BUENOS AIRES: At times of social, economic and political crisis, brands tend to reach for a safe, reactive approach, but Unilever has developed a holistic program in Argentina that enables it to understand people and consumption at these times and deliver growth.

In an ESOMAR paper, Agustina Suner and Daniela Gail, two of the FMCG giant’s consumer and market insight team based in Argentina, explain that in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) country it is important to understand consumers in new contexts.

“Over the past 30 years, Argentina has experienced social and political ups and downs, which have been reflected in the evolution of our GDP and in people's lives in our country,” they note.

So when, in 2013, Unilever noticed consumers increasingly talking about inflation and currency conversion rates, it set out to understand how this new context affected consumption habits and behaviors and how people related emotionally and functionally to its categories, retail channels and brands.

The Thermometer is the name it has given to the evolving process of research, with “a holistic approach toward both the questions we ask and the techniques we use”, and generating insights and findings that lead to actions.

A crisis situation is essentially a state of complete uncertainty, the authors note, which shifts consumers’ focus from pleasure to rationality and leaves them with a short-term focus. Questions around what to buy, how often and where result in a return to basics, probable increased purchasing frequency and a focus on price.

“There are some conditions that make consumers turn towards brands as spaces of certainty and identity and as a reassurance amid the uncertainty of everyday life,” the authors say.

“Brands also serve as quality reassurance and a space of belonging, especially for low socio-economic levels that have less room for failure.”

So, for example, when the outside world is perceived as difficult and inaccessible, food brands such as Hellmans, Knorr and Savora focused on the value of staying at home, suggesting different ways to create quality meals.

Unilever also set out to “own” the communication space around budgeting, with household product brands like Drive and Ala offering money-savings tips.

Over the past five years, they report, The Thermometer has had ten waves inspiring more than 100 business ideas and a complete change in the business culture.

Sourced from ESOMAR