Editorial: Dark mood is not a blackout

The verdict is in. We are a bunch of moaners, and we are getting worse. In this week's issue, we feature McCann Erickson's latest research on the mood of the nation. It makes for a thought-provoking, if rather depressing, read.

This time last year, as Gordon Brown was sliding his slippers under the bed at 10 Downing Street, the study uncovered a nation whose people felt disenchanted, confused and angry. You would have thought it could not get much worse, but it has.

Twelve months on, the British public is living under an even darker cloud. Concerns over the economy and the cost of living are major causes of dissatisfaction, in what McCann has dubbed a time to 'batten down the hatches'.

Every section of society has a grumble. Young professionals are struggling to get a foothold on the property ladder, while families are feeling the pinch of escalating grocery costs. Older people complain that things aren't how they used to be and are concerned about issues such as crime and immigration, while the affluent middle-aged are worried about depreciation in the value of their homes.

So what can we expect next year? Will the ante be upped from moody to downright suicidal? Is the UK really that unhappy?

Probably not. Many who talk about the credit crunch are showing few signs of frugality themselves, but marketers face a substantial challenge. Catching consumers while they are in a positive frame of mind is a key facet of successful marketing, and the dour mood of the nation makes this more difficult.

As we become more focused on the cost of living, it is also harder to promote products without some kind of value element, so that the 'go on, spoil yourself' school of advertising may have to be set aside, at least for the time being.

Many brands are reacting to massed belt-tightening with fresh initiatives. The survey highlights how people are looking to 'protect their Ark', by avoiding contracts that tie them to long-term financial commitments.

In a separate analysis, we look at how the pay-as-you-go model is being extended beyond mobile phones into areas such as car rental and gym membership. A new era of commitment-phobia has prompted clever brands to offer consumers less risky options to gain affinity.

Meanwhile, financial brands are softening their images to quell fears that they are no longer willing to do business with consumers. Lloyds TSB's 'For the journey' ads are a case in point.

The moodiness will continue and marketers may become exasperated by stagnant sales and a negative climate, but peer through the gaps in the clouds and there are still opportunities for brands to have a day in the sun.

- Brands woo commitment-phobes, page 16

- Moodier Britain, page 26.

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