Emily Tan
Aug 26, 2013

Learn about consumer anxiety to build trust, not to exploit: JWT

GLOBAL - Pakistanis worry about crime and terrorism, Japan is understandably nervous about natural disasters, and China and Hong Kong fret about the cost of living, according to JWT's annual Anxiety Index, which suggests potential approaches marketers might adopt—with care.

Playing on anxiety raises the risk of being seen as insensitive, as the WFF was for this post 9/11 ad
Playing on anxiety raises the risk of being seen as insensitive, as the WFF was for this post 9/11 ad

Pakistan has the world's most anxious populace, according to JWT’s Anxiety Index, now in its 10th year. Nearly 90 per cent of Pakistanis report being kept awake by the country’s high crime rate, fears of terrorism and the increasing cost of living. meanwhile, the Japanese are mostly concerned about their nation’s budget deficit and, understandably, natural disasters. South Koreans worry most about gas prices and employment. China and Hong Kong, like the rest of the globe, are frowning over the cost of living and unemployment.

The Anxiety Index is the result of a 27-country study conducted using online research tool Sonar. The report was compiled from a poll of 225 adults from 1-10 October last year.

Why does this report matter? According to Ann Mack director of trendspotting at JWT, when consumers are anxious, they tend to exert more control over areas of their life that are within their control. “Often control applies to brand and product choices, this means brands must understand their consumers’ anxieties and address them proactively.”

Knowledge of a country’s top concerns will also prevent brands from taking approaches that could be viewed as offensive. Take the infamous case of Motrin for example. In North America where concerned parents are ‘wearing their babies’ to be better parents, the painkiller took the wrong tone of voice by presuming to understand their motivations, essentially accusing them of doing it ‘for show’, rather than out of anxiety that their kids may lack care when two parents hold down full-time jobs.

 “Navigating consumer anxieties is not about exploiting fear,” said Mack, “It’s about finding better ways to connect.”

For markets like Hong Kong and China, where anxiety around the economy and cost of living is high, brands can inspire consumers rather than empathise with them, suggested Mack. “Rather than mirror the fearful behaviour of consumers—treating them as downtrodden, penny-pinching and anxious, brands can think of consumers as hope-fuelled and talk to them accordingly. Brands can then ride this wave of optimism, sparking confidence, showing the road to prosperity or promising a better lifestyle.”

This doesn’t bar brands from offering consumers value-based promotions. Consumers opt for brand that care about how they feel in a downturn, said Mack. Hyundai America, for example, won the US public over with its guarantee that it would take back cars if the new owners lost their jobs within a year of making the purchase; the brand displayed sensitivity and offered a degree of security for new car owners.

In markets where social concerns exist, like Pakistan or Indonesia (the countries that are most concerned about corruption, according to the study) or India (where citizens worry over global warming), brands will need to go beyond just taking a stance or voicing an opinion. Only by finding relevant ways of tackling these societal issues will brands truly capture trust and admiration, advised Mack.

For example, in markets where female safety is a concern, blaming the victim under the presumption that it’s the correct way to address anxiety is not the way to go, as the Pennsylvania Liquor Board learned with a ‘date rape’ ad. The board’s concerns were valid, but copy that said, “When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions. Like going home with someone they don’t know very well,” left a bad taste in the mouth.

Instead, sympathetic, action-oriented campaigns like LifeBuoy’s ‘Help a child reach 5’, Bundaberg Rum's 'Road to recovery' and Coca-Cola’s OFW project in the Philippines, which focus on the problem rather than looking around for someone to blame, connect with and inspire consumers.

When embarking on these campaigns however, brands must be sincere. “What brands say and do must be consistent and connected, or they will see the same loss of trust the government is facing now,” cautioned Mack.  

In markets where there are political concerns, such as Indonesia, brands can fill the leadership vacuum, making innovative, decisive actions that make a real difference, she advised. “And in countries [such as China] where consumers worry about safety and food supply, brands can communicate what they are doing to improve or protect that. Brands that can provide a cushion of security and help to minimise external threats stand to gain.”

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