Many people are struggling with inflation. Should brands address it in ads?


“If you’re not a brand that’s going to be able to radically change consumers’ day-to-day financial situation, it’s probably not best that you try to be,” Mintel’s Kaitlin Ceckowski told us.

g World Productions via GiphyByKatie Hicks December 9, 2022

· 4 min read

2022 will go down as the year of the Liz Truss lettuce, the Jennifer Coolidge “Jenaissance,” and the $8 “$5 meal.”

It’s no secret that seemingly everything has gotten more expensive in the last year, and some brands have taken it upon themselves to address consumers’ economic woes head-on. Earlier this year, Everlane had an “anti-inflation sale.” RV-rental company Outdoorsy made an ad about inflation not existing in nature. A Hardee’s campaign featured a faux newscast about inflation to hawk burgers. And now, with the holidays on the horizon, more brands are incorporating language around tightened budgets into their campaign messaging.

But when it comes to marketing around inflation, how beneficial is it to mention the elephant in the room—particularly when consumers are struggling while corporate profits are at an all-time high? And how can brands resonate with people otherwise?

Keep Be the change

Kaitlin Ceckowski, associate director at Mintel Consulting, told us that brands looking to address inflation are likely better off positioning themselves as a solution. One example she shared is Chase, which markets its apps as a budgeting tool.

“Obviously, it’s not radically changing consumers’ everyday lives, but they are brands that are in a position to help consumers navigate financial concerns,” she said, adding that “if you’re not a brand that’s going to be able to radically change consumers’ day-to-day financial situation, it’s probably not best that you try to be.”

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One brand that seems to be framing itself as a potential solution is Airbnb in its latest campaign. CEO Brian Chesky says in a video about the company’s new tools that are geared toward hosts—the focus of the ad campaign—that “people are looking for ways to earn extra money,” as he was when starting the company in 2008.

Airbnb Global Head of Marketing Hiroki Asai told us that “in times when there’s a lot of financial uncertainty, a lot of people turn to hosting, and so it’s kind of the perfect time for us to ship a lot of these new [hosting]features.”

One risk to jumping into the inflation conversation, Ceckowski noted, is that it opens a brand up to comments and potential criticism from others.

It can also call attention to a brand’s larger role in today’s economic situation: While it may be considered pretty common to rent out a room on Airbnb, studies have shown that short-term rentals can drive up rent prices in New York and around the US.

Value over savings?

Around the holidays, Ceckowski said a good holiday strategy for many brands in today’s economic circumstances is centering emotion: “We don’t focus on buying; we don’t focus on decking out the home with gifts and decor,” she said. “Instead, we focus on our time together.”

Some brands may look to to offer additional discounts—particularly given the record-high Black Friday sales this year. In its 2022 Macro Marketing Report, marketing communications company RRD found that more than half of consumers “feel that brands have the responsibility to accommodate for recent inflation,” with 66% of respondents saying brands should offer discounts or promotions.

However, Imran Hirani, VP of media and advertiser analytics at Nielsen, also told us that offering such price cuts isn’t a smart strategy long-term, noting that promotions are less effective than investing in ad and media placements when it comes to profitability.

Looking ahead, Ceckowski also said it’s smart for brands to consider value and how to communicate through more authentic channels, like customer testimonials or micro-influencers.

“The messaging you actually want to be focusing on isn’t about price or promotion. It’s going to be about quality, durability, longevity,” she said. “You want your messaging to help consumers justify their purchases, rather than trying to convince them that this is the best deal they’re going to find.”

Hirani echoed that, saying brands should make their case “so that their brand is seen as not a higher price, but a better bet.”


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