What the fuck is going on?

If you really want to know what’s happening in Britain right now, something that should preoccupy all but the most narcissistic UK marketers, you need to do two things.

The first is to get beyond your ‘bubble’ and for most of us that means leaving the metropolis and the metropolitan and venture into the Nation at large.

And the second is get beyond the data charting our crisis. Data that is always understood but rarely felt.

So, this winter we took a journey across the United Kingdom with the sole intent of understanding how people are feeling. And to answer the only question any marketer should be asking now. What the fuck is going on?

And the situation is bad, really bad.

People are worried, incredibly tired and desperately looking for hope. Chris in Rochdale told us he is “Worried, worried, worried”, while Edward in Stockport said “how many sacrifices are we going to have to make before we are OK?”

Because behind our well documented economic predicament there is the impact that this has on real people’s lives.

There is a profound sense that not only have people have lost control of their lives but no one is in control, least of all the Government. A belief that the UK is going backwards and that we are becoming less well off as a result. While we constantly skirt a technical recession the result is the UK’s Great Regression.

Perpetual crisis is taking its toll on the connective tissue of society too. There is a feeling that people are becoming more selfish and anti-social and importantly that we are more divided and our behaviour more divisive than ever before. Angela in Bristol told us “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and the dogs have been let out of the kennels”.

And so, people believe that the system is now rigged against ordinary people to the benefit of a few, with the parade of false hopes from Scottish Independence to Brexit turning sour as they fail to materialise or fail to deliver.

Strikingly we also discovered real desire for a reset, to press control, alt, delete on the UK and start afresh. People use language like “Armageddon” or “war” to describe what the UK needs right now. This is not a healthy position for a democracy.

Like I say, it’s bad, really bad.

The Great Regression

Of course, this is the point at which you expect me unveil the ten ways in which marketers can navigate or benefit from this terrible situation.

But the truth is I can’t do that.

It’s simply not credible to suggest that there are easy solutions for any business right now. There is no ‘click-bait’ programme that can guarantee success.

Nevertheless, there are things that brands and businesses can do to mitigate some of the pain for themselves and be more useful for the people they serve. Here is a taster of the handful we have identified.

The first is to stop being so narcissistic in the way we do consumer research or data analysis. This crisis really is not about you, so stop obsessing about what people think about your and start trying to better understand their lives. If one of marketing’s principal aims is to bring the living room into the boardroom, there has never been a more urgent need for this. Make your consumer research less myopic and you will soon understand how your brand can help.

Leaving the eternal debate about purpose to one side, it is worth thinking about your brand’s duty to serve – the good that you can help bring to the lives of people whether customers or not. EE has a duty to combat online hatred and has created the Hope United platform to do this. While John Lewis and Partners sees its duty in improving outcomes for people with experience of the care system, setting the goal of being the largest employer of people from the sector in the UK. You need to understand your duty to serve.

Perhaps as a result of the selfishness and division that stalks our land, people desperately crave community. Not the sort of communities that marketers witter on about – what we used to call our customer base – but the real deal. BT turns local football clubs into community hubs in part by connecting them to high-speed broadband. While Anya Hindmarch is powering up the Women’s Institute across the UK. Find a community you care about and make a real difference to their lives.

And while in tough times orthodoxy says you get tougher – that you are even more specific about why your brand is better than the competition and far better value – now might be the time to embrace the generic. Generic strategies that simply extol the virtues of your category like Expedia’s ‘Experiences versus stuff’. Or that celebrate the sheer joy of your brand like McDonalds ‘Raised Eyebrows’. Maybe generic is not a dirty word but the way to tell the stories that delight people when they need joy in their lives.

So yes, there are ways in which we can help our businesses navigate this crisis in meaningful ways. But they will always be coping mechanisms, for our brands and the people we serve, not substantive solutions.

What we all need is a real plan, a source of hope for the future. A sense that life might get better in this country. An economic plan that restores the living standards of our people and the buying power of our customers. A plan to lift our brands and businesses.

Yet right now, all the industry has is hope. Hope that things will turn a corner and consumer confidence and the economy and society will revive. Hope like we do every year.

And as we all know hope is not a strategy.

For a copy of ‘What the Fuck is going on?’ email hello@saatchi.co.uk

This project would have been impossible without our resaerch partners Meet the 85% and the legendary Mark Hadfield

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