Kick off to calm down - the hidden opportunities of challenging times
Bringing it home one data point at a time.
Julian Smilg
Associate Strategy Director

In precisely two weeks’ time, the giant footballing nations of Qatar and Ecuador will get the 2022 World Cup underway. Not to cast dispersions on the riveting nature of that particular match-up, but you might find your concentration wondering away from the action towards the brands sponsoring this year’s tournament.

The logos you will see lined up alongside proud athletes and prouder despots will contain few surprises. You’ll spy Coca-Cola and Adidas, the perennial big dogs of World Cup marketing. McDonalds and Budweiser take their normal seats at the sponsor table once again. One of the mammoth Chinese conglomerates, in this instance Wanda Group, and the host nation’s airline will feature as usual. Even’s presence has become an ordinary sight.

More intriguing, perhaps, is the latest addition to the list, announced just this Monday. The relaxation app Calm have become the ‘Official Mindfulness and Meditation Product’ of the World Cup. Fans will be hooked up with half price subscriptions to Calm’s range of wellness tools. The 25,000 employees and volunteers at the tournament will get free access, as will all the players. Given the number of times defenders have been subjected to Erling Haaland’s zen celebration recently, many maybe in need of some deep breathing.

The economies screwed, let’s go see Mamma Mia

Escapism is on the rise. At a time when billions around the world are facing all manner of mounting pressure, it’s perhaps no surprise that the number of searches for yoga and meditation apps increased by 65% year on year. When things are bleak out, economically or otherwise, brands that offer an antidote do well. More than 55 million cinema tickets were sold in the first 4 months of 2009, bang in the middle of the Great Recession. That was the industry’s highest sales figures in seven years. In the crash of 1929, attendances went up 40%.

During the barren football-less wasteland that was the beginning of the pandemic, 40% of males under 40 claimed watching live sport would be what they would miss most, remarkably trumping social interaction or even feeling safe outside. And that wasn’t just an amusing reply to a survey – When football returned in October 2020, 14m people tuned in for Sky Sports’ best ever October viewing figures, which stayed at similarly high levels for months.

Bringing it home one data point at a time

I’ve seen this first hand in my career.

I enjoy saying I was on the team the last time Gareth Southgate announced an England squad. In reality I was part of the team building and running the FA’s flagship website The demand to see the squad announcement and engage with content produced in the lead up to Euro 2020 shattered expectations, despite the fact the tournament had been delayed by a year and the website was brand new. I was then lucky enough to work with Aston Martin F1, and the trend was similar: The sport managed to keep the show on the road for most of the pandemic, leading to an explosion in engagement as people sought out normality and narrative in an otherwise dull time. No team on the grid managed to secure higher engagement levels than Aston Martin F1, despite being the newest entrant to the sport.


Sofas struggle but smoothies soar

Of course, sport isn’t the only avenue for escapism. The “lipstick effect”, coined by Leonard Lauder, Chairman of Estée Lauder, observes that lipstick sales tend to be inversely correlated to economic health. While three quarters of companies experience a revenue decline during a recession, 14% actually experience revenue and profitability growth. Some of these will be budget alternatives that consumers will have to increasingly consider. Some are luxury goods that benefit from the relative stability of the ultra-wealthy classes. And some derive their inelasticity from more nefarious sources – alcohol, nicotine and gambling have all shown strong performance during past economic downturns.

Escapism in any form has never been so lucrative. When you know that your customers have less money in their pocket, it may be tempting to turn to price-led messaging, or even to batten down the hatches entirely and dial down the spend. While some industries will have little choice but to do just that, others should consider the possibilities that appealing to an escapist mindset might bring.

A bold creative approach that taps into the desire to depart the day-to-day will go a long way this winter. Done right, brands who offer a positive, invigorated experience – both in communications and in the customer journey – will cut through the negativity of the news and any nervous competitors that lean too far into cutting costs. And the data really, really backs this up: Fortune favours the brave when it comes to advertising in a recession.

I appreciate this is easier said than done, especially if your CEO feels the need to implement cuts across the board. If you need help assessing if that really is the right move for this moment, give us a call.

And anyway, if it all gets a bit much by the end of next week you can flick on Ecuador Vs Qatar, open Calm, and do some Alternate-Nostril Breathing.

“I think people want high-end experiences, want to get out, and they’ve been pent-up for several years now. They want to live life a little bit.” Ari Emanuel, CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship