The Fear Factor

Greg Canty, Fuzion Communications

Greg Canty, Fuzion Communications

It started off with gentle messages about ‘tightening our belts’ and gradually built into a frenzy of bad news mania. The media were willing partners, picking up on every negative story and then a new breed of ‘doomsday experts’ appeared who started telling us that not only were things really bad but that they would be bad for even longer than initially expected. The experts became even better experts, making even worse predictions and in the process became the darlings of the media as well as the after dinner speech and conference circuit – and doing quite nicely in the process! At least there was one growth industry in the recession!!!

The overall campaign was a resounding success with huge momentum as the country was gripped by absolute terror by the start of this year; the fear in everyone was tangible. The natural business lull in January was interpreted by many as the new norm and companies started laying people off (even those who were actually doing fine), cutting back on wages with 10% decreases being quite a standard number, and cutting out on many of their service providers.

Some of it made good business sense and we would be fooling ourselves to ignore reality and acknowledge that some serious market correction was required, but we must question the situation – “Is the market performing worse than it needs to be due to the ‘Fear Factor’?” “Are people largely unaffected by the recession behaving cautiously and not spending due to fear, or the new trend to start being thrifty?” Two years ago you were the ‘odd one out’ if you didn’t have a holiday home and some investment property, now you are the ‘odd one out’ if you are not shopping in Lidl or Aldi.

Is it any surprise that the government tax take was below expectation at the start of the year?

The country is now gripped by fear and even those with money are holding back. When quite a sensible friend of mine, who prudently buys a new car every 6 years, confessed that he felt a little embarrassed in his ’09 car, that people might think he was being too opulent in these times, I knew things had gone too far!  Especially when the car he purchased was a Skoda – not that I have anything against the brand, but it hardly screams extravagance!

We are now free falling into a self fulfilling prophecy and things have become as bad as we feared.

The terrible financial outcome from this lack of spending due to the “Fear Factor” is that our government have not allowed for a recovery period and have decided to take the tax off people directly. Instead of being taxed when we spend (and enjoy) our money it is being whipped off us at source – brilliant piece of logic and leadership!!!

The recent emergency budget was totally negative – it does nothing to stimulate the economy, but will take money directly out of our pockets, including paying double for our dreadful Health Service (don’t get me started here!!!) with absolutely no signs of tackling the level of public spending. There is a small crumb thrown at enterprise – a new €100m fund to help business, based on passed experience, the agency set up to oversee this will probably take half of the budget to cover its operating costs!!

All of this was compounded by Brian Cowen’s final words on the budget ‘Things will get even worse in the next few years’ or words to that effect. Even his body language communicated negativity.  Why would he make such a negative comment at the end of such a harsh budget?  The most worrying aspect is that he said this without understanding the damage this negativity would cause.

This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Fear Factor’ campaign, overall a resounding success!

But who should step up to the podium and in front of the flashing lights to receive the award?

My vote goes to Brian Cowen, the leader of the country who has to accept a large portion of the responsibility for the success of the “Fear Factor” Campaign.

Neither Brian nor his colleagues have showed strong and cohesive leadership since the reshuffle last year.  We need our leaders to lead at this critical state we are in.  We need leaders to do more than fight fires.   Our government needs to start leading a positive campaign and really quickly as this is the only way to drag the country out of the current mess.

Real recovery will only come with hope and optimism, when we believe there is some light at the end of this dark tunnel, not another even darker tunnel.

Greg Canty is a partner in Fuzion Communications, providing Marketing Consultancy, PR and Graphic Design services.For a consultation contact greg@fuzion.ie

Web: www.fuzion.ie Phone :(021) 4271234

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