Brexit Diaries - Week 7: A big warning for big brands

PRWeek has partnered with insight and strategy consultancy BritainThinks in a unique project to take the temperature of both leave and remain voters in the run-up to triggering Article 50.

Companies which raise prices or relocate, blaming Brexit, should expect some flack, argues Spencer Livermore
Companies which raise prices or relocate, blaming Brexit, should expect some flack, argues Spencer Livermore
"I just feel the whole country will lose out financially." This is a sentiment we have heard a lot over the past few months from those who voted to remain in the referendum. 

But, from the Brexit Diaries this week – 100 people across the UK, 48 who voted remain, and 52 who voted to leave – we are now starting to see some agreement from leave voters too, that they, or at least the country, may be worse off because of Brexit.

The question of whether increased trade barriers with the European Union would make it difficult to buy and sell goods and services in the future has long been a key concern for remainers. 

"I’m worried about the effect trade issues will have on the cost of living for all of us" is a typical comment this week. 

However, for the first time we are now also beginning to see some leave voters agreeing with this sentiment. 

One leave diarist said: "the country will feel the effect of higher prices and difficulty trading with others." Another commented, "there will probably be an increase in the price of everything, and there will be nothing we can do to stop it." 

And another leave voter said: "Like most people I’m worried what everyday prices will be affected by leaving".

But any big brand or company thinking this means consumers will be tolerant towards them if they increase prices because of Brexit needs to think again. 

While our diarists may be coming around to the idea of higher prices in general, "betrayal", "greedy", and "excuses" are the reactions of both leave and remain diarists to the first media stories of specific price rises.

We asked our diarists to comment on two price increases that brands have explicitly blamed on Brexit: Nescafé and Marmite, and on two companies threatening to relocate staff: HSBC and Vodafone. 

Whether leave or remain, the verdict of our diarists was unanimous. 

On the price increases, "it is very sad that these companies have to make money from scaremongering"; "shame on them for increasing the prices on a forecast instead of the facts"; "companies are just increasing prices without justification"; "they are too quick to increase prices, and provide no justification – there should be far more transparency"; and "this is not a result of Brexit, but just greedy companies looking for ways to make more profit".

On potential job losses in the UK, our diarists felt equally strongly. "I’m annoyed they're doing it just for their own benefit and not supporting the UK"; "businesses move all the time and blaming Brexit is unfair"; "it’s clearly got nothing to do with Brexit and they’re just using it as an excuse"; and "they only care about keeping their shareholders happy, not about this country".

With more and more companies likely to face similar issues, it’s clear they have a lot of work to do improving their communications if they are to win the support of the public.

Spencer Livermore is a partner at BritainThinks

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