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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Craft Topics – War

War and Want

In some trepidation I want to ponder out loud what effect war has on consumer behaviour. These days we like to think that we see consumer behaviour more holistically (though I suspect I if we did that we wouldn’t use terms like consumer and audience now would we? Wars can be good for politics and politicians, but in the main they are bad for business I would argue. There are a few isolated winners but economies – even those working at full tilt to pay for the cost of fighting wars – are damaged by them. Here are some of the casualties – hypotheses – And it’s worth considering if the concerns of war DON’T affect consumer behaviour then why not?

The first casualty is media consumption – which I am expecting to increase only its the wrong bits. People watch more news. Allegedly there are people who have the 24 hour news channels on all the time – the point is that the media have their attention but can’t make money out of it. Advertisers hate wars because they have so little control over where the ad break appears when bad news can turn up any time.

Also related to media is credibility. And it is easy to forget how critical credibility is to our trade. People know that promotional materials have to pay back – our intentions are easily traced – and the public are used to this. But the adoption of the mass media as a weapon of war by governments is dangerous because people start to learn how much information is massaged and manipulated just at the point when they need to feel confident that they are being told the truth. And a war which is unpopular with the electorate but which the politicians go on to fight anyway placing the electorate in the impossible position of supporting “our boys” while opposing war increases the sense that strings are being pulled. When conspiracy theory moves into the mainstream it damages everyone who needs a modicum credibility to function. Which was why at the start of April 2003 the international PR agencies publicly criticised the US and UK administrations over the damage they were doing to the PR industry through the way they were running the media war in Iraq.

Economic uncertainty – well this has unpredictable effects and happens regularly enough in the economic cycle for us to recognise it. The stockmarket goes bearish – so there’s a run towards property as investment. People worry about jobs so the housing market slows as people are unwilling to extend their borrowing. And people may not move jobs until they feel more secure. Such is the normal stock in trade of a slow down. Planned purchasing (durables et al) can slow down for the same reason – though there is a counter movement that if people feel depressed they cheer themselves up by going out and buying things so I wonder if that cancels out. And remember that if the durables market is a replacement market that if replacement is distress based then the spending is going to continue regardless. And industries suffering from over capacity such as the car business don’t stop making cars – they can’t afford to. They just drop the prices. So a lot doesn’t change that dramatically. Do I save more money because I’m too worried, depressed to go out and spend it? Not really I just spend it on different stuff.

I was working for a high street fashion chain with a very large network of stores just after 9/11 and the client reported that city centres were temporarily hit hard as people stayed close to home but they just spent the same money in town stores instead. There was a corresponding upswing in DIY as people used worries about being out in public spaces as an excuse to stay at home and do the house up. So where there was a perception of personal danger this might be a sector where there would be winners.

Holidays? Well I’m carrying our research in this area at the moment and yes it’s slow. I’ll have to report back on what respondents say – if they turn up to the groups. Seriously, I think it just means a lot of late bookings. The trick is bouncing people out of inertia into frantic activity – and it will take more than lacklustre travel advertising.

What about leisure, eating out? – probably much the same because of the 2 mechanisms I mentioned above – I feel depressed ……so I need to cheer myself up. There may be a puritanical streak that may have local effects. I seem to remember spotting in TGI that there was a strong positive correlation between people giving up smoking and opening up building society accounts (surely a golden joint promotion going begging there!) So it would be interesting to look at health products and gym attendance. Church attendance isn’t the only way to express turning over a new leaf.

Then we come onto our predictable winners.

The arms trade: wars are the ultimate demonstration – hard to credit it but there must be people making daily phone calls asking if the military have had time to let off the latest widget hoping for some stats, and if they’re lucky some media coverage.

People always think about panic buying but it rarely happens – if only because we have blind trust in just in time distribution – Christmas is the closest thing we get to panic buying in this country and yes we do run out – but we’ve learned to live with that.

Charitable giving. Does it go up? I don’t think so. Not by itself. Surely there are great pots of money in the state coffers for this sort of thing. Something must be done and Clare that IS why you blew your credibility and stayed on to assist in the reconstruction isn’t it? So we leave it to the politicos.

Which brings us onto Government spending our last set of winners. If you are a COI listed agency then merry Christmas – the government will be falling over itself to make up with the electorate – you can expect all kinds of briefs as the charm offensive continues. And if you’re thinking of buying timeshare in Teheran don’t. Well not till after 2004 anyway.




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