One pandemic year later: How can brands balance our aspirations for the future with our anxiety about the present? - The Social Element
pandemic

One pandemic year later: How can brands balance our aspirations for the future with our anxiety about the present?

As vaccine programmes get underway, we’re all finally starting to think about what life will be like after the pandemic. 

Some of us are chomping at the bit to get back into the fray (give us all the meals out, clubs, pubs and festivals you can throw our way). 

Others are more hesitant. Months of isolation has made many people anxious about what ‘normal’ will look like, and the path back to pre-pandemic socialising will be slower. 

We all need things to look forward to – a holiday, a night out, a gig, a visit to see friends. But we’re likely to be cautious, too, of returning to pre-pandemic social standards. That’s challenging for brands – how do you balance people’s aspirations for the future with their very natural anxiety about the present? 

We have learned new habits and behaviours during the pandemic

Scientists say that the pandemic is reshaping our senses of fear and disgust. We’re learning new discomforts. We’ve gotten so used to keeping our distance, that we may not trust crowds again, or we may be uncomfortable if someone gets too close. I personally have no idea how to behave socially, and everything feels extremely awkward – how do you express warmth and joy behind a mask, from a distance?? 

Things we used to think were normal have changed – like eating a slice of birthday cake after someone has blown out candles on it (just look at the discussion about this on social media), and if you’re like me, you’ve all experienced this moment when you get uncomfortable watching a pre-pandemic movie because, “Oh my god, so much proximity!”. Those fears and habits might not last forever, but they could take a while to unlearn. 

Mental health struggles caused or exacerbated by isolation will hold some people back, too. People who are naturally more inclined to stay at home may take longer to be tempted out to socialise and spend again. 

As a result, some psychologists have expressed concerns that the narrative being built around a return to normal will urge people back to pre-pandemic life and habits before some people are ready.

How can brands reflect these changes in their social media campaigns?

  1. Create content that reflects the range of behavioural changes we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic. This one seems obvious, yet for the longest time, brands have resisted, arguing that they should portray “normalcy”. It’s time to accept that things have changed, and reflect it in our creative, because people are behaving differently, at least for now. We might long to go on holiday, or socialise with friends, but images of a crowded bar, a packed plane, or a busy gym will make many feel anxious, too. Be sensitive to that in your content. 
  2. Make sure you listen: do your homework and use social listening and insights to strike the right balance.  If you listen to what your target audiences are saying, you can make sure your content and tone matches what they care about – which may very well have changed since the last time you did. It would seem strange to show excess displays of wealth in ad campaigns, for example, as people and economies struggle. Use insights from social data to really understand how people are behaving, and how attitudes are changing, and dynamically adapt your campaigns to reflect the times.
  3. Stand up for what you believe in, and share it. Show you take people’s safety concerns seriously. You may not go as far as cruise line, P&O (which is saying ‘no jab, no cruise’) but consider whether your content should show how your brand takes seriously issues like social distancing, sanitisation, or mask-wearing.
  4. Think about the human impact of your content. How will your people relate to your content on a human level? Will it reassure them, inspire them or make them anxious? Relatable human stories will encourage people to move forward at their own pace. 
  5. Purpose-first. We’ve all heard amazing stories of brands which went above and beyond to help people during the pandemic. We’ve had a chance to take stock, and think about what really matters to us. This is a huge opportunity for brands to listen, and to take a stand on societal or environmental issues and conversely a risk that not reflecting they care about the issues important to their audience means they might lose that all important connection..

We’ve all experienced the pandemic differently. It’s going to take time for us to emerge from it, and we may never all arrive at exactly the same place we were a year ago. The one thing that is certain is that we’ve all changed, even if it’s just a little bit. So, for now at least, brands will need to make sure their content reflects that change.

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