Cost of Living Crisis: How ‘Audience Whiplash’ Is Driving the Misdirection of Marketing Spend


If you think you know demographics, it’s time to think again. Introducing the Cost of Living Crisis: How 'Audience Whiplash' Is Driving the Misdirection of Marketing Spend’ - a deep dive report written by THE FIFTH’s Innovation Director Jordan Carroll.

The report features new consumer research, data insights, plus real-life case studies focused on the values, attitudes and common misconceptions of three key emergent demographics - Gen Z, Middle Income No Dependents (MINDs) and Anxious Hedonists, and examines how savvy brands are leveraging audience research, insight and social listening to keep abreast of volatile consumer trends. Read on for much more.

1. What is Audience Whiplash?

The violent divergence of attitudes within age and socio-economic-based audience demographics that were previously considered to be largely homogeneous.

2. Why Does it Matter?

Marketers who assume that consumers remain in neatly defined groups are ignorant of how complexly nuanced the state of each of these groups has become. Non-adaptive brands are failing to recognise the wild fragmentation of the national psyche and increasingly nuanced attitudes, leading to misaligned campaigns, brand damage and wasted spend.

3. How Has the Cost of Living Crisis Led to Audience Whiplash?

As the Cost of Living Crisis enters its third of seven predicted years, the biggest challenge that brands are facing is consumer alienation. A staggering 26.3 million Britons say that ads are currently failing to understand and represent their financial concerns, which amounts to 1 in every 2 adult consumers1.

Based on quantitative and social media analysis, THE FIFTH has attributed this imbalance between brand messaging and consumers’ financial wellbeing and attitudes to the phenomenon of ‘Audience Whiplash’.

The divergence of attitudes within demographics is a trend driven by the varying levels of resistance people have to the stresses of hyperinflation and falling disposable income. This resistance is determined by psychosocial factors that go far beyond mere generational or income-based targeting, such as feelings about non-essential spending, financial concerns, and subjective views on the role brands should play, to name just a few.

1 THE FIFTH: “Do you feel your financial concerns are understood and represented in the adverts you see?”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

4. Research & Methodology

To aid brands and marketers in overcoming the challenge of 'Audience Whiplash,' THE FIFTH has conducted quantitative research in light of the Cost of Living Crisis. THE FIFTH surveyed 1,221 British consumers about their demographics, attitudes, behaviours and brand relationships, to understand which legacy audiences are fragmenting, and how.

5. The Brand Categories & Demographics: Where is Audience Whiplash Having the Most Dramatic Effect?

Whilst the media narrative on the Cost of Living Crisis has largely focused on the hyperinflation of essential items, it can be argued that brands offering non-essential products are under the most pressure to adapt, tasked with justifying their existence within consumers' shrinking budgets. This is particularly relevant in non-essential markets with the highest inflation, of which, streaming video on demand (SVOD), beauty, and travel are among the sharpest to rise.

THE FIFTH identified at-risk consumers for these verticals by grouping respondents into personas based on their income, as well as their financial and emotional reaction to the Cost of Living Crisis. Nine of the statistically significant segments were focused on, with further psychosocial segmentations made via their living arrangement, age, employment status, as well as their emotional and behavioural responses.

The resulting data has been translated into actionable insights that will assist brands in capturing the attention and loyalty of the three highest-risk personas: Low-Income Gen Z, Middle-Income No Dependents (MINDs), and Anxious Hedonists.

  1. The squeeze on subscriptions
  2. Within streaming, competition for subscribers has culminated in the hyperinflation of content production and acquisition, with major SVOD platforms reported to have spent approximately $91bn to win and retain customers in 20222. The cost of all this competition has led to the fragmentation of content across more and more platforms, most of which are hiking up prices to forge a climb into first-time profitability. Britons resultantly are being pressed into heightening their subscription stack or making cutbacks.

    As a result of what commentators are calling ‘streamflation’, consumers have grown an aversion to subscriptions overall, with 27% saying that they are avoiding or limiting them. This is the second most common area of non-essential spend being cut, behind “I am cutting down the times I go out in a month.”3, 4 Resultantly, the number of streaming subscriptions fell by two million during 2022 in the UK5, but there are clear paths to retention and growth for platforms that understand ‘Audience Whiplash’ and what different groups of consumers value.

