‘People are worried’ – Saatchi & Saatchi takes the pulse of Britain 

Chief strategy officer Richard Huntington highlights key grievances unearthed by Saatchi & Saatchi's latest research report, and offers guidance for brands in a divided and worried Britain

Marketers in the UK should worry more about economic and social decline and less about AI, according to Richard Huntington, Saatchi & Saatchi’s chief strategy officer.

Huntington was speaking at an event at Saatchi & Saatchi’s London offices on 4 May to unveil the agency’s new research report – conducted in partnership with consultancy Meet The 85% – sounding out the state of Britain.

The research combined in-depth interviews with 13 people from around the country with a YouGov survey of 1,999 people to find out how people are feeling and living right now.

And the answer, said Huntington, could be summed up in three words – ‘People are worried.’

‘They've had 15 years since the financial crisis [and] 13 years of austerity’ added Huntington, ‘What more do they have to endure? They’re just tired of what’s going on.’

Huntington also highlighted four of the eight grievances unearthed by the research.

The first was that people feel ‘out of control’.

‘I see more chaos in the UK,’ said Huntington. ‘When I compare it with other countries in Europe, it just feels more chaotic. And in part, that's because people feel like the people that are supposed to be in charge are in charge, but they're not in control. In fact, they keep telling us they're not in control. They’re telling us that it’s Putin’s fault, that it’s Ukraine’s fault, that it’s the global supply chains’ and Covid’s fault, and we're left feeling we can't do anything.’

The second grievance was the feeling that the country is in decline. ‘There's a real sense that we're going back because our public services are going backwards, our education system is going backwards, childcare is going backwards, our economy is going backwards,’ said Huntington.

The third grievance was that political fractures, like the one between people who voted for the UK to leave the European Union in 2016 and those that voted to remain, are dividing the country.

And the final grievance discussed by Huntington was that pride in Britain is slipping away: ‘We think now that we’re a laughing stock,’ said Huntington, ‘that we’re a bit of a joke of a country.’

As for the role of brands in either navigating or alleviating the apparent crisis, Huntington warned the audience: ‘If you came here looking for how you can make your way through this, I’m sorry but there aren’t easy answers for any of us.’

Huntington did, nonetheless, offer a few guiding principles or ‘duties’ for brands.

First, he said, they should focus on the ways that they can bring small joys to people’s lives or offer them reassurance. Huntington pointed out that seeing a cupboard stocked with their favourite brands can make kids feel like things are okay, and small treats, like a takeaway coffee, can help people feel like they can get through a tough situation. 

Making a difference to communities and acting with decency is also important, said Huntington.

‘Decency is not fairness,’ said Huntington. ‘It's not politeness or correctness. It’s just being treated the way you would expect to treat others and vice versa.’

Although Huntington acknowledged that it’s often tough for marketers ‘because some of those commercial decisions are taken that are indecent that are beyond our control. And we have to make the most of it.’

Huntington wrapped up his talk with an incisive reminder: ‘Remember, these principles are coping strategies. They are not solutions. We need change as much as our customers do. We need a plan to get us out of this ship, because all we have otherwise is hope. And the one thing I learnt when I started off as a junior strategist was that hope is not and never is a strategy.’

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