A Sudanese volunteer, wearing a protective face mask in Khartoum, Sudan. Picture: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP
A Sudanese volunteer, wearing a protective face mask in Khartoum, Sudan. Picture: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP

Questions about the appropriateness of advertising during the Covid-19 pandemic have been top of mind for many brands in the current climate. Should brands keep advertising? The answer is emphatically yes – it’s not just appropriate, it’s more essential than ever.

Clients have never needed relevance and creativity more than they do right now, given how quickly they need to adapt to the new world we’re living in, in which so much has already changed and everything is up for re-evaluation.

The new reality

Politico magazine gathered some big thinkers – academics, authors, sociologists, psychologists, business leaders and medical ethicists – to get their take on how the coronavirus will change the world permanently. Here are four of the trends they identified. They are very likely to become our new reality and are vital for marketers to consider. 

A new kind of patriotism

Attention and trust will return to the government and its role as well as to experts in various fields. Mark Lawrence Schrad, associate professor of political science at Villanova University, talks of society turning its attention to the new soldiers keeping our countries safe: health-care professionals, teachers, innovative employers and business owners. These are the people brands should be seen to support.

A decline in polarisation

If the predictions that follow come to pass, they will change the way brand owners behave, especially the impact they have on society and how they treat employees. Be prepared to catch these trends as they emerge, or, even better, lead them.

Erik Klinkenberg, professor of sociology at New York University, believes that as we look toward fighting a common enemy, hyper-individualism will end and reform will begin.

Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, says that in the wake of this pandemic we will start asking questions about issues such as: why the wealthy have been protected for so long; how it is justifiable that doctors charge 300% of medical aid rates; why we don’t do more to fight technical exclusion of the poor and where the labour laws are that are meant to protect people who are laid off work during the lockdown.

Jonathan Rauch, contributing writer at The Atlantic, notes that “plagues drive change”. He cites the advent of HIV and AIDS, which resulted in the rise of LGBQT organisations and networks and, ultimately, marriage reform. He predicts an increase in new communities being formed as a result of the coronavirus.

The fall of regulator barriers to tech

Legislation, especially in the medical industry, has blocked innovative ways of communicating with consumers that could be really useful during this pandemic. Changes here would give brands important new channels. Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor of Reason magazine, feels that for consultations the medical industry should use the tools that are in common use, such as Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania predicts a rise in telemedicine. This will enable drone technology to be used for important things such as delivering medicine, and it could also be useful in delivering educational equipment.

Importantly, technology has made working from home highly successful through this pandemic – it’s one genie that is not going to go back into the bottle. This offers marketers a host of new opportunities.

Healthier digital lifestyles

Many people have been adamant about taking a social media break throughout this pandemic, which is unsurprising when you consider that after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of disaster announcement on March 15 the Gross Happiness Index showed that in SA happiness decreased dramatically, while fear, anxiety and sadness increased.

That said, Sherry Turkle, professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT, believes we will “not be alone together, but together alone” as we start filtering out the scary stuff and focus instead on what will make us happier. This is the time to get involved in – or, better yet, create – online communities, live online concerts, online yoga and other entertainments.

In line with this way of thinking, Elizabeth Bradley, president of Vassar College, believes virtual reality will offer great escapes when people are in isolation and quarantine.

  • Dono White is the senior strategic lead, VMLY&R South Africa


The big take-out:

Covid-19 and the resulting social distancing and isolation have created shifts in society that will drive change and result in new opportunities for brands that keep abreast of the trends.

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