  3. Travel remains resilient - but fragmented
  4. When looking at the holiday market - according to The Guardian - hotels and air travel are the non-essential spend with the highest level of inflation at 18.2% and 18.4% respectively6. But despite this, 26% of adults say that travel has become more important to them since the pandemic, rising to 38% among those aged 18-24, and 42% among those aged 25-346. The post-COVID ‘revenge travel’ mindset has become crystallised in subsequent years, making holidays a priority in the budgets of many7. Despite this conformity, specific travel intentions are widely dispersed among personas.

    Whilst many consumers are focused on price, with 45% of regular holiday goers opting for cheaper ways to travel8, conversely, research from Expedia suggests that 74% of people would choose travel experiences that support local communities even if it costs more9. Additionally, 3 in 5 (58%) Britons are interested in experiencing ‘out of comfort zone’ travel and a complete culture shock10, whilst contradicting this, 57% of Britons want holiday experiences where they can completely switch-off10. This tapestry of contrasting behaviours can only be satisfied by travel brands that are agile in their comms, showing up in the right way, with the right message, for the right people.

  5. Beauty budgets slashed - but the 'treat economy' remains strong
  6. Finally, when looking at consumers who regularly buy beauty products, more than two thirds (69%) have changed their spending habits due to the Cost of Living Crisis, whether looking for discounts or cheaper alternatives (37%), cutting down to prioritise favourite / essential items (26%), or stopping purchasing beauty products completely (6%)11. Once again, it is the ways in which this behaviour manifests itself which is so wildly disparate, depending on the persona, and what role beauty purchases currently play in their lives.

    In fact, the same contradictory purchase considerations that crop up in the travel industry also appear in beauty. 3 in 20 consumers are avoiding small treats to save up for lavish purchases, whilst 1 in 5 are treating themselves to smaller items more regularly. 1 in 4 are choosing to stick to routine essentials and avoid new products, while 7 in 50 are opting for new beauty treats over more expensive items such as clothing12. These aren’t just two mutually exclusive camps, with one focused on conservatism, and one infatuated by ‘the treat economy’. In fact, consumers show up in many different camps at the same time, which puts great pressure on brands to try and understand their conflicting base.

    Whilst even these surface level insights paint the picture of three complex markets with a raft of marketing challenges, insights from the general population fail to display the extent of ‘Audience Whiplash’ in light of the Cost of Living Crisis. Persona level insights are vital to understand why our three focus consumers specifically are most at risk to brands in these markets, as well as how the hearts and minds of these consumers are won.

2 Indiewire:

3 Wall Street Journal:

4 THE FIFTH: “Select all of the below scenarios that apply to you:”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

5 Kantar:

6 Yougov:

7 Black Tomato:

8 THE FIFTH: “Which ONE of the following best describes your current view of spending on Travel for Leisure/Holidays?”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221


10 Booking:

11 THE FIFTH: “Which of the following best describes your current view of spending on Beauty Products?”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

12 THE FIFTH: “How are you changing your purchase behaviour relating to Personal Care, Grooming and/or Beauty Products? (Select ALL That Apply)”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

6. Personal #1: Modest, Mood-Bossting and Memorable - Gen Z Spend a Little for a Lift

The prejudiced caricature of Gen Z that exists in the marketing world has been well and truly smudged by the Cost of Living Crisis. Chat-GPT reiterates the biased view marketers have of Gen Z - pragmatic, individualistic, studious - but how can all of these traits be true of a generation which is so diverse? THE FIFTH's research finds that 1 in 3 Gen Zers are middle to high income and are just as likely to be in full-time employment than education, with a third taking up the role of being the primary bill payer, and 13% having at least one child13.

Clearly, relying solely on an eight year age range for accurate segmentation is an exercise in ignorance, especially during the Cost of Living Crisis, as the varying levels of responsibility Gen Z have, for themselves and for others, manifests itself in wild swings of attitudes and behaviours.

It is necessary to make further demographic and psychographic segmentations in order to sweep like-minded Gen Zers together, which is done by focusing on the 4.17m Low Income Gen Z consumers who are experiencing heightened stress, and spending less as a result of the crisis.

Low Income Gen Z is a high risk persona for SVOD, travel and beauty brands that misunderstand them, and misunderstanding is a primary concern of theirs, with more than half feeling advertising does not represent their financial concerns.

Habit forming theory, for instance, is vital for a brand to demonstrate value during the Cost of Living Crisis, and value demonstration is paramount to driving repeat purchases. However, according to experts, Gen Z is antipathetic when it comes to habit formation, creating an aversion towards brand loyalty altogether.

On SVOD platforms, Theresa McEndree, CMO at subscription software Recurly, states: “We don’t see that [Gen Z] stop watching streaming services - they simply appear to move around more frequently than other generations.”14 Meanwhile, Homayoun Hatami, Chief Client Officer, McKinsey, says it more bluntly: “Gen Z can’t be tied down.”15

The truth about Low Income Gen Z is more nuanced than the perception of them having pure disloyalty, as it varies drastically depending on the product vertical itself, as well as the way in which brands position their products.

On the one hand, THE FIFTH’s research does concur with the flimsy loyalty of Low Income Gen Z when it comes to SVOD platforms, as they are the persona with the highest churn inclination rate for all of the three major SVOD platforms, and are also 43-50% more likely to review their subscription monthly based on the content provided, rather then cancel outright and not seek an alternative16. This pause and play attitude makes Gen Z an unpredictable and risky customer, with 42% cancelling one to three subscriptions in 2022, in stark contrast to just 18% of Boomers17.

But simultaneously, when looking at the beauty sector, this persona is 23% more likely than the average Brit to cut down on purchases overall to prioritise their favourite or essential items, and are 35% more likely to try fewer new beauty products and stick to their routine essentials18. Despite the fact there are natural levels of conservatism on display in order to realign their budgets in the face of hyperinflation, brand and product loyalty is in fact something Low Income Gen Z index highly for when it comes to beauty buys, especially on those products deemed to be must-haves.

Habit forming theory is present in the travel decision making journey. More than half of Low Income Gen Z cite trust and reliability as their primary reason for picking a travel provider at the moment, whilst they are 41% less likely to consider price, value and discount as a primary reason than the average consumer19.

Cost-savings are exercised instead by opting for shorter breaks and cheaper destinations, whilst loyalty towards their favoured travel brands remain.

Ultimately, loyalty is not absent with Low Income Gen Z and ‘Audience Whiplash’ dictates that there is no one single mode for how they feel. Instead, loyalty becomes absent when brands compete solely on fronts which Low Income Gen Z are apathetic to.

Case in point, when SVOD platforms compete solely on the content front within their comms, turning the decision making journey into a completely rational one, they make it easy for the consumer to switch allegiances and respond to the comparison that brands are actively trying to signal towards. With platforms offering cancel anytime subscriptions and living and dying by the quality of their content, Low Income Gen Z are willingly surfing between brands at their whim, making platforms bid for their attention month on month.

The tactics that are at a brand’s disposal to form habits and make Low Income Gen Z more loyal are far removed from the prejudicial course of action that marketers take when believing this consumer is purely disloyal, pragmatic and price-orientated. In fact, the angle to work with Gen Z is more emotional than the rational decision making that faltering brands are currently signalling to. This is no more obvious than when they are asked how they feel about non-essential purchases; we find that Gen Z placate feelings of guilt through positioning spending as uplifting, which they are 18% more likely to feel than the average consumer20.

The manifestation of these feelings around the uplifting nature of non-essential spend are found in the billions of views on an abundance of TikTok hashtags in each of our three focus markets. In regards to SVOD, we have seen the proliferation of #datenightchallenge, or #movienight, which focus on a couple, family, or group of friends, planning with a moderate budget to create a memorable experience at home on a specific day of the week, with major SVOD platforms seen as the core value provider in these heart-warming moments.

This red thread for ritualistic escapism is also found in the solace of beauty routines, with TikTok hashtags such as #skincareroutine and #unreadywithme racking up tens of billions of views, thanks to the convergence of the beauty and wellness industries positioning your regime and go-to products as something which is mandatory for being of good mind and body.

We also see these more emotional pockets of content turn up in the travel space with the slow tourism trend, where adventure is positioned as an opportunity to emotionally connect with local people, cultures, food and music, making it more spiritual than commercial. Behaviours like this follow the general trend of “romanticising your life” on platforms such as TikTok, driven by a post-pandemic narrative of appreciation in the little things for the betterment of your mental health.

13 THE FIFTH: “What is your personal annual income?”, “What is your employment status?”, “Which of the following best describes your household living arrangement?”, May 2023. UK Gen Z, N = 285

14 Recurly:

15 McKinsey:

16 THE FIFTH: “Select all of the below scenarios that apply to you:” UK Low Income Gen Z, N = 122

17 Recurly:

18 THE FIFTH: “Which of the following best describes your current view of spending on Beauty Products?”: UK Low Income Gen Z, N = 122

19 THE FIFTH: “What are your main reasons for picking a travel provider at the moment? (Select Max. 3)”: UK Low Income Gen Z, N = 122

20 THE FIFTH: “How do you feel right now when spending money on non-essential items? (Select ALL That Apply)”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

THE FIFTH: “Thinking about Netflix, Prime Video, Paramount+, Disney+, and ITVX Premium, which best applies to you?” (Select ALL That Apply)”, May 2023. UK Gen Pop, N = 1,221

7. Why the "Searchification" of Social is Significant for Gen-Z-Facing Brands

The demand for this type of content is a shot in the arm for brands in all of our selected markets, due to the fact that Gen Z is actively searching for inspiration specifically on TikTok. This is a generational shift in how consumers discover and engage with brands, products, and ideas. An SVP at Google in July 2022 stated that “almost 40% of young people use TikTok or Instagram for search”, thanks to the platform’s intelligent AI categorisation and high quality results21.

The rise of social search has importantly converged with what Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow calls the ‘enshittification’ of traditional search22. Try and seek out “date night ideas,” “beauty must-haves,” or “slow travel inspiration” via a search engine and you will be greeted with a first page of frustratingly gamed SEO listicles, burying results far down web pages, squeezing every last penny out of information-starved eyeballs.

Meanwhile, TikTok ranks the most relevant videos at the top of your search, presenting information in an engaging audio-visual format, making information immediately available, highly memorable and easily saveable.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recognised this shift, and has acted on it, releasing their own TikTok and Reels style product in YouTube Shorts23. But TikTok has stolen a march, beginning with the “Search It On TikTok” ad campaign launched in winter 2022 to help form habits around the behaviour24, which has been followed by the release of TikTok search ads25, and the partnership they have forged with Google to share search results within each respective engine26.

The long-term wins for search-savvy brands are driven by TikTok’s intelligent algorithms that power both Search and the ‘For You’ Page (FYP). Video metadata is extracted from creative attributes within TikTok posts - such as voice overs, on-screen text, captions, and objects - to categorise content and then display it in relevant, popular search terms27. As Gen Z pore over search results, watching an in-stream feed of the most relevant videos that align with their search, the end user signals an interest in the subject matter to the ultra-personalised FYP algorithm.

TikTok then serves this content repeatedly via the FYP, creating an endless stream of tailored content around your newfound curiosity, over a longer period of time. Resultantly, TikTok now has the top and middle funnel sewn-up for brands, but most are still not optimising their owned and influencer content for search, making it an underutilised tactic which fast-movers can leverage to gain wins over competitors.

With Low Income Gen Z seeking a more emotional depiction of products than the rational one that dominates brand strategy during the Cost of Living Crisis, brands can identify how consumers are seeking this out by turning to social search and continually showing up in a light which resonates with how the audience is feeling, inspiring spend that facilitates modest, mood-boosting and memorable moments.

8. Persona #2: Conservative, Comparative and Cogent - Middle Income Brits are Change-Seekers

Change-seeking consumers demand the focus of advertising budgets in the short-term, as they paradoxically present the greatest opportunity for acquisition, as well as the greatest threat to retention.

Furthermore, the more a consumer group is changing, the more likely a brand is to be subject to ‘Audience Whiplash’.

Data from The National Centre for Social Research and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation point towards low income households being disproportionately affected by the crisis, but are there other consumers undergoing a much starker relative change in consumer behaviour?28, 29

THE FIFTH’s research found 42% of MINDs (Middle Income, No Dependents) to be most worried about keeping up with rental/mortgage payments. MINDs are 27% more likely to be primarily concerned with housing costs than the average consumer30.

Like Low Income Gen Z, MINDs also have heightened stress and are spending less as a result, which is an important segmentation to add when trying to hone in on the like-minded consumers within Middle Britain.

And the impact of mortgage and rent anxiety on the confidence of MINDs is clear, as they indexed the highest when asked to select from 19 different change-seeking consumer behaviours that apply to them31. The concern to brands rests in the fact that they also have a heightened tendency towards budget conservatism.

They are more likely to exhibit all 9 budget conservative behaviours than the average consumer, and staggeringly, are 42% more likely to be conservative than those with low income and no full-time employment31. Ultimately, the heightened tendency MINDs once had for non-essential purchases has now been flattened by inflation, driving the starkest relative change in behaviour.

Consequently, purchase decisions for MINDs are driven from a more cogent standpoint: "Which brand and product will offer me the most value?". This mindset has led to the emergence of numerous trends on social media, influenced by inflation.

For instance, the "de-influencing" trend on TikTok, which has garnered 889m views, sees content creators advising against purchasing overhyped products, often pointing them towards brands that offer better value32. Additionally, "dupe culture" has gained traction, with 737,000 posts on Instagram using associated hashtags, where consumers identify products similar to those from top-tier brands, but at a fraction of the cost33.

These shopping behaviours have flourished because they signal to the brand and product comparison happening in the thought processes of MINDs with every purchase decision. Every transaction is done with deeper levels of research and consideration: in fact, 46% are looking for cheaper alternatives to the brands they currently use, whilst they are also the most likely of all personas to be doing more research on Google before purchasing35.

The extent to how successfully brands respond to ‘Audience Whiplash’ and the change-seeking nature of MINDs is dependent on how adventurously they act on what they are listening to from consumers on social media.

On average, 2.3m insights can be derived every day via social listening to understand what consumers are saying about SVOD platforms, with more than half a trillion views captured on content tagged with #beauty on TikTok, and 509,000 new posts being published from top creators in the travel category everyday34.

This content gives clear indication as to what the strengths and weaknesses of all brands are in our focus markets, and this is the fertile ground that brands can work from to grow awareness about their points of difference.

28 The National Centre for Social Research:[...]

29 Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

30 THE FIFTH: “What are your three biggest worries when it comes to your finances right now? (Select MAX. 3)”: UK MINDs, N = 144

31 THE FIFTH: “Select all of the below scenarios that apply to you:” UK MINDs, N = 144

32 Jordan Carroll of THE FIFTH for The Drum:

33 Bella Hales of THE FIFTH:

34 Meltwater

35 THE FIFTH: “Select all of the below scenarios that apply to you:” UK MINDs, N = 144


The Verge:

9. Why Adventurous Brands Use Listening to Win Over Minds

When we think about adventurous brands who act on social listening, the case studies that are top of mind often point towards brazen acts of competitor jibing.

This is certainly true in the entertainment world. After Netflix u-turned on their password-sharing allowances in order to hike up their subscriber numbers, Amazon Prime Video reacted on X (nee Twitter) with a pointed rebuttal that helped them score a clear win over their biggest competitor with the world watching, stating that they will always allow password sharing36. They were able to flex a key point of difference that the world was complaining about, and the 703,175 engagements they achieved made this content their highest performing post across all channels in the last 2 years, with 15,845% higher engagements than their average posts in the same period, and the highest performing post on X out of all SVOD and VOD platforms37.

Whilst definitely memorable and achieving mass resonance, opportunities like this are not an everyday occurrence, nor are they always tonally correct for all brands. Most of the time, the opportunity to position your brand’s strength against a competitor’s weakness manifests itself in much more subtle ways. In the streaming space, for instance, challengers emerge in the form of niche SVOD platforms which specialise in a specific genre, satisfying the demand for depth, variety, quality and newness of content which is absent from competitor streaming platforms.

10. How Horror Platform Shudder Uses Insight and Intent to Engage Minds

Shudder is a horror-only streaming platform that successfully acts on this insight and signals to the change-seeking and comparative nature of MINDs. The product is focused purely on being the largest and fastest growing collection of horror content, which is the strongest point of difference possible for horror fans disenfranchised with the lacking offer from major streamers. But it is through the use of social listening that Shudder makes its proposition meaningful, by collecting feedback on its exclusive content from its members, and integrating these comments as short and snappy reviews within the poster promotion of its films and series38. This amplification of consumer voices helps generate social-proof and drive fear of missing out, whilst also creating a positive feedback loop of listening and delivering, which is why Shudder’s social sentiment is 78% positive in comparison (a lift of 21% vs Major SVOD platforms in relation to horror)39.

By giving a megaphone to superfans who evangelise for their offering, they position its unique strength in the clearest way possible, whilst also creating an orbit of superfans around the brand who are able, and actively encouraged, to contribute to the discussion. The way in which Shudder refers to its subscribers as “members” is noteworthy, as coupled with their engagement-first social presence, they are distinctly positioned as a community-centric brand. That very same orbit of superfans have sat up and noticed, as more than 12,000 of them have joined an unofficial Shudder Discord server, set up for always-on horror movie discussions and viewing parties around their new content40. This server is second only in size to the official server of Netflix when comparing all SVOD platforms. It definitely pays to listen: Shudder contributed a 13% increase in the H1 2023 revenues of parent company AMC Networks41.

11. How Travel App Gadder Uses Listening to Serve Authentic Content

Similar strategic principles can be seen in the travel space from social app-meets-tourism board brand Gadder, which specialises in being the go-to space to discover restaurants, bars and cafes in London. Their TikTok strategy is driven entirely by street interviews, in which they ask locals questions about the best restaurants in the city as referral traffic for their app. The hyperlocal platform has drummed up 2.6m likes on its content in under 12 months, taking social listening a step further like Shudder by putting local voices at the heart of their content, serving up authentic appraisals to interested customers and answering the demand for hidden gems42. Through baking in social proof on a platform that MINDs are 95% more likely to use than the average consumer43, Gadder is able to reach its target audience at a high frequency and convince them they will get the value they are seeking.

42 TikTok:

43 Audiense

12. Q+A: Using Customer Quizzes to Personalise Beauty Products and Drive Differentiation

Unconventional approaches to social listening are also championed by skincare brand Q+A. As their name suggests, the brand is positioned as an educative presence with the aim of demystifying skincare: a presence which is drastically needed, as 79% of British consumers feel overwhelmed by the skincare market due to misinformation and over-complicated guidance44. Listening to consumers by providing interactive skincare quizzes, the brand is able to personalise its service and products based on their needs, making customers feel heard, and doubling down on their ‘question and answer’ point of difference45. With MINDs 20% more likely to be doing more research on beauty products to get the best value46, it’s clear that Q+A’s tactic of making consumer education more distinct makes them a viable brand to switch to for these change-seeking consumers.

Clearly, listening is not merely about waiting for opportunities to jibe competitors, or listen to keywords around your products to then sell to customers. Listening is still an always-on strategy, but with the aim of striking meaningful connections with consumers, harvesting a community-centric feel which manifests itself in many ways across the digital ecosystem. Through adopting this approach, brands can position their strengths and competitor weaknesses in ways that are directly aligned with what MINDs need, helping them seek and achieve the meaningful changes they are looking for as a result of ‘Audience Whiplash’.

44 LSN Global:,many%20experts%20and%20over%2Dcomplication

45 Q+A:

46 THE FIFTH: “How are you changing your purchase behaviour relating to Personal Care, Grooming and/or Beauty Products? (Select ALL That Apply):” UK MINDs, N = 144

13. Persona #3: Shopping Through the Pain: Dopamine-Seeking Anxious Hedonists

When observing the linearity between income levels, stress levels and spending levels, with no consumer is this linearity more disrupted than with Anxious Hedonists. A significant 6.2m consumers are described as such, who are middle to high income, feeling heightened stress because of the Cost of Living Crisis, but conversely, are maintaining or increasing their spend on non-essential items.

Whilst heightened stress breeds a level of conservatism with most other personas, Anxious Hedonists are able to spend through the pain, being 27% less likely to feel guilt than the average persona, and a staggering 74% more likely to feel it is an act of self-care. Retail therapy is not just a funny idiom for this persona: it’s a reality47.

Whilst this consumer is 13% less likely than the average consumer to spend regularly on film and TV subscriptions, making them a key growth persona for SVOD platforms, the areas in which they spend their money may make it a psychological barrier for streamers, based on how they tend to be marketed. Anxious Hedonists are 22% more likely to spend on takeaways, 30% more likely to spend on skincare, 38% more likely to spend on pubs, bars or nightclubs, and 60% more likely to spend on holidays. They are in fact 16-39% more likely to regularly spend on a list of 20 non-essential items on average when compared to eight other personas48.

Ultimately, Anxious Hedonists tap into their dopaminergic deposits via the treat economy and indulge in unplanned purchases to lift them through moments of anxiety: they are, in fact, 48% less likely to plan carefully for purchases making sure they can afford it first49.

The University of Michigan found that purchasing things you personally enjoy can be up to 40 times more effective at giving you a sense of control than not shopping, and it is this which paints the clearest picture of Anxious Hedonists, a persona that is the least likely of all to feel they are not in control of their financial situation, despite the fact they have the least amount of controls in place in their budget50.

Entertainment subscriptions are antonymic to the types of non-essential purchase that give this persona levity, as a planned purchase that always remains the same is absent of the purchase anticipation that triggers reward centres and begins the release of dopamine.

However, this does not mean beauty and travel brands have it easy with Anxious Hedonists. Their appetite for pre-purchase anticipation is elongating customer journeys and fraying brand loyalty, proven in the fact they are the consumer who is most likely to be looking for discounts or cheaper alternatives to their beauty products, whilst also being 42% more likely to be looking for a cheaper location for their leisure travel and holidays51, 52.

