There is no playbook for brands operating in a Covid-19 world - or is there?
In a nutshell
- We might be ready to stop feeling so unprecedented, but for brands, there's no getting away about the Covid-19 conversation.
- But although Covid-19 is unique, people and brands have survived paradigm-shifting events before - so we can learn from the past.
- And the signals of what people want from brands is also all around us - and at TRA we hear from thousands of Kiwis everyday.
- They're feeling optimistic, and ready for a conscious reset. Read on for the three key themes.
In September 2020, the 'A Photo of You in January 2020 Without Imagining What Would Come' meme gained traction on Twitter. Ignorance is bliss, the meme said, look how happy we were! But it didn’t work so well in New Zealand. January 2020 was when smoke from Australian bush fires turned our skies red. The year was, to put it mildly, a bit of a shocker.
As we headed into summer, many of us were ready to stop feeling so…unprecedented. There is no getting away from the Covid-19 conversation, and for the very many of us who just want to move on, the stark reality is this is not going away. The paralysis of uncertainty and trying to plan for the unplannable can be overwhelming.
This applies to brand marketers, too. How are we supposed to look ahead in 2021 when we feel stuck or out of control? We feel the best made plans (even for the week ahead) are likely to come unstuck. This event is ‘unprecedented’ so there is no playbook for brands operating in a Covid-19 world - or is there?
Yes, although Covid is unique, people and the brands they love have survived global, paradigm shifting events before. We know what happens during these events: we’re shocked into new ways of looking at and engaging with the world. And brands need to change with the times. Looking back on how brands responded to major events can be helpful here: what worked, what didn’t? What themes can we see?
The signals of what people want from brands is also all around us. At TRA, we speak to Kiwis all the time about how they feel, what is motivating them, and what they want from brands. We can take inspiration from this to provide guidance on what is to come in 2021.
First, learn from the past
Selling a hopeful future
During and after WWII, life for many was centred around sacrifice, minimal leisure and government-sanctioned rationing. Industries pivoted. Factories and R&D activities were repurposed to support the war effort, and consumer products like shoes, cars, clothing and food were in short supply.
Brands faced a quandary: they had little to actually sell.
They knew that the war would eventually end, and people would be ready to spend. If they failed to keep their brand in public consciousness, they risked being forgotten in peacetime. So they sold the future.
If they failed to keep their brand in public consciousness, they risked being forgotten in peacetime. So they sold the future.
A hopeful vision of peaceful prosperity powered by technological innovations that made life easy and accessibly luxurious - for everyday people. This aspirational vision of the future continued well into the fifties. Companies promoted hypothetical videophones, voice controlled lawn mowers and futuristic fridges that stored, cooked and served your meals. So what if the inventions didn’t exist yet? They offered hope.
Keep America rolling
Let’s jump forward half a century to 2001, after the 9/11 attacks forced a paradigm shift. Travel was unsafe, people reassessed their values and there was a need for belonging and community. Far reaching economic, social and political implications rippled out across the world.
For brands it meant reflecting this shift. Many tapped into American patriotism. Budweiser hit the right note with an ad that, extraordinarily, has aired just twice, once during the 2002 Superbowl and again on September 11, 2011. The video featured a team of Budweiser Clydesdales making their way through empty New York city streets before bowing in honour of victims of the tragedy, followed by a “We will never forget” message and the brand’s logo.
Meanwhile, General Motors was criticised for exploiting the tragedy with the 'Keep America Rolling' campaign, with copy that read, "The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. So GM announces interest-free financing on every new car and every new truck, now through Oct. 31.”
This patriotism also descended into nationalism and exclusion. Ford hired country singer, Toby Keith, as a spokesperson. Keith was famous for the song, “Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)", featuring the lyric “You'll be sorry that you messed with the US of A, cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.”
Listen to the now
History tells us a lot, but brands can’t ignore the context of this time we are living the unique sentiment of New Zealand.
At TRA, we have the luxury of listening to the thousands of conversations happening every day. We have seen the dominant emotion of the nation is optimism, which is in stark contrast to those across the ditch where sadness and fear play much of a stronger influence on the nationalistic mood.
This optimism is shaping the mindset of Kiwis coming into 2021, with big themes for brands to leverage.
Optimism is shaping the mindset of Kiwis coming into 2021, with big themes for brands to leverage.
1. Freedom unleashed: There is a new appreciation of our freedom, both physical and phycological. Like those that lived through times of war, the importance of things like community, connecting with family and friends, moving around freely as well as the ability to have choice is now elevated. This is particularly true for those returning Kiwis where their recent international experience highlights just how lucky we are here in NZ.
2. Pride in place: With borders closed, this summer is uniquely Kiwi, bringing a sense of pride in our beautiful country and people. Messages such as 'support local' or 100% Aotearoa are already being pushed by brands. However, we have to recognise 'pride in place' is a rich emotional space, encompassing elements such as our strengthening 'inclusive' mindset, growing importance around care for others, and our deep connection to nature.
3. Reset: We are seeing a switch from people looking back, to now, what lies ahead - a conscious effort to look forward and focus on the future. 2021 brings a sense of a clean slate for many: a reset moment. Brands that showcase how they are doing things differently, trying something new, or just being better, will be very relevant and cut through.
Make a conscious brand reboot
2020 might have been, as our Prime Minister put it, "frankly terrible," or felt like we have gone backwards. In fact, we have learnt a lot and in many ways, progressed as a society.
As we shape our brand plans for 2021, we need to keep in mind this is a moment in time when brands have the opportunity to make a conscious relook in what they do, what they stand for and where they go in the future.
We don't need to preface everything with 'in light of recent events', but we should reflect the context in which brands operate and the optimistic mindset Kiwis are embracing. Reflecting on this context will ensure brands remain relevant in 2021.
This is an excerpt from an article published in the latest issue of Frame magazine. To request a copy, get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.