City & Gild: Brands can reflect economic green shoots as well as they do the spring weather

Andrew Mulholland
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It’s official, I’m getting excited – and as someone who models himself on Geoffrey Palmer in Butterflies, this is Big News. What’s the occasion, I hear you cry? Just look around – as the gloom of winter recedes the green shoots of brighter days can be seen everywhere. The sack-cloth and ashes of baggy jumpers and grey waterproofs are being put away as people wearing summer dresses stand shoulder to shoulder at the bus-stop with others dressed for the arctic. No need to hold that umbrella against the never-ending rain, time for sunglasses as the forecast hots up?

As I washed my car for the first time (ever?), I marvelled at how well fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands latch onto the changing seasons, their messaging shifts seamlessly from comfort and comforting to refreshing and uplifting. Out go ads for brightening-up the winter months with cosy nights at home. In come ads for picnics and fun nights on the town – all for the same product.

Of course, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. My boiler still kicks in mysteriously in the middle of the night, and as soon as I finished washing the car it rained. But on the whole, things are definitely looking up. Sound familiar? Of course it does. While many people are still feeling the effects of the recession, the green shoots of recovery are no longer just the dream of a politician’s script writer, the signs of brighter days ahead can be seen everywhere. But just as with the people standing at the bus-stop, there is still the slightly awkward moment when big businesses and their brands send out different signals.

And this got me thinking, if FMCG brands are so good at adapting their messaging according to the season, how come so many businesses are so bad at reflecting the economic cycle? Millions are spent on understanding the relationship between weather and consumers’ psychological well-being. Analysts pore over seasonal variances in sales; products are fine-tuned, and brands weather-index their tracking studies. But I could count on one hand the businesses that consciously tune their corporate brands to the economy.

I’m not for one moment suggesting they change their core proposition – but taking into account the economic climate must surely make sense? The outlook is looking better, the barometer once stuck on stormy is set for fair. Let’s bottle this and use it, folks, otherwise we’re all going to start looking like Mr Palmer, and two of us is more than enough!

Andrew Mulholland is the managing director of strategic branding consultancy The Gild,