Capitalism creates its own gravediggers, said Karl Marx. There is certainly something funereal about Robert Peston, the BBC’s business correspondent and chief chronicler of economic doom.
With his dark suits, clipped sideburns and elongated vowels, Peston resembles an undertaker easing the casket out of the hearse ready for the sombre walk to the grave. Not so much gravedigger as funeral director, he has an unassuming deference as he delivers news of the latest financial disaster. You can almost hear him tut-tutting at the graveside: “very sad, very sad,” before throwing a handful of dust on to the free market’s coffin.
But there are signs that the UK population are overcoming the initial sense of bereavement they felt for an economic system which has collapsed and is in the early stages of rigor mortis. Severe Pestonitis hits us all at some point. But we are struggling to overcome this pessimistic condition.
According to new research from The Communications Agency, the public are viewing the downturn as an opportunity to re-evaluate their moral attitudes.
TCA’s research, released exclusively to Marketing Week, reveals that over half of the 1,000 respondents believe the downturn could bring positive changes to society as a whole. “It has made me a better person,” says one. Another adds: “Hopefully there will be less waste and we will move away from being a disposable society.” Most agree that “the downturn is encouraging me to evaluate what is really important in life.”
At first glance, this is profoundly worrying for marketers. But where there is a consumer trend, there is undoubtedly a marketing opportunity. Thrift has become chic, saving money and saving the environment have become entwined. TCA’s research suggests people are prioritising the family and are less motivated by selfish concerns as times get tight. They will think twice about impulse buying as instant gratification loses its lustre. Those brands which can decipher the meaning of value in the new economy stand to gain. Honesty and directness will win out in communications and it will be OK to tell the truth and acknowledge the tough times. The trend for brands to recognize their wider social impact will accelerate as we become financially poorer. The question TCA’s research poses is whether we will be morally richer.
A flavour of the fundamental changes that lie ahead appear in this week’s Queen’s Speech. Householders who struggle to pay their mortgages due to unemployment will be offered a two year payment holiday backed by the state. The idea of moral hazard evaporates as the state offers bail-outs galore to banks, businesses and citizens alike.
Meanwhile, the auto industry which has been at the heart of consumerism for the past century is on its knees. No longer do drivers see the need to change their car every three, six or even eight years. Some of the greatest US car brands are close to collapse. Honda’s withdrawal from Formula 1 is a profound blow to the upmarket sport whose glamour and champagne-fuelled excesses typified the 20th century.
“Let the dead bury their dead,” said Christ, indicating perhaps that those without faith were spiritually dead already. Let Peston bury old-style capitalism. To be fair, he’s only doing his job. Meanwhile, many people are cautiously looking forward to the emergence of an ethically superior world.