How To Speak To A Frightened Consumer: Tell The Truth

Many agencies send holiday cards this time of year. Others, like Upshot in Chicago, issue year-end reports as a way to freely share their market intelligence and interest prospects in their thinking and available services.
One of the trends Upshot identifies is Future Fear.

As Americans begin to temper their eternal optimism about the future,
marketers must be there to offer reassurance.

Really? Marketers are now supposed to rock us to sleep at night? What about one’s family, friends and neighbors–have they left the reassurance game? I don’t think so.

Marketers have to acknowledge that these consumer sentiments are real,
while avoiding explicitly hopeless, cynical, or angry tones in your messaging. After all, we
marketers provide solutions and products that are intended to resolve consumers’ needs–why else would they be buying? Responding to Future Fear is a matter of strategy and recognizing the way these pervasive sentiments are affecting different groups in distinct ways (consistent with our Demographic Divergence trend). Carefully analyzing
these scenarios will uncover opportunities to offer marketing solutions. This could mean providing explicit assurance (like Hyundai), or it could mean messaging to the pervasive belief that rugged individualism, personal control, and self-reliance are the most valuable traits for surviving the modern environment.

On the surface this looks good. Hell, I might offer my clients these same insights someday; yet, I’ve got something stuck in my craw–many marketers are the cause of the problems we’re facing, not the solution.
Reporter and author, Charels Hugh Smith says, “The marketing obsession with instant gratification and self-glorification has led to a culture of what I call permanent adolescence.” With this in mind, it’s important to ask if coddling “the fearful child” is the best plan. Because, it’s not our national fear that needs to be addressed, it’s the deep rooted causes of these fears.
For instance, what marketer wants to stand up and say, “Only buy what you need?” There may be progressive marketers ready and able to say this, but they will always be the exception, not the norm. Bottom line, we’re not going to consumer our way to a better day. I know that’s the lie we all bought and the lie many of us continue to sell, but a lie is a lie. On the other hand, “Only buy what you need” is not a lie.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.