Marketing guru Mark Ritson once rightly said ‘You are not your customer’ and this disjuncture has perhaps never been more starkly realised than during the pandemic. Over the past 15 months there has been a failure by brand leaders to fully recognise the reality of the day to day lives of their consumers. An ongoing study by University College London of 70,000 people has found the pandemic had worsened income inequalities, making the poor poorer with the financially comfortable barely impacted and often becoming richer. Most decision makers in brands fall into the latter category, with lives far removed and sheltered from their audiences. Meanwhile, millions of others have had a hugely stressful and worrying experience, but for a variety of different reasons.
PTSD suffered collectively, but experienced uniquely
In fact this period of contagion, self-isolation, and economic uncertainty will change the way consumers behave, in some cases for years to come. As a nation, there is mounting evidence we are suffering from a collective form of PTSD, with each case uniquely felt and experienced. Of course PTSD is not just about the moments after a trauma but can be long term where unexpected instances/triggers can cause stresses and changes in behaviour. Therefore, brand leaders need to consider the long term impacts of this crisis on their audiences and respond with empathy and agility. Let’s look at three groups and consider what FMCG brands should think about in responding to their specific needs.
1) Young adults and a mental health pandemic
18-24 year olds are the newest demographic to come into economic activity and, similar to Millennials during the financial crisis, are the ones likely to be impacted in the jobs market.
They are facing a mental health crisis that decision makers in these brands must respond to. A recent large global study, the Mental Health Million project by Sapien Labs reveals the stark impact. It found 44 percent of respondents aged 18-24 years were clinical or at risk of a clinical disorder compared to only 6 percent of those 65 and older. Mental wellbeing decreased most dramatically in 2020 (relative to 2019) for those aged 18-24. This is potentially a ticking time bomb for the wellbeing of a generation entering the workforce and in previous generations were having the time of their lives. As the report concludes ‘Such a profound difference in mental wellbeing must sound a loud alarm’.
How should brands respond?
The report highlighted that, in particular, young adults struggled substantially more with feelings of sadness, distress or hopelessness, unwanted, strange or obsessive thoughts.
Brands need to respond to this by being reassuring, comforting, optimistic and offer some elation to distract them from these feelings. It is also worth noting that for this audience traditional ads just get switched off. At the same time, TikTok has come into its own during the pandemic. The social platform has 100 million monthly active users across Europe, according to the latest Kantar figures, and was the most downloaded app of 2020. That’s perhaps unsurprising given what we’ve all been living through – our need for light relief has never been greater. No social channel does light relief better than TikTok.
Little Moons creates a TikTok sensation
Mochi ice cream brand Little Moons discovered its power, when what started as a small group of TikTok users posting videos of themselves combating the boredom of lockdown and seeking a moment of elation by searching for, trying and reviewing this strange new mochi ice cream treat. This ended up in over 180m impressions and a 2,500% sales increase in Tesco. It was content that was different and represented a clean break from a traditional approach that this audience so turns off from. Brands should take note.
2) The anxiety of the ‘boomerangers’
Another dramatic shift in the psychological behaviour of an audience refers to the millions of adults who moved back in with their parents during Covid – including an astonishing two-thirds of 20- to 34-year-olds without children. This was a trend already occurring thanks to rising rents and property prices, unemployment and stagnating wages, however the pandemic has given it rocket fuel. At the last count in October 2020, there were about 3.5 million boomerangs in the UK, according to Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. To add to the anxiety this audience has faced, 25-34 year olds are also the age group most likely to have been furloughed.
How should brands respond?
As we move through this crisis, this is an audience who will now want to be back in the driving seat of decision making as they move back to cities and the workplace. They’ll want to have their status and identity reinforced as well as reforming connections that may have been lost. This is after all an audience who have lost decision making agency and are now suffering from anxiety on a really large scale. Brands need to understand both their values and their current concerns and respond sympathetically with practical solutions.
Budweiser encourages friends to ‘Whassup’ each other
AB InBev have smartly responded to the present situation, with a clever campaign showing they understood the challenges to peoples’ mental health during this time. This involved Budweiser revamping its famous ‘Whassup’ campaign for the digital age during the pandemic. The new campaign had a particular relevant message in the current climate – encouraging friends (Buds) to check in on each other. It resulted in one of the brand’s most successful social media campaigns ever, reaching over seven million people. It was also shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook alone.
3) Working mothers and the mental load
While the lack of responsibility and decision making agency has created a toxic situation for younger childless demographics, too much responsibility has been the cause of an unprecedented ‘mental load’ for working mothers. This is an audience at the sharpest edge of the crisis. A recent report by Mckinsey spells it out clearly. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Meanwhile The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education found in a study during the first wave of the pandemic that mothers were 47 percent more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit, and 14 percent were more likely to have been furloughed. The net result has been a huge toll on their mental health. A report for the Institute for Social and Economic research (ISER) at Essex University found school closures in England during the Covid lockdown badly damaged the mental health of mothers but had no impact on fathers’ wellbeing.
How should brands respond?
Many ads hit a real bum note for mums, presenting a totally false narrative of the amount of time women had to bake bread or help children with hobbies. A much better approach would be to now recognise the huge mental toll women face and ensure your brand recognised this as well as offering practical, time-saving solutions for an audience who are more time poor than any other.
Maltesers and isolation life
A brand that has got the tone spot on is Maltesers, with its pandemic update to its long-running ‘Look on the Light Side’ campaign. It took a humorous look at mothers getting together online, supporting each other by laughing through the ups and downs of life in quarantine. It didn’t try and paint a false narrative but was in tune with the brand’s ethos. It also offered practical support through a relevant partnership with mental health charity Mind for those struggling to be able to find ‘the lighter moments’ during lockdown.
Toward a new way of profiling audiences
The crisis has revealed that it is time for a new, more sophisticated way of profiling audiences. moving away from dated demographics and top line attitudes and interests. This would look at peoples’ emotional states and how experiences will affect future outlooks. This is not just about the pandemic, although it may be the catalyst for a fresh approach. In a world where many of us are suffering from a form of PTSD, brands need to recognise everyones’ different struggles and tailor their response to the right audience. An awareness is required for brands to play their part in building the positive future we all deserve.
Jane Hovey, Director of Communications Strategy, Vivaldi UK
Vivaldi is one of the largest independent global brand and business consultancies. Jane specialises in solving business problems through creativity. Has worked with leading FMCG brands across Europe including P&G, Nestle, Tyrrells and Lavazza.