• Transform magazine
  • November 28, 2022

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‘Do the right thing’: how brands can improve the wellbeing of UK consumers

Phil Rowley Hi Res

Phil Rowley, head of futures at OMG UK, explains how brands can play a fundamental role in boosting UK consumers' wellbeing.

The UK is facing a mental health crisis. People are obsessively doomscrolling a news agenda that’s characterised by toxic political division, climate change and the cost-of-living-crisis. It’s little wonder that we in the UK rank second from the bottom when it comes to global standards of happiness.

But this is a crossroads moment for brands and how they respond. Committed CEOs have the power, and some might argue a responsibility, to demonstrate empathy and kindness.

As I note in a new report on the subject, The Future of Wellbeing, this is a unique chance to demonstrate more than just brand utility; it's a moment to help make people's lives better, improving the value exchange between businesses and consumers.

Businesses should have the courage of their convictions: 78% of British consumers believe brands should take a public stance on big societal issues. It may carry some risk, but people respect well-considered and evidence-based opinions in a polarised world, and are more likely to side with brands that align to their values.

One of the most pressing societal issues at present is mental health. Accordingly, Walkers teamed up with Comic Relief and comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax in an effort to ban the word ‘fine’ - and encourage the nation to become more emotionally open. Walkers became ‘Talkers’.

Detractors might dismiss these efforts as sticking plasters to wider, systemic problems, but they still connect with those struggling with the issues they raise in a genuine way.

If they don’t feel they have the right to speak to society’s bigger issues, brands can certainly champion change in their own sectors. Last Christmas, Tony’s Chocoloney left a window empty in its advent calendar - to the dismay of chocolate fans - but this was an intentional omission, designed to highlight inequalities in the supply chain and the wellbeing of workers and producers. Despite an initial customer backlash, it went on to drive attention for a cause most consumers weren’t even aware of.

Audiences have long memories

Brand loyalty is waning and we can expect this to further drop in the face of economic hardship. 76% of consumers say they’re loyal to certain brands, but they’d buy from a competitor if it was cheaper. If price and convenience are king, it might seem hard for brands to justify setting aside significant budgets for CSR initiatives.

However, consumers still expect brands to align with their values, doing nothing is a risk in itself as trial by social media remains a palpable threat. Last year, Campaigning organisation Stop Funding Hate lobbied advertisers to boycott talk news channel GB News, culminating in several major brands cutting their ad spend.

Now is not the time to profiteer, to dump sewage or to make people feel insecure about how they look. Brands that do risk alienating their customers.

A little empathy goes a long way, particularly as further pressures over the cost of living mount. And we’re seeing growing disquiet against brands that do not acknowledge this in the shape of the Don’t Pay UK grassroots campaign against energy price hikes and the TikTok-led ‘quiet quitting’ trend.

The message is clear: brands have a duty of care to their own people - whether those are external customers or internal staff. Brands would be advised to follow Alphabet’s motto ‘Do the right thing’, but that does mean following through on the promise.