Can Brands Help Brits Negotiate Painful Brexit Process?

Transparency and Positivity are Key, According to JWT Research

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Paul Kirkley
Paul Kirkley Credit: JWT
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As new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May moves into her official residence at 10 Downing Street this week ready to begin the Brexit process, British consumers are facing increasingly uncertain times.

Pulling the country out of the European Union after 43 years will inevitably be a painful and protracted process, and research by JWT London suggests that Brits might be open to cues from brands.

Not surprisingly, confused British consumers are looking for all the help they can get in dealing with Brexit: 71% of the small sample of U.K. adults agreed when asked if they want brands to educate them on what the referendum outcome means for their products and services, and 51% agreed that British brands should go as far as to change the way they advertise.

JWT surveyed 1,000 adults online between June 24 and June 26, the days immediately after the June 23 referendum. Respondents were representative of the U.K. population by age, gender and region. But without any basis for comparison it's hard to tell if or how much attitudes might have changed due to the Brexit decision, or whether a shocked population's immediate response to the vote is really representative of their views going forward.

JWT London Global Partner Paul Kirkley suggests brands could take the opportunity to "promote unity and tolerance in the face of huge national division."

He said, "It will be interesting to see how this year's Christmas adverts tackle this. Last year we had anti-ageism from John Lewis and the benefits of community from Sainsbury's; this year we could see a 'pro-multiculturalism' theme."

According to the survey, 67% of respondents agreed when asked if brands should better communicate the origins of their products. With the British pound's abrupt fall after the Brexit decision, 67% of respondents also seek reassurance that the cost of products and services won't be going up.

Mr. Kirkley said, "Mistrust of government, politicians and huge institutions (namely the EU) led many people to revolt against the current political situation. Brands should take this as an opportunity and a warning to behave more transparently – highlighting where produce comes from, how their prices will change to reflect market changes, and what they will do to give back."

The Brexit vote may make Brits feel more British. Only 52% of referendum voters chose to leave the EU, but 65% of respondents to JWT's survey said they would "feel a stronger sense of national identity" as a result of the outcome.

And consumers want British brands to follow suit – 77% agreed that British companies should use more British resources now that the country has voted to leave the European Union.

Global brands were seen a bit differently, with only 45% of survey respondents expecting them to educate consumers on what Brexit means for their products, and only 31% expecting to see a change in advertising.

Every major politician who campaigned to leave the EU has ducked the responsibility of leading the government that will implement Brexit (incoming Prime Minister May was in favor of staying). However, as Mr. Kirkley points out, "Unlike the politicians, brands can't just walk off set."

He added, "Brands have an opportunity to pick up where the politicians have failed [and] to embrace the positives that come with the decision to leave – perhaps a sense of independence; a renewed sense of control of destiny; even more entrepreneurial responsibility – and present themselves through their behavior as a consistent, stable force."

The survey asked respondents how they thought companies – both British and global – should respond to the EU referendum outcome. Should they educate consumers on what it means for their products and services? Should they communicate in a more open way? Should they change the way they advertise? Should they use more British resources? Should they better communicate where their products are from? And should they change their prices?