
Normality offers us a vital stable zone of comfort in order to plan wisely our next move. But progression too also offers us a chance to feel confident that better things are up ahead. Just close your eyes and jump!