The simple life

M&C Saatchi's CSO Sophie Lewis argues after Covid some brands are leaning towards simplicity and honesty

I have just finished reading the journalistic project that was inspiration for the film ‘Nomadland’, so I’m thinking a lot about the simple life, minimalism and having ‘less’.

The lives of the van dwellers in this American subculture have, of course, been driven by necessity. People who have found themselves, through no fault of their own, in an unsustainable financial situation or ‘trapped’ and living hand-to-mouth.

It is not an easy read. Yes, there is a feeling of ‘freedom’ which comes from this kind of existence and often makes it difficult for people to go back to bricks and mortar, but there are also a great many stigmas, difficulties and dangers which arise from this kind of life.

Which brings me back to today

While I was at the ticket office in Brighton station one morning last week, I received two alerts which both told me the same thing — that inflation had reached a 40-year high, at 9%.

My point in raising this is that I would not want the ‘simple life’ to be (mis)construed or misused in advertising, as a cover up for people not having a place to live, food to eat and money to heat their homes, pay their bills etc.

But the simple pleasures certainly saw a resurgence during Covid. And I am a fan of appreciating these simple pleasures as a way to try and wrangle people away from more and towards less. And to appreciate the little things.

Listening to the birds, having a cup of tea and a biscuit, saying “Good Morning” to the neighbours. Growing tomatoes. Growing anything. Sitting in the sun. One of the things I loved about the (Covid-driven) move towards simplicity and small things is the fact that it stopped the well-trodden advertising trope of over-statement and hyperbole.

And of course, what comes with this is the opportunity for brands that are these smallest of pleasures. Butter on your toast, a nice cup of tea, maybe a biscuit or two. Beans on toast. Ahh the FMCG possibilities.

I once made an impact in a new business meeting by telling the marketing team of a well-known on-the-go (global) coffee brand that it was ‘just a cup of coffee’. They took it well, to be fair, and it was one of the things they remembered about the meeting.

Fast fashion is going to need to pull its finger out — Dr. Martens is anticipating resale via Depop becoming as much as 15% of its total business. Levi’s™ have already focused in on the longevity of its jeans (Then, Now, Forever) and now has its own vintage stores.

Simplicity as a strategy

I really like the simplicity and ease of strategies which are ‘forever’ and the reframing of the business model that these might precipitate.

Lego to rent, clothes to rent. Leased furniture. Boots that last forever. All you need is a pair of jeans. A jacket which can be mended.

Even as an avid (if mature) follower of fashion, I like the idea that my days of buying lots of ‘new’ poor quality clothes are numbered. I’ve always loved second-hand and something about wearing what I’ve got, wearing the same thing all the time, appeals to me in terms of lack of decision-making.

Basics, Essentials. All making a virtue out of simplicity, stripping things back to only what is needed. Cleaning out all the junk, all the superfluous stuff. Doing a Marie Kondo.

A lot of what happened in the last two years and is happening right now makes us think (really think), about what it is that we need to be happy.

And as for brands; know your place. Don’t overstate it. Celebrate smallness. Be honest. That product won’t change your life, but it might give you a fleeting moment of happiness.

And we all need those, don’t we?

Featured image: Nomadland / Searchlight Pictures

Sophie Lewis

Sophie joined M&C Saatchi London as Chief Strategy Officer from dentsumcgarrybowen in January 2022. She is the award-winning strategist behind campaigns including Boots’ ‘Here come the girls’ and Sainsbury’s ‘Live well for less’. Sophie is a member of the APG Committee, a former IPA and Campaign Woman of Tomorrow, and the founder of the Women’s Safety Project, a group working on practical ways to keep women safe.

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