After a 100-day absence due to the Coronavirus pandemic, England’s top flight football league returned to action last Wednesday. Football fans across the country were delighted to see their top tier teams back in action, however the scene was not quite as we left it back in March. Tens of thousands of encouraging supporters were replaced by artificial crowd noises to create the roaring atmosphere that is impossible to achieve in an empty stadium. The devoted home and away supporters are now “arm-chair fans” and watch their pride and joy from the comfort of their own home.
With the return of football now fully underway, there was a debate on whether it was too soon for the game to be back in play. 48% of Brits thought it still was not the right time for the players to get back on the pitch, in spite of the precautions put in place to protect both the players and fans. However, with 2 in 5 believing that live sport is good for the nations spirts, it seems like the return was welcomed by many; 2.7 million fans tuned into the returning game which saw a controversial 0-0 draw for Aston Villa and Sheffield United, a 43% increase on the season average. This jumped to a 94% increase when Manchester City’s victory over Arsenal peaked at 3.4 million viewers.
Covid-19 has also had a high impact on sponsorship and advertising partnerships in the sports industry. In what was once an advertiser’s playground, clubs are no longer allowed to display as many ads with advertising capped at 25% of branding at each ground. Forecasts have revealed that global sports sponsorship revenue fell by £14.1 billion this year due to the pandemic. While these restrictions are in place we can expect to see greater innovation and creativity in sport branding partnerships as they look to evolve what a traditional sponsorship deal can provide – and that can only be a good thing.
Therefore it’s certainly fair to say that from both a consumer engagement and brand opportunity point of view, sport is very much back in the game!
Last year an unprecedented number of people took to the streets to celebrate London Pride. 2019 marked 50 years since the revolutionary Stonewall uprising took place in New York and the event was attended by an estimated 1.5 million people. In 2020, these celebrations are set to look very different. According to the European Pride Organizers Association, nearly 500 LGBTQ+ events scheduled to celebrate Pride Month have had to be postponed or cancelled due to the current pandemic and associated restrictions. Despite this, Pride bodies and media brands are forging ahead with the occasion, like all other live events, online, optimistic that Lockdown could provide a unique opportunity to amplify LGBTQ+ rights.
Virtual events include: Pride Inside, a calendar of digital celebrations produced by Amnesty International partnering with UK Black Pride, Stonewall and ParaPride, and Pride in London’s Staying In events for the queer community. It may be a far cry from last year’s Pride, but pivoting the events online could have its own advantages. For starters, online spaces are not restricted by the same accessibility issues for those with disabilities and anxiety or limited by location. Likewise, it facilitates the creation of a global community and enables people from all over the world to interact with each – including a host of International talent that would otherwise be unavailable.
There are growing concerns however that advertisers who have previously spent on Pride campaigns may put their spending on hold this month and potentially indefinitely, particularly due to reduced visibility online. In May, 89% of large multinational companies deferred marketing campaigns. For brands, product placement on Zoom-events might not have the same tangible impact as a physical presence at the parade.
Brands who choose to spend behind Pride must focus, now more than ever, on making a long-term commitment to the cause. In the wake of protests following George Floyd’s death, consumers are hyper-conscious of tokenism. A post in support of the LGBTQ+ movement is no longer enough. Consumers will identify with companies that put their money where their mouth is such as jeans company Levi’s, a long-standing supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, who is producing its annual Pride collection, with 100% of net proceeds going to OutRight Action International, or UGG who have created Pride-themed flurry slippers and will be donating $125,000 to non-profit organisation GLAAD. Brands must also go a step further and acknowledge the shared histories of Pride and Black Lives Matter movements, both founded by people of colour to fight systematic discrimination and intolerance, and focus on intersectionality and inclusivity.
Although Pride is expected to resume in all its colourful glory in 2021, it appears that there could still be a place for digital events moving forward. Moreover, the protests of 2020 will have long-lasting effects on how brands interact with the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups.
