Rethinking value: the pursuit of a more meaningful life


Our Head of Research & Insight, Paul Greenwood, discusses our recent report – Rethinking Value During a Cost of Living Crisis, what it means for brands and how they can keep up with evolving spending habits.

The cost-of-living crisis is being labelled by experts as a ‘permacrisis’, as economies around the world continually teeter on the edge of recession and high inflation reduces consumers’ spending power. It’s expected to last for at least a couple more years and so, for the four in five Brits who say the economic situation is affecting them directly. We Are Social decided to unravel how.

The overriding picture is that people are evaluating their priorities; as they rethink value as something more than a price tag, and instead look for meaningful and fun interactions with influencers and brands.

The knowledge flex

One of the most noticeable changes is that social media influencers who used to show off what they have, are now showing off what they know. Audiences who are struggling to make ends meet — and in the case of Gen Z, cannot ever imagine living on their own — and are turning away from naked materialism.

We found that 69% of UK and US adult social media users are reporting influencers have helped them save money by highlighting cheaper options. This ‘de-influencing’ is a new direction — it’s about what not to buy, how to save money on alternative products and how to avoid wasting budget. In this movement, the public can expect to see a resurgence of the ‘how to’ videos and hack culture, particularly as people move towards making their own products and gifts and embrace DIY to save money.

Brands need to bear this in mind, and offer bite-sized chunks of knowledge about what people can do with their products and services. A little less aspiration and a lot more down-to-earth and realistic messaging are guiding philosophies.

New materialism

The permacrisis is changing fundamental attitudes towards materialism, with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 showing 52% of the public think capitalism does more harm than good.

We’re seeing groups of people coming together to take back control from companies that typically ascribe value, and institutions that have used it arrogantly. See the Swifties (Taylor Swift fans) taking Ticketmaster to court in an antitrust action over what they say was a bungled launch of concert tickets.

Brands will need to react to this new trend by ensuring their social activity aligns with customer values. Loyalty will become more important, and brands will have to breathe new life into their loyalty programmes by supplementing traditional offers and points with new experiences that speak to their shared values.

Performative denial

At a time when 45% of Gen Z and millennials see no point in saving until the current crises are over, we’re seeing a role reversal, in which celebrities and the wealthy embrace conscious consumerism while the average person experiments with assuming comedic ‘old money’ roles. In the absence of a traditional plan to knuckle down and save a deposit for a house, people are creating new roles for themselves. There is an accompanying dialogue in the new roles around recession and simpler, less luxurious fashion and accessories.

For brands, there is a need to immerse people in fictional worlds by adding a sense of relaxation and escapism into corporate messaging. There is a sense of calling out the good times of the past here, as a form of relaxation and escapism.

Deliberate living

Reevaluating value has led many consumers to double down on the values they espouse and want to see reflected in the world around them. Pursuing a simple, meaningful life is the priority for many, with latest trends including off-grid living and pursuing a digital nomad life, or simply focusing on activities that bring them outsized joy and happiness.

This is prompting people to be more open about gamifying their couponing, sharing their discounted purchases like prized trophies. There is still space for the high life, but it tends to be a one-off extravagant treat to be savoured, rather than the norm.

For brands there are several take-outs

Promoting joy is a crucial theme, as is tapping into the trend towards enjoying collecting a range of items. Showing customers you understand the occasional treat is important to them is a good way to align with the public’s pursuit of the simple, with the occasional hint of luxury or a treat thrown in for good measure.

Above all, these new trends are not only seeing consumers rethink value beyond a monetary sum, they are prompting the public and brands to consider value in a more meaningful way.

It’s not so much about bling and making friends, but embracing escapism and enjoyment.

Brands are being asked to think beyond the usual narrow definition of value, reflected in the cost of an item, and instead to reflect the fun, joy and whimsical role play that comes when the high life is out of reach and so shunned for a simpler values-driving life. Today, it is as important to help one another as show off what we own, and to embrace saving money more than worshipping lavish displays of wealth.

This piece originally appeared in MediaCat.