How Are Brands Stepping Up to the Cost-of-Living Crisis?

With the cost-of-living crisis showing no signs of slowing down, how can brands protect their businesses? 

Key takeaways:

  • Offering helpful advice on shopping smarter pays off
  • A direct approach demonstrates social awareness
  • Authentic messages land better with audiences
  • In difficult times, actions speak louder than words
  • Creativity can trigger conversation
  • There’s still a place for humour if done tastefully
  • Focus on making consumers feel like you’re on their side

Remember the time when people were buying air fryers purely because they wanted crispier chips, with less oil? They were the good days. Now, people are buying air fryers purely because they want to keep their energy bills down.

In fact, here in the UK, the demand for these energy-efficient appliances has skyrocketed by a considerable 3,000% over the last year. Time that in with what has been referred to as ‘The Year of the Squeeze’, and it’s no coincidence that consumers are looking at every corner of their homes to see how they can slice their already sizeable bills.

Times are tough. People simply don’t have the budget that they may have once had to splash on luxuries, and those in particularly vulnerable positions need all the support they can to make it through the coming months.

With Christmas rapidly approaching and inflation prices continuing to soar, how can brands balance their campaigns to be engaging enough to gauge interest with being sensitive about the current climate? Refusing to acknowledge something so crucial suggests ignorance, while going in hard with what is quite frankly a bleak time for the nation may frighten consumers away completely.

We’re going to delve into some of 2022’s brand campaigns which have taken the cost-of-living crisis and used it to form a meaningful connection with customers. Whether it’s supporting those struggling with free food schemes (just say the secret word) to joining forces with other brands like the highly commended Channel 4 advert that aired last month – there has certainly been some considered content from which we can take note.

Read ahead as we round up four great examples of brands striking that healthy commercial balance – so that consumers can maintain a healthy bank balance.

Channel 4’s Bespoke Ad Break, Friday 7th October

It could be said that the crushing pressures to tighten our belts means brands have a corporate responsibility to support consumers to shop smarter, not harder. Advising people to buy less may seem counter-intuitive – but the long-term benefits of building trust with consumers suggests otherwise. Every industry in today’s ever-evolving landscape has an increasing amount of competition to stand out from, so maintaining a positive brand perception is crucial. A perfect example of this is the Channel 4 ad break.

Channel 4 teamed up with seven other brands including Boots, Co-op, giffgaff, Go.Compare, Lidl, Nationwide Building Society, and Vodafone to address the inflation crisis. Having aired on Friday 7th October during Steph’s Packed Lunch and the Googlebox ad breaks, Channel 4 provided money saving offers as well as services to support viewers during these harder times.

Starting with an introduction from Channel 4 explaining the point of the ad break, each brand then had its own slot to show how it’s helping consumers save more and spend less. It was then rounded off with a call to action to visit a bespoke landing page on the Channel 4 website where visitors can explore all the ways they can seek support and guidance.

 “We are really proud of this campaign which brings together some of our advertisers who have initiatives to help during these tough times. In doing so, we hope to achieve more prominence for the support they are offering audiences.”

Martin McAllister, Channel 4 Creative Leader

Why this works: Communication is everything, and Channel 4 knows it.By taking the matter into its own hands, Channel 4 and the participating brands worked together to demonstrate how they’re working to be a ‘force for good’ during the cost-of-living crisis.

Offering support, advise, and special offers, is a strategic way to build consumer trust, while being purposely frank when addressing the situation demonstrates strong social awareness. This gives a ‘human’ feel, helping viewers feel like they’re being supported by these organisations during the hardest times.

Morrisons and Heinz ‘Ask for Henry’ Initiative

With supermarket prices seeing perhaps the most hard-hitting impact of the rise of inflation, it’s no surprise that one of the major concerns is how people are going to manage to feed themselves over the coming months. From large families on a single income to students and pensioners, talking about money struggles is never a comfortable conversation to have – yet much of the nation is having it.

Tapping into this crucial topic, Morrisons collaborated with world-renowned food brand Heinz to offer 160,000 free meals at Morrisons cafés as a short-term support scheme.

