We are now halfway through the second National lockdown… and it feels different this time around. Partly because it is different: schools are still open, dentists and opticians are taking appointments, support bubbles are in place and we can spend unlimited time outside. But the other reason it feels different is because everybody knows what to expect – we’ve all done this before.
In March, Boris Johnson’s announcement had an almost war-time feel. 27.1 million people tuned in live for his televised address. This is comparable with the 1966 World Cup Final and Princess Diana’s funeral, and it felt equally momentous. We were entering the unknown in almost every aspect of life and people were clinging to every scrap of information to help to understand it.
Brands responded to the need in various ways –
- Support – visually or verbally acknowledging the new world order. The messages amounted to little more than stating “our thoughts are with you”, but at least the shift was acknowledged.
- Satire – humour has always been a human coping mechanism and, alongside the explosion of meme’s, some brands just aimed to raise a smile.
- Assistance – the most powerful responses were the brands that quickly pivoted and offered help. From Samsung donating 2,000 smartphones to the NHS, to Joe Wicks teaching P.E. and beauty brands everywhere making hand sanitizer.
This time around though, reactive brand behaviour is far, far quieter. To some degree there is generalised fatigue around lockdown – from people and brands. Behavioural scientists have predicted far less compliance for this 4 week stint and the public aren’t panicking to the same extent (toilet rolls and pasta are still in stock). Many marketers have returned to their long term strategies, acknowledging that support they offered 6 months ago simply isn’t required as, if anything, the public now want to cling on to a sense of normality. This lockdown, and this virus, will pass, people know what to do and just want to focus on brighter things.
As we approach Christmas, from many brands it feels like ‘business as usual’, perhaps just done donning a face mask. Campaigns are acknowledging that this year will be different, but the tone is far cry from the bleakness of lockdown #1.
Communication plays a huge role in driving public feeling and the tone brands adopt are part of the fabric of that mood – from defiance to determination, resolution to reward, the sentiment is definitely ‘carry on’.
Woven naturally into everyday news and content, PR’s part in affecting public mood is more inherent than most channels. With our clients, we are reinforcing the sense of normality we know audiences want. This may mean a pivot on what we have done before, such as taking live events virtual, but the shift from real world to digital space has been welcomed. With Zoom now part of many people’s every day, the personal nature of experiences, such as our Nando’s Meet and Feast, were just as thrilling as they’ve always been. People seem to have accepted this form of socialising and the occasions are no less of a moment.
For other clients, the time is right to celebrate. Christmas may be looking a little different; but the 2020 version will still play out with most of the traditions we are used to. For the brands that can be gifted, our task has therefore not changed. We have been ensuring they feature at the top of the gift list, as always. If anything, this year present giving will be an even more significant gesture and a means of connection for families who have to be apart.
Whether or not this lockdown ends on 2nd December, brand behaviour is settling into a new flow, and thank god for it, because a more positive spin on the new normal is what we’ll all need as 2020 (finally!) draws to a close.