Ben Kay: Now is the time for businesses to go on a charm offensive
A view from Ben Kay, a joint chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

Ben Kay: Now is the time for businesses to go on a charm offensive

Don't look now, but there's just the hint of an inkling of a suggestion that we may not plunge into a double-dip recession. But before we all start breathing the forbidden air of optimism, let's not forget that, in truth, we've been deep in the heart of a double-dip for several months. Not in GDP, but in consumer confidence.

After a false dawn of optimism in early 2010, the Nationwide Consumer Confidence Index is now bumping around at historic lows. Combine that with the cheery news from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that this is the longest and deepest depression of the past century (take that, Grandma) and you'll see why the nation's advertisers aren't leaping over themselves to open their chequebooks in anticipation of a bumper 2012.

Indeed, the implication of just 3 per cent of the UK population classifying the economic situation as "good" has driven confidence plummeting into the red, according to the IPA Bellwether Report. To put that into perspective, that's around the same proportion of the population of Brighton and Hove who claim to be Jedi.

This prolonged period of economic stagnation has left even the most bullish of directors scratching their heads. Many an eager agency has trotted out the statistic that post-war recessions have been, on average, five times shorter than expansions, but, increasingly, that argument is being relegated to a dusty appendix.

The eternal optimists among us would point to London 2012 and a more upbeat US economy as possible catalysts for growth, but anyone who has walked down a British high street or peered across the Channel recently would be forgiven for not sharing their optimism.

But what of the implications? Well, there's going to be a sobering moment for several of the nation's favourite brands when they realise that the elastic in their pricing pyjamas has been stretched beyond repair and that they have unwittingly trained their customers to only buy on discount.

Ultimately, the businesses that are winning are the ones that have understood the human implications of recession. Perhaps more than any other, this recession has compounded a sense of "us" and "them" and, increasingly, businesses have been seen by the public to float off on the "them" gin palace. The few that are left, the ones that have proved themselves to be one of "us", are the ones that are going to come out of this stronger than ever.

Those businesses have understood that tough times call for familiarity, empathy, honesty and, to some extent, escapism. Those businesses are building valuable bonds of loyalty in a time of adversity. Loyalty that will pay itself off many times over as and when the confidence comes back.

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