To claim a free jacket potato with baked beans and a salad (which would have been £5) all customers needed to do was say the secret word: Henry. Tying in with Henry Heinz, this secret word meant people could ask for a free meal without any embarrassment. To help spread the message, an ‘Ask for Henry’ poster was circulated online – quickly gaining reshares and positive feedback from social users. And just like that, the hearts of the nation melted like butter on a hot potato.

Why this works: This is a prime example of how actions speak louder than words. Despite initially being intended to last throughout the October half-term, this initiative has now been extended to the end of November. Authenticity is King – and nothing says ‘wholesome’ like a free meal enjoyed in the comfort of your local supermarket’s café.

Sainsbury’s Sainsfreeze Pop-Up

Only in the past year has it become more apparent that consumers need to make the most of their fridge contents before making a trolley dash down the gleaming supermarket aisles. Blending a commitment to people with a care for the planet, grocer giant Sainsbury’s launched its Sainsfreeze campaign with a London pop-up between 27-28th September.

The purpose? To offer visitors free food, while showing them how they can reduce their food waste. The key message of the campaign was to emphasise how much we can make our budgets go further by freezing our foods, and not sniffing at the freezer section of the supermarket.

What appeared to be your average Saino’s store from the outside was a frozen food wonderland inside – offering an abundance of foods that are more typically bought fresh at a more expensive price. From eggs (yes, they can be frozen) meat and fish, right through to herbs, yoghurts, and baked delights – visitors were thrilled to be walking out with a basket full of high-quality groceries, served on the rocks.

Why this works: Creativity captivates audiences. This concept ticked all the ‘click like and reshare’ boxes, all while remaining tastefully sensitive to the cost-of-living crisis. The clever combination of education and light-hearted fun made for a highly successful campaign, giving consumers a new perspective and (frozen) food for thought.

By sharing useful information and giving out free food in the process, this positioned Sainsbury’s as a responsible supermarket leader that not only cares about the impact it has on the environment, but also its customers’ bills.

Tesco Mobile’s Multimedia Cost-of-Living Campaign

As food and energy bills continue to soar, consumers are naturally looking for cheaper mobile deals to help ease the load. With network providers racing to make their mark as the best choice – Tesco Mobile went above and beyond to make their voice heard among the crowd with its latest ad campaign.

Created in collaboration with BBH to “help customers beat mobile price hikes and establish itself as the super helpful network”, this campaign featured a free-roaming trolley that goes on to help the nation save on their mobile phone bills. Over the course of the 40-second film, viewers join the trolley’s journey from the car park to a Tesco store – where it tells customers about all the money saving deals. All of which is soundtracked by Jungle Boogie for a tasteful touch of humor during difficult times.

The multi-media campaign was aired across TV, radio, social media and print, homing in on the network’s commitment to helping consumers save during the cost-of-living crisis by offering unbeatable deals.

“We know families are continuing to face financial challenges. As the super helpful network, we want to provide great value for customers at a time when they need it most.’’

Rachel Swift, CMO, Tesco Mobile

Why it works: Proving to be a positive conversation starter, this ad was all about making consumers feel Tesco is ‘on their side’ – an invaluable sentiment in today’s ecosystem. There’s tough competition out there – mostly because consumers are more conscious than ever about where they’re putting their money.

Working in partnership with creative agency BBH to paint a picture of how its striving to help Tesco shoppers save, this campaign recognises social pressures by giving a feel of solidarity. After all, every little helps.

Marketing during a cost-of-living crisis

Creating campaigns during a recession presents a challenge for brands across all industries. Finding that ‘happy middle’ of being responsive to the current climate with still staying true to your brand requires a comprehensive strategy that needs to be considered with care and perspective.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, to Make Your Budget Go Further: How to Market in a Recession is an all-encompassingguide about how marketers can achieve success in an economic downturn.

Work Smarter, Not Harder explores the value of marketing in a recession – with a focus on responding to changes in consumer behaviour, optimising channels for ROI, and the opportunities to increase share of voice and market. Featuring topical insights and commentary from industry experts, this report is essential reading for all marketers who will be challenged to demonstrate the worth of marketing activity during the uncertain economic times ahead. It’s time to sweat the small stuff.