The Vibrating 20s.

Looking at the Coronavirus pandemic one year on, swiftly changing marketing approaches are scrambling to meet a swiftly changing workforce somewhere in the middle. Many people have more disposable income than usual (due to the pubs being closed) while others are hunting in the most competitive job market we’ve seen in recent years. Francis, Puzzle’s founder, talks Gatsby, gardens and marketing when we’re literally in a panini.

 

To paraphrase Vinnie Jones (and it’s always best to), the last year has been… emotional, to say the least. But, with the vaccine rollout running faster than Priti Patel to a 77k eyebrow appointment and as we finally crest the wave of misery from the puckering satanic arsehole that is Covid, what is both equally complicated and compelling is where it leaves marketers for the rest of 2021. Or, rather, where it leaves responsible marketing for 2021 and beyond. 

Now more than ever, we need some new material. There is a duty to ensure that brands amplify tentative positivity while reading the room for what is to come. 

As the UK groans under the weight of £407bn of borrowing and consumer spending in 2020 dropped it like it really was very hot indeed, to state the blindingly obvious, it’s hard to predict what 2021 will bring. To coin the late, not great, Donald Trump “The budget was unlimited, but I exceeded it.”

There are perhaps some clues in the reaction to the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Though there are significant differences socioeconomically (not least WW1 ending), some aspects are already matching up better than Ant & Dec’s suits. Where people want to live and the space around them has some perhaps inevitable echoes of the past. As Professor Richard Florida of the University of Toronto commented:  “I think we’ll see accelerated movement to the expanse of the metro areas… Rural areas at the edge of cities will really accelerate on the edge. That’s what happened in the wake of previous pandemics.” Indeed, as in 1918 in the US, so was 2020; Londoners spent a collective £27.6bn on houses outside of the capital, the largest rise since 2007 (and lest we forget that Dottie the Dachshund could get a mortgage in 2007). And it’s not just London. Shockingly, hearing your neighbour through the wall of your 6th floor flat wasn’t quite the tonic people were after. For those that could, the dream of long lane walks and back gardens won big. In the middle of 2020, searches for homes with gardens went up 84% on Rightmove. There was also a clear desire for spare rooms and solid internet. Home working in some regard is here to stay; at least for the short to medium term. 

So, now we’re all working from home in our 3 bed garden houses in the sticks, watching savings grow as we swap commuting costs and Pret lunches for late night Sancerre fueled Amazon binges, everything is looking rather good. As Andy Haldane put it, the UK economy is like a “coiled spring” ready to release large amounts of “pent-up financial energy.”

That’s undoubtedly true on a macro level – but of course it’s not the case across all groups. The Bank of England highlights that savings among the highest incomes have increased, while the opposite is true in lower income groups. But even though it’s now at a dramatic level, that was always the case, right? Savings amongst more affluent groups will always rise. So why does it matter?

 

Chart A: Higher-income households and retirees are more likely to have increased their savings during Covid

Sources: 2020 H2 NMG Household Survey and Bank calculations.

The answer is because of what is potentially coming. We could be on the verge of that coiled spring being released over the next 12-18 months… I for one don’t want it to bounce back and hit us square in the eyeball. Looking again to 1920s US for a clue to the future – consumer spending skyrocketed, consumer debt increased by 50% and the economy increased by almost 50%. In the 1930s, it all came crashing back down. Again, there is important context beyond my expertise to comment. Outside of World Wars, there was modernisation of industries, banking innovation etc etc. But the core, I think, was optimism.  We’re glimpsing the merest suggestion of hope after a year of undiluted shithousery.


Don’t get me wrong, the thought of DiCaprio style parties, good times and general economic success sounds fan-fucking-tastic. But with 11.2 million jobs furloughed from 1.3 million employers –  most of which are far from certain to return – what happens when consumer positivity, a party atmosphere and a lack of economic heft outside of the richest groups collide?

We already live in a culture of excess equaling success; if gold watches and Lamborghinis were the bellwether of success before, what in the juddering fuck will it be now? I, for one, think we need some nuance. In marketing, we should do what we can to rebalance the vision, selling (a somewhat oxymoronic) ‘affordable luxury’. And, yes, I know I sound like an arsehole.

The groups that can afford it (OAP Cruises I’m looking at you); fill your boots. It’s been a shit year, and, if you’re in the market for a Rolls, well, then, you probably already were. But for the majority of the population, we need to (absolutely) celebrate the good times – but temper our communications approach to encourage practical choices. Of course marketing amplifies culture, but that’s the point. We can run with the trends, or we can check and balance them. The creative we use, the targeting and placements we use, the influencers and ambassadors we engage all play a part in shaping society and consumer expectations of living the dream.

In these unprecedented times, we should use what power we have to drive success for our partners, of course, but also for responsible good.

 

 
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Puzzle Contributors

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