The UK has been living with lockdown for nearly three months, which has meant that consumers’ lives from all aspects has drastically changed. However, we are fundamentally creatures of habit and tend to steer clear of change. Having consistency allows us to make shortcuts in our everyday lives, saving us time, energy and providing us with feelings of comfort. So when our world is sent into chaos it causes us stress and feelings of negativity. It is therefore no surprise that currently 50% of Brits state that they are experiencing feelings of apprehension and 43% feelings of worry1. Demonstrating that having so many unknowns in this ‘new’ world drives feelings of negativity.
As we try to make sense of this unknown, we find ourselves asking questions and lots of them, to help provide ourselves with a degree of clarity. Google trends shows us that the majority of the searches are centred around questions. Interestingly, the question topics have moved to being focussed on far broader societal and economic questions, such as ‘what does a shrinking economy mean’ is up 5000%2. But also, the format of the questions have shifted to ‘when,’ ‘where’ and ‘why,’ with questions like: ‘when do you have to wear a mask,’ ‘what are the quarantine rules in the UK’ and ‘when will lockdown end.’ This highlights consumer need to try and make sense of everything going on around them.
As we try to make sense of what is going on, we are also adapting. Questions related to ‘how’ are currently less related to brands but broader behaviours. Consumers are adapting by either wanting to upskill themselves or being forced to rely more on their skillset because products aren’t available. Examples include ‘how to make coconut macaroons’, which has increased 170%3 in the last week and ‘how to use Microsoft teams’ has increased 150%4 in the last week.
During this period brands need to be providing consumers with reassurance to help alleviate their apprehension and worry. Providing answers to their questions is an easy win, potentially framed in the wider societal and economic climate to help add context. As an example, TSB recently launched a TV campaign featuring staff members – to provide a “message that we’re here to help and to give customers a sense of calm and reassurance.” Alongside this their website has a section specifically for Covid19, pre-empting questions consumers may have. This provides solutions to empower consumers to tackle their question themselves, which will help provide them with a greater feeling of control over their lives.
- Lightbox Pulse 2,3&4.Google Trends June 2020
It is unprecedented for so many of us to spend this much time at home. The sudden change in routine has challenged us to occupy ourselves when our opportunities for socialising have become seriously limited. Take to Instagram and you’ll see cakes being baked, books being read and Netflix being watched – but is this a true representation of how Britons have spent their time inside?
Well, in some cases, yes. One in five of us say that we have spent more money on books in the last 10 weeks than we did previously. This trend was documented soon after lockdown was announced and suggests that Britons quickly rediscovered a love of reading that they had perhaps forgotten. Whether or not those books have actually been read, however, is another matter…
In other areas of ‘self-improvement’ (anything which makes you feel better afterwards counts), TV shows centred around activities have benefitted from the lockdown. These include crafting, cooking and art shows, which encourage those at home to get active and have all risen in popularity during the last couple of months; The Great British Sewing Bee attracts up to 6 million viewers per episode. This again suggests that people have decided now is the time to make a mask, order some new paint brushes, or create the ultimate soufflé.
Finally, if we look at Google Trends, we see that the learning doesn’t end there. Searches for ‘learn a language’ increased steeply after Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement in March, and have remained at higher levels than in the nine months prior. Searches for ‘online courses’ have followed a similar pattern. Admittedly, this does not tell us if people have followed through with these ideas, but it does illustrate that we have a desire to learn and have tried to use this time to benefit our future selves.
This desire to learn presents brands with an opportunity to assist us and build an even closer relationship between brand and consumer. Cookalongs are one such way this could be done – various Instagram accounts have run these successfully. Advertisers should consider how they can help us on our journey of self-improvement, or reassure us that it is perfectly OK not to have done any of the above – how often do you eat soufflé anyway?
How are Brits spending money during COVID-19? https://yougov.co.uk/topics/consumer/articles-reports/2020/06/04/how-are-brits-spending-money-during-covid-19
Book Sales Surge as Self-isolating Readers Stock up on ‘Bucket List’ Novels https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/25/book-sales-surge-self-isolating-readers-bucket-list-novels
Lockdown TV: What habits will stick as we leave lockdown? https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/lockdown-tv-what-habits-will-stick-we-leave-lockdown
On average it takes 66 days to form a new habit (Lally et al., 2009). So, as we fly past the 2-month mark of life in lockdown, how have public habits changed? The latest mobile data network report from EE (covering February to May 2020) helps shed some light into this and highlights 2 key areas of new habits/trends; communication and fitness.