According to SimilarWeb, 50% of travel purchase journeys now have 30 travel and tourism touchpoints. It turns out that ‘Audience Whiplash’ is making customer acquisition costs expensive53.

With the often-cited insight that 89% of ads go unnoticed or unremembered54, it’s clear that for a consumer like Anxious Hedonists, it’s important for brands to ensure their interaction is one that is notably more memorable than that of their competitors. The challenge for brands that rely on content marketing without a call to action is that the creative has to work very hard to achieve the desired effect.

An overload of data on the human brain and the resultant shortened attention spans, as referenced in Nicholas Carr’s book ‘What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains’, is a concerning insight for brands targeting Anxious Hedonists55. Anxious Hedonists are overexposed to brand messaging, as a result of their increased tendency to shop online. This makes it more likely for fewer brands to enter their daily highlight reel and trigger a recall moment once they are ready to purchase.

The solution to this challenge is to actively disrupt the “shopping around” mindset.” By engaging with consumers in a non-competitive, brand curated environment, and creating fun interaction between the consumer and the brand, brands can optimise around the metric of engaged time, which measures the uninterrupted time a consumer spends with your brand - a key tactic used to boost brand recall.

47 THE FIFTH: “How do you feel right now when spending money on non-essential items? (Select ALL That Apply)” UK Anxious Hedonists, N = 109
48 THE FIFTH: “Do you regularly spend money in any of these areas? (Select ALL That Apply)” UK Anxious Hedonists, N = 109

49 THE FIFTH: “How do you feel right now when spending money on non-essential items? (Select ALL That Apply)” UK Anxious Hedonists, N = 109

50 University of Michigan:

51 THE FIFTH: “How do you want businesses to help people right now? (Select Max. 5)” UK Anxious Hedonists, N = 109

52 THE FIFTH: “Which of the following best describes your current view of spending on Travel for Leisure/Holidays (Tick ALL That Apply)” UK Anxious Hedonists, N = 109

53 The Drum:

54 Dave Trott:

55 Nicholas Carr, “What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”:

14. Why Engaged Time Is Key for Anxious Hedonists

The science behind engaged time is simple and clear. In a controlled study by Chartbeat which exposed consumers to content at varying lengths of time, they found “there is a strong correlation between engaged time and recall [...] 15 or more seconds engaged time led to 25% more likelihood to recall the brand than those who were engaged for 10 or fewer seconds.”56

Indeed, the trend dictates that the more time you spend engaged with the brand in an uninterrupted manner, the higher the likelihood is for recall, but creatively, there is a need for more than that. The distinct novelty of the experience is vitally important for the formation of flashbulb memories - memories considered vivid, long-lasting and detailed - which is why innovative brands that aim to create new customer experiences are better served to win with Anxious Hedonists.

15. How Netflix Uses TikTok Content to Drive Interest in F1

In the entertainment space for instance, the Netflix series "Drive to Survive" has been successful in growing the popularity of Formula 1, bringing unprecedented awareness about F1 to new audiences who otherwise may have found the sport intimidating and complicated. The series treats each race as the latest episode in a great, unfolding drama, hooking the audience into multiple narratives that humanise the individuals in the sport, offering viewers insights into their backgrounds, goals, failures and leisure time.

And the strategy to pull consumers into the rabbit hole is clear. By distributing clips from the show on TikTok, the Formula One account is able to reel viewers in by giving them the ability to witness first-hand the sport’s most dramatic machinations, helping fans understand and appreciate the sport better, creating intrigue for where the narrative goes next. As the For You Page continually resurfaces more and more clips from the show to newly curious viewers, the incessant calls to action help drive you to SVOD platforms to experience it in its entirety.

Of course, the 23 hours viewers spent watching this content is pure unadulterated engaged time, making Drive To Survive a first-of-its-kind documentary series in sport, providing the distinct novelty to make it memorable and enthralling. The novelty has yet to wear off, as the fifth series released in 2023 achieved a 40% increase in first-week viewers over Season 4's debut, with the total minutes watched for Season 5 grossing 224m minutes, a massive uptick of 169.1m watch minutes compared to Season 4.57

16. Space NK: How a Shift to Experiential Retail Fulfils the Needs of Anxious Hedonists

Beauty is a fiercely competed category in the UK with legacy department stores, high street drugstores, established e-tailers and owned-brands vying for attention, clicks, and footfall. That final metric - footfall - is one that Space NK recognises is vital for its own distinction in the space, and the luxury brand has expanded its store count to 73 in the UK and Ireland in 2023, growing in-store sales by 31% year-over-year58. Engaged time is once again a key principle behind the success, with the business swapping its small shops for large-format experiential stores in key cities.

