LONDON: Consumers feel that brands can play a role in making their lives easier during difficult economic times by helping to bridge the gaps left by government policies a new study has said.

As JWT London launched the third wave of its Austerity Index report, based on a survey of 800 consumers via its proprietary SONAR panel, it said that the divide between the haves and have-notes was deepening and that people were going to demand more intervention from those with power, whether the government or big brands.

Respondents were most likely to turn to friends and family to make their lives easier, as the Index showed a +37% score on this metric (those who say 'someone or something is making life easier' less those who say 'someone or something is making life harder'). Supermarkets were also in positive territory at 2%, then came employers (-5%) and brands (-10%).

The study noted a small rise in consumer confidence but said this was restricted to the wealthier members of society and pointed to the growing difference in the Austerity Index measure for the highest income group (those earning £40k or more) and the lowest (£20k or less). This had had diverged significantly in the latest study, reaching 251 points.

Almost half of respondents (49%) had little or no disposable income money left at the end of the month and almost all (99%) were taking steps to adapt to straitened circumstances.

Tracey Follows, Chief Strategy Officer at JWT London said that recovery and austerity were not mutually exclusive: "the two now walk hand in hand." In addition, she thought those hardest hit would "still need support from brands and companies for some time".

Some two thirds of those surveyed wanted greater support at a community level, whether support for local businesses (66%) or initiatives funded by brands (65%). "Efforts to help even out the sharp divisions in society created by austerity will be well received," noted JWT.

JWT suggested brands could act as facilitators for community-based support and cited Starbucks' Suspended Coffee campaign as an example that retailers and service brands could adapt. This allowed drinkers to buy a coffee which could be banked for someone who really needed it but could not afford to pay.

Other possibilities that marketers could consider included loyalty rewards (76%), promotional offers (75%) and money-saving tips (69%).

A shortlisted entry for the 2013 Admap Prize observed that brands were encroaching on territory traditionally held by governments and were quicker in adapting to accelerated change. "There will be a proliferation of powerful brands that become a force for good," the authors predicted.

But brands will need to tread carefully as a high level of anger was also evident in the view of 72% of respondents to the JWT survey that brands, or companies, could best help by ending tax avoidance schemes and paying the proper amount due.

Data sourced from JWT; additional content by Warc staff