Hard Times Strong Brands


Agency News



At a time when the Cost of Living crisis is predicted to push 1.3m people in the UK below the poverty line and households are facing a £7 billion rise in energy bills, a potent anxiety looms as the nation is heading towards the longest recession since records began. Although the country has long been grappling with low optimism since COVID struck, the new financial pressures plus the lowest net trust in our government have brought optimism down to 9%, the lowest since January 2021. 

VCCP London, today launches their latest Collaborative report ‘Hard Times, Strong Brands’. The third in a series of papers examining UK segmentation and their comparative responses to the economic downturn, the latest report aims to unveil the human stories behind the national headlines. Revealing what drives consumer behaviours and decisions to not only help brands survive the crisis but to thrive well beyond it. While the pressures of the cost of living crisis are the same for everyone, and the big lessons apply to all, how they relate to different people’s lives, circumstances and the choices they have to make, can be vastly different. 

The report reveals five key lessons for brands to employ while distilling insight from primary research and data analysis to create a UK segmentation fit for the crisis which aims to help brands understand their audience, define their own crisis, and feel inspired to find a role for themselves that builds both consumer equity and brand capital.

As creators of cultural output, both the Media and Advertising industries bear a large responsibility to affect change, so in an effort to address these concerns and illuminate some business optimism, senior strategists at VCCP London, Ellie Gauci and Jenny Nichols, delve into where the opportunities might lie for brands and how these challenging times can become some of the most defining. 

Maslow’s hierarchy would suggest that when times are tough, our functional needs become the priority. But the reality is people’s priorities are much more personal. Despite the fact we’re in an undoubtedly challenging landscape, there is a nationalistic sense of being ‘in it together’ emerging from all spending groups.

Using a unique hybrid research approach using qualitative and quantitative data, the report segments the UK population into four groups, primarily defined by their financial ability and attitude to the crisis. Within these segments, the report examines the top changes being made by each group. 

  • Carefree Comfortables have made relatively small changes, holding on to those meaningful moments which serve their mental and physical wellbeing. 
  • Reduced Rewarders whilst making some more momentous changes are still spending on the things they want to buy as they remain concerned about the future but continue to live for the present. 
  • Sensible Downscalers whilst considerably anxious remain comfortable and continue to do what matters to them most. 
  • Just Hanging Ons segment refers to those hardest hit by the crisis who are making big sacrifices, however, they continue to connect with their long term goals such as health and wellbeing, fitness and investment in their children’s futures. 

More than a quarter of Britons in the lowest income households have been forced to make spending cuts on staple foods, household essentials and toiletries with 16% saying they have switched to a cheaper alternative for staple essential food items. 

The report examines which UK brands are helping the most, how they are doing it and why brands must move beyond consumer’s functional needs, instead looking at the real reasons why the nation is budgeting. The report reveals that ultimately budgeting is being done to afford the real moments of joy and where the opportunity lies for brands to use emotion, and crucially, storytelling lies.

Whilst brands must ensure they deliver value for money, this does not make trickery and price-promotions the answer. Rather, this lies in those moments which bring people together, moments which cannot be defined by a price tag and mark the chasm between being alive and truly living. 

The report reveals 5 macro lessons for brands to thrive:

  1. Be an antidote: Brands must not forget the importance of those non-essentials that give consumers emotional space
  2. Be a sure thing: Brands need to deliver certainty and reliability, something consumers are lacking and strive for
  3. Be there: Businesses should connect with the things that matter most to their audience, framing these in the most compelling and appealing way
  4. Be straight up: Brands need to keep value simple, be transparent and honest as consumers strive for clarity not trickery
  5. Be good: Kindness, humanity and generosity are particularly valued right now, and brands should focus on relatable purpose initiatives laced with human qualities 

The insight included in this report is a result of a unique hybrid research approach using qualitative and quantitative data, stakeholder interviews and TGI analysis by the VCCP Collaborative. Contributors include The Smaller Boat, VCCP Hive, VCCP Data, VCCP Stoke Academy and VCCP Media. 

Jenny Nichols, Deputy Head of Planning at VCCP London said: “we wanted to delve beyond the national headlines and find insights from people to bring the issue to life in a way that was meaningful and, most of all, actionable. When brands emerge from this crisis, it’s crucial the sanctity of what makes them not only known, but loved, is protected.”

Ellie Gauci, Group Head of Planning at VCCP London added: “it was heartwarming to hear stories of how hard people are working to continue to provide for the people they love and protect the things that really matter. There is a great opportunity for brands to thrive by connecting with this determination and optimism.”

As 2023 approaches and businesses pause to forecast their upcoming strategy, what remains clear is despite the turmoil, consumers are asking for reliability, honesty and emotional value. As the report neatly recalls; brands must deliver ‘bread for the body’ but also ‘roses for the soul’.

Click here to download the full report


  1. The Times, Cost of Living Crisis to Push 1.3million Britons into Poverty, [online] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cost-of-living-crisis-to-push-1-3m-britons-into-poverty-g58ggz9q3
  2. Trust for London, The Cost of Living Crisis and its impact on Low Income Londoners, 2022, [online] https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/publications/cost-of-living-low-income-londoners/#:~:text=Households%20in%20London%20face%20an,the%20richest%2010%25%20of%20households.
  3. YouGov, Mood of the Nation, September 2022.
  4. YouGov, 13-16th September 2022.