Through opening these stores, shoppers can now immerse themselves in the values and luxury of the brand via active participation in real-world settings, something which is distinctively novel when considering the competition. The brand has deployed spaces within stores to allow customers to be more sustainable and refill or recycle empty products. Their treatment rooms allow customers to be educated on the science of skincare with professional therapists. Areas are designated which optimise the experience of fragrance discovery, whilst beauty tables are available for those who are curious to trial new brands, allowing them to receive makeovers during their visit. By providing customers with the opportunity to go deeper with the brand with each turn, Space NK actively remove an Anxious Hedonist’s desire to go elsewhere by providing sensory experience, education, and best-in-class choice all under one roof, with the experiential element of the brand tapping into the customer’s desire for treat anticipation.

17. Black Tomato: Luxury Travel Personalisation to Make People Feel ‘In the Moment’

Black Tomato is a luxury travel provider that meets these needs by putting its customer at the heart of ‘the moment’, a scene, place, song, meal, or experience which cannot be seen without the brand’s expert eye for discovery, knowledge sharing, and curation. They carefully plan these moments through hand-in-glove service, offering a completely flexible and customised approach which abandons fixed itineraries that are ignorant to the passions and tastes of its travellers. Whilst ‘the moment’ for many is a hard-sought out feeling, with the friction of stressful planning, connected travel, and itinerary lowlights interrupting the opportunity for intimacy and innately therapeutic experiences, Black Tomato recognise that by removing all of this by proxy of their positioning, they ensure the customer is in ‘the moment’ from the minute they began planning their travel.

Finally, with travel, the key to ensuring your brand is more pronounced to Anxious Hedonists is through the power of curation. Making travel deeply personal to the individual ensures there’s an attachment to the product which cannot be captured by generic packages, especially when it comes to the far-flung destinations that were added to the post-pandemic bucket lists of adventure-starved consumers. Curated travel is just as much about indulgence as it is about making the best use of your budget, with tour providers providing ‘insider’ knowledge on the best authentic experiences that allow them to sink deeper into the destination. And, of course, the time a travel provider spends with its customer through curated travel consultancy helps guarantee quality engaged time.

18. Bracing for Further ‘Audience Whiplash’

There are strategic adaptations that brands can make in order to overcome ‘Audience Whiplash’, but the key is to first define audiences on a more granular, psychosocial level.

The peril of targeting broad legacy audiences is made most clear when considering the crossover of consumers, once you remove deeper segmentation on the psychosocial level. For instance, Middle Income Gen Z consumers align with the MINDs persona more than Low Income Gen Z, considering their shared qualities around stress levels, income, and spending less. How ineffective, therefore, is broad Gen Z targeting, considering how at odds Low Income Gen Z and MINDs truly are?

The insights for each persona above provide a directive to adapt strategy, but it is also important to note that ‘Audience Whiplash’ does not involve a single impact driving a single change in direction for any one consumer group. The Cost of Living Crisis is set to continue its mutation of consumer desires over a longer period of time, with inflation rates not expected to fall to Bank of England targets until 2025, and real wages, compared to prices, not expected to return to pre-crisis levels for another 4 years59.

Regular consumer research during periods of volatility is vital for brands to continually monitor how audiences are mutating, allowing them to add the necessary psychosocial segmentations to ensure consumer groups are more clearly defined and contained. This approach ensures audiences are addressed in a way which avoids misrepresentation and misunderstanding in advertising.

59 Office for Budget Responsibility:

19. Brand Checklist

☑ Leverage audience research, insight and social listening to keep abreast of volatile consumer trends

☑ Consider the wide range of attitudes and circumstances that influence behaviour in non-essential categories such as streaming, travel and beauty.

☑ Move to a flexible ‘psychosocial’ model to define audience categories and avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach

☑ Ensure your content is searchable on the platforms where your target audience interact with brands, paying particular attention to Gen Z’s use of TikTok

☑ Be mindful of attention and the level of engagement required to influence recall and buying behaviour in different psychosocial groups

About the Fifth

THE FIFTH is an award-winning social creative agency with expertise in influential content. Originating in influencer marketing, we leverage our expertise and apply our knowledge of what makes content influential to give you 360° social thinking.

For more information about the report and THE FIFTH's social creative agency services, please contact:

Charlie Ross, Business Development Director, THE FIFTH

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