Marketing is about to undergo some fundamental changes.
Capitalism is experiencing one of its periodic convulsions which transforms the global economy for generations. It will drag media and brands along on its coat-tails.
Just as the 1929 Wall Street crash heralded a new era of Keynesian economics that lasted until the oil shocks of the seventies, the oil crisis itself gave birth to the laissez-faire, neo-liberal ideology that has dominated since then.
Marketing has thrived in this environment and has become one of the most powerful forces shaping our society.
Now a new epoch is opening up – and it starts this week. Anyone who thinks the present turmoil on Wall Street and the financial markets will eventually peter out allowing us to return to the free-market boom times of the 80s and 2000s is deluding themselves. The neo-liberal era is behind us. President Sarkozy of France – once hailed as a sort of Gallic version of Margaret Thatcher – summed up the situation this week: ³Laisser faire is finished. Self-regulation is finished. The all-powerful market which is always right is finished.²
The $64 trillion question for marketers is what this seismic and historic shift will mean for media spending and the way that people relate to consumption.
Consumer booms of the past have been built on easy access to credit. But in the coming world, this credit will be harder to come by. It will no longer be enough for marketers to stimulate demand and expect people to somehow find the cash to satisfy their desires. All those credit-led furniture chains risk being wiped out.
The free-wheeling approach to consumption may be replaced by a far more discerning attitude to the way we spend. Rampant consumerism is taking a knock. Purchasing on the ³never-never² could give way to actually saving up for goods before we buy them. This will mean brand reputation increases in importance as people become intolerant of disposable goods and planned obsolescence. This would dovetail neatly with environmental trends towards cutting waste.
On Wall Street, the stench of fear has overpowered the smell of money. That terror is feeding through to the general population and is altering consumer culture.
The trend of recent years towards naivety and innocence in design and advertising is likely to advance. It started off in the 70s with Ben & Jerry¹s ice-cream attacking the corporate branding of big business rivals by using child-like images of cows, fields and daisies in its packaging and ads. Over the years, this style has become a signifier of the rejection of corporate values for alternative brands such as Innocent Drinks.
A lot of brands have adopted the optimistic values of sixties idealism to boost their images. Such an approach could come to the fore in the new era where greed-driven capitalism earns an increasingly bad name. Child-like, faux-naive imagery is not confined to pricey indulgent goods like ice cream and smoothies. These days, even budget airlines and super-banks such as Lloyds TSB have adopted naivest approaches to their marketing.
Innocence in advertising is likely to become more pronounced as people rebel against the muscular, self-assured and over-confident branding of the free-market era.
In the short-term, much of the marketing froth that has built up in the artificial boom times of the past three decades is likely to be blown away. Pricey coffee bars and super-premium products will give way to budget brands in the newly-austere times. But when stability returns to the economy, as surely it must, the big issue will be whether we return to the heyday of runaway consumerism that marked the late 20th century and early part of this one. There will still be plenty of marketing around. But not as we know it.