Yet, in 2013, the same "pinched" public donated an astonishing £100.3m to Comic Relief.
At a time when people are confronted with their own financial difficulties, they’re willing to give more to others than ever before.
It seems that in most of us there lies an innate desire to improve things.
Remember after the London riots in August 2011, when armies of people took up brooms? More people turned out to clean things up than had to smash things up.
Perhaps these acts of generosity can give us pause for thought about how the brands within our charge could play a role in changing things for the better. And how we might use our creativity for good. More often.
If it sounds like I am driven by altruistic motives alone, I am not. I am equally driven by commercial ones. Because brands that do good also do well.
It’s not for its one-quarter moisturising cream alone that Dove has grown to be a brand with worldwide sales in excess of $4bn. Everyone reading this will be familiar with the brand’s "Campaign for real beauty" – a game-changing idea that encourages women to develop a positive relationship with beauty in order to raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential.
Despite the recession, US consumers reported spending $5.7bn on "Small Business Saturday", an idea created by American Express. An idea that has not only built fame and reputation for the brand, but also boosted its profits.
Doing good seems to help brands do well for several reasons.
Those that stand for something tend to stand out – no easy task in today’s fragmented media landscape. It helps the brand break through the clutter.
Having a noble purpose creates a galvanising thought, underneath which everything can be organised. Such singularity of purpose can act as a North Star that guides all of its activities and ensures it is not blown off course by those unexpected events that, inevitably, arise.
The Dulux "Let’s colour" global project has donated in excess of 500,000l of paint to more than 300 projects in over 20 countries. Selling transformation, rather than paint, can inspire everything that brand does.
We know that consumers are looking for meaning in brands, beyond the functional and emotional benefits of the product or service itself. We like it when we are given the chance to show we care and join together to achieve something greater than we could by ourselves.
A brand that seeks to do good, therefore, can create greater emotional engagement with its consumers than one that merely seeks to sell. And, as we know, the greater the engagement, the greater the likelihood of something being shared. If people are willing to do this, the greater the return we’ll achieve on our marketing investment.
Ideas that matter achieve this. Charity Invisible Children’s 30-minute film Kony 2012 has now had more than 98m views on YouTube.
Doing good is as motivating to the people who work on brands as it is to those who buy them. Rallying behind a cause can inspire everyone involved, keep them motivated and committed, and turn them into true brand advocates. Comic Relief, for example, understands well the positive impact working with it has on companies that raise funds for it. In the war for talent, doing good wins.
So, as we all beaver away on our commercial planning processes, I’ll end with the words of Bill Clinton, who, at the 2012 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, said: "I urge you to think about how you can both do well and do good."