How the rising cost of living is changing consumers’ lives

    Download the Exploring the Cost of Living Conversation report

    The cost of living report

    In the full report, we analyzed over 16.2M Tweets, to find global consumer insights, including:

    • How cost of living conversations are multiplying, especially amongst younger generations, and why that trend may continue over the coming months.
    • Why fuel and energy costs are key conversation drivers on Twitter.
    • How people are considering changing their consumer behavior.
    • What support consumers are actively seeking from governments, society, brands, and the Twitter community.

    But with the situation constantly evolving, I couldn’t include everything I wanted to in the final report, so in this blog, I dug further into the data to provide additional insights into the ongoing crisis.

    Cost of living Accelerate Map

    Working with our team, we used Twitter data to create an Accelerate Map, a bespoke model of human needs underpinned by our own AI technology. This is used to reveal the emotional drivers behind a topic.

    Accelerate Map - A data visualization of the drivers of the rising cost of living conversations

    The Accelerate Map helps identify the emotional drivers around a specific topic, in this case, the cost of living.

    The main emotional drivers around our cost of living data were:

    • Achievement - To get stuff done as effectively as possible.
    • Responsibility - To contribute to the world and other people’s lives.
    • Control - To navigate problems, uncertainty, and change.
    • Experiences - To live a rich and meaningful life.

    These four drivers all sit in opposition to each other, which shows how the rising cost of living crisis is underpinned by compromise and paradox. People want to get things done effectively (Achievement), but they also want to be supporting others and contributing to the good of society (Responsibility). We’ll see later in this piece how these two ambitions can often be in tension with each other, or even pulled financially out of reach.

    Similarly, there is an uneasy balance between needing to bring their lives back in order (Control), while also wanting positive experiences and to achieve an ideal lifestyle (Experience). Is the rising cost of living crisis stopping people from living rich and meaningful lives?

    Brands have the opportunity to help consumers navigate these tensions. For example, even if they can’t compete on cost, they can still motivate through experiences. This can be done by highlighting the experiential aspect of their product or service, or by offering additional experiences through contests or giveaways.

    Strongbow’s latest campaign is an experience in itself, with entrants being sent challenges from the ‘G.O.A.T’ in order to enter the prize draw. By engaging consumers’ adventurous side, this tweet has garnered 12.2K engagements and 4M views so far.

    Other issues worsening the rising cost of living crisis

    As part of the report, we looked at which items from the basket of goods and services were discussed most in relation to rising costs, to see which ones consumers were most concerned about purchasing.

    Cost of living word cloud - A visualization of which rising prices consumers are most concerned about

    By using custom theme clouds, we identified which essentials consumers were mentioning most alongside price increases, to highlight which they were most concerned about. Taken from the Exploring the Cost of Living Conversation report

    We looked at gas prices and health care further in the report, but one item that stood out here was the significant mention of baby food/formula, and I wanted to dig into that further.

    Some conversations aren’t necessarily related to inflation, but due to supply chain issues that have intensified the problem, baby food/formula was often mentioned due to a supply issue in the US. A combination of pandemic-related labor shortages, a product recall from one major supplier, and import restrictions, limited the availability of formula. This became another challenge faced by those struggling with the rising cost of living. 

    Hashtags - Visualization of the top hashtags related to the baby formula crisis

    The top hashtags identified in relation to baby formula shortage.

    Conversations also drew a clear link between palm oil and formula. Palm oil, it transpires, is a key ingredient in many baby formulas, and whilst the oil shortage is not the only reason for this crisis, it is certain to be a factor. The ‘aspiration’ for individuals to choose ‘environmentally friendly options’ and boycott substances like palm oil is often out of reach for many consumers.

    Shortages and embargoes help reveal how unrealistic the promise of ethical consumption is – when a key item is actually taken away, the role it plays in the functioning of a society becomes apparent. When balancing how to feed your children with the need to return to work, environmentalism can lose out.

    How brands are mentioned during the rising cost of living crisis

    Another thing I wanted to dig into more, was how brands were being drawn into the rising cost of living conversation on Twitter.

    EDF takes a financial hit in France

    Many consumers are Tweeting about the actions of the French government, as a means of easing the financial impact. To protect households, the government forced the EDF (Électricité de France) to take an €8.2B hit by capping hikes to 4%, and people are urging their own governments to follow similar strategies - hitting businesses rather than consumers’ shrinking pockets. This led to a peak in brand mentions, with a significant spike when France nationalized EDF in early July.

    Keywords relating to the rising cost of living and the French government

    A look at the keywords around conversations including mentions of the rising cost of living and the French government.

    Crowdfunding & GoFundMe mentions are down

    Direct help requests from people on Twitter are on the decline, with mentions of crowdfunding overall, and sites like GoFundMe, down year over year. With budgets stretched, it’s possible people don’t have the extra funds to support these types of projects. Looking at the keywords around GoFundMe does highlight the growing issues people are asking for help with, many of which are related to the rising cost of living.

    Key topics mentioned on Twitter in relation to GoFundMe

    The keywords mentioned alongside mentions of GoFundMe highlight the problems people are crowdfunding to fix.

    Starbucks becomes a proprietary eponym and social definer

    Starbucks is another brand that was mentioned in the cost of living conversations. But often, it was used as a proprietary eponym - when a brand name is used to describe a more common category item. In this case, Starbucks was used to describe a luxury, takeaway coffee.

    The term is often used to define a generation, with many critics claiming it as an unnecessary expense that could be cut to help stretch budgets. However, many Twitter users agree that this is more of a generational stereotype, with those who are struggling with the rising cost of living unlikely to be making regular purchases of Starbucks or other takeout coffees.

    The poverty paradox

    One last takeaway I saw highlighted in the report, was a form of poverty paradox - that many long-term cost-saving solutions weren’t accessible to those that needed them due to high initial costs.

    From electric cars (which could reduce automotive fuel costs) to home-buying (with mortgage payments often being lower than rent), there are numerous aspects of cost savings that many consumers can’t access.

    It’s not a new trend, but the rising cost of living has put it further into the spotlight.

    This Tweet went viral in January, with author Terry Pratchett summarizing this paradox of the poor often having to spend more money on items, as they get priced out of more costly yet durable products.

    Vimes Boots has been mentioned 20.6K times in 2022, with 242.5K engagements.

    Brands need to keep this in mind when launching “cost-saving” products. If the initial cost outlay prices out a large section of your audience, your product won’t sell no matter how much it helps consumers save.

    Exploring the cost of living conversation

    The rising cost of living will continue driving conversations across Twitter in the coming months, if not years. These are just some of the insights we’ve gathered, with additional insights included in the full report.

    You can download the Exploring the Cost of Living Conversation report, in partnership with Twitter, by clicking below.

    CTA - Exploring the Cost of Living Conversation - Download the report