Step out of your comfort zone if you want to beat the recession

Humour helps us rise above even the most dire of situations, and we need more of it, says Emily Rich

Play it Safe. Remain in your comfort zone.  Keep your head down. Batten down the hatches.

This approach feels a very tempting one right now.  Global pandemic, war in Europe, recession and the cost-of-living crisis is making the world feeling very full on.  So much so that shutting the front door, throwing on your Oodie, firing up your favourite Christmas films and cracking open the Baileys might seem the most sensible option.

And no arguments here. This a perfectly valid plan. But just as we can’t stay in this Twixtmas limbo forever — in the New Year we must pull ourselves together, squeeze back into our clothes and head back on out into the world. We’re not alone, brands and advertisers need to ensure they’re putting themselves back out there too. As the country increasingly feels the pinch of recession it’s far too tempting for marketers to want to play it even safer than usual to minimise perception of risks. But this is a risky strategy itself.  

At the recent launch of BrandZ, Adele Jolliffe, Head of Brand Domain Consultant Team (Insights Division) at Kantar urged “You will have to tell a bigger story: a story of why playing safe is not safe, why you should be bold“.

So, why should brands step outside of the comfort zone?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the advertising community (and beyond) about striking the appropriate tone, particularly for the much anticipated and pored over Christmas ads. However, I’d argue great brand advertising shouldn’t hold a mirror up to circumstance, it needs to transcend it, finding the spaces of connection to elevate the everyday and make people’s lives that little bit better, whatever the situation. In the wise words of Rory Sutherland: “For a business to be truly customer focused, it needs to ignore what people say. Instead, it needs to concentrate on what people feel”.

One way of doing this is through humour. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl explained, “Humour more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds”. This belief isn’t only anecdotal, it’s been proven that social laughter increases pain thresholds, literally altering physiological response.

And Brits love a laugh. ITV in it’s What Unites a Nation study showed we prefer to balance challenging times with moments of collective spirit, fun and laughter. In fact, 74% felt that this is what defines us as a nation. And yet two thirds of adverts don’t use any form of humour despite IPA database analysis showing that those that do reap far more significant business effects.

Jeremy Nicholas, British humourist argues, “A lot of leaders spend all their time thinking ‘Oh no, I can’t be funny. I’ll lose credibility’. You don’t have to be funny, just be playful.” This advice sits equally well for brands, especially when audiences are crying out for a laugh. For a great example of a brand within a particularly staid category, take Flo organic tampons.  Their ‘No more period dramas’ campaign cleverly played on the hugely popular TV period dramas trend such as Downton Abbey, Poldark and Bridgerton. Laugh out loud funny, the advert topped Kantar’s effective ads for the month it aired on TV.

So come on brands, elevate the everyday, cheer people up, make their day a little brighter. And step out of your comfort zone if you want to beat the recession.

Featured image: Oneinchpunch / Canva

Emily Rich

Currently Strategy Lead at Wavemaker, over the past 15 years Emily has encountered and tackled strategic challenges across virtually every category, working with numerous and varied brands, from Mercedes-Benz to Twinings tea. In recent years she’s headed up work for a number of UK Government clients including PHE and Home Office; from creating strategies to improve health behaviour such as Stoptober and Child Vaccination to devising innovative and award-winning approaches for improving diversity with Police Recruitment. With a passionate, and ever-growing, interest in all things human behaviour Emily continuously seeks to challenge and provoke accepted norms to create true behaviour change.

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