With restrictions on visiting family and friends in person and the wide enforcement of working from home, our modes of communication have had to adapt. EE have seen a fivefold increase in Zoom usage during lockdown with commuter towns such as Stevenage & Hereford experiencing as much as a 120% increase in communications app data usage as a result of working from home measures.
Overall traffic to communication apps has seen a 45% increase across lockdown with voice calls up the same percentage, while globally WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage since the start of the outbreak according to Business Insider. Interestingly, contrary to recent trends of shorter calls, lockdown has seen the number of calls lasting longer than 5 minutes double as the public seek to bridge the social gap created by lockdown measures.
In the realms of fitness, both Strava & MapMyRun have seen huge jumps in data usage compared to pre-lockdown (triple for Strava & double for MapMyRun respectively) as the public seek to both get outdoors and stay fit and healthy. Comparatively FitBit has seen data usage decline as the daily movement around the UK has fallen, particularly driven by fewer commuters.
Research by Nuffield Health has shown that 76% of Brits have taken up a new form of exercise since lockdown began with 4 in 5 agreeing that they will keep up with their new routines once normality resumes. However, physical activity differs by age, with half of 18-24s getting less than 2 hours exercise a week compared to the evergreen over 65s; nearly half (47%) of whom reach 3 hours worth of exercise a week.
It is undeniable that social distancing and lockdown measures have had a significant effect on the structure of people’s lives and the habits that fall within them; whether these will last out in the long-term however is unclear. What we do know is that it is more important than ever in these uncertain times for brands to keep up to speed with developments within societal habits and norms. TSB are a great example of this, with their recent TV campaign focusing on the nation’s gratitude towards keyworkers for their amazing contributions during this global crisis.
Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts & Jane Wardle. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of social Psychology.
The COVID-19 crisis has hit the retail sector hard. And it will continue to as we find our way through the weeks and months to come. Whilst it would be naïve to suggest that everything will be rosy, there are reasons to be cheerful – not least an opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘bricks and mortar’ stores are for.
Lockdown has shown that people have really missed popping to the shops. Brits value the experience in a way that online shopping can’t replace. It’s more than just the products that people take home – it’s also the act of shopping in itself that people enjoy. The High Street is a destination, a community hub, a social occasion, and a form of entertainment in its own right.
The essential retail experience during lockdown tells us that people will make fewer shopping trips and spend more per trip than pre-crisis. With this in mind, the winners in the months to come will be retailers who have the strongest brands, clear promotions, a community presence, and those who understand the importance of the shop as a destination.
So, what to do? Firstly, in addition to always-important national campaigns – brand and activation, don’t lurch too hard into short-term trading. Retailers should also look to take a store-by-store local marketing approach too, across traditional and digital channels.
Secondly, as stores have reopened, provision for social distancing has forced retailers to reconsider the shop floor. This is likely to be the ‘new normal’ for some time, so while things are a little skew-whiff, it also makes sense to consider how to deliver an experience beyond convenience. In a recent survey by Raydiant, 85% of retailers say that creating in-store experiences will be critical to their success in reopening. This is where national chains can learn from independents and mirror their skill at curating places where people want to spend a bit of time.
Whether it’s independent bike shops with their espresso machines, or vintage clothing stores where the act of browsing is part of the fun, understanding that people often want more than just a product in their hand is going to be key.
The majority of the focus of diversity and representation in advertising tends to be focused on creative execution. This makes sense as from a consumer perspective, this is the biggest signal of what the brand stands for. Brands don’t exist in a bubble, they exist in culture, so advertising communications can play a major role in bringing diverse voices to the table.
However, there is a second element which consumers don’t see, and which tends to be overlooked in the conversation. These are the decisions taken at the level of media planning, including the contexts and places the ads will be seen in, as well as who they are targeted towards.
Brands seeking to include LGBT+ audiences need to consider the full picture, including the paid for media approach by appearing in high quality, relevant spaces and ensuring brand safety measures aren’t excluding diverse voices.
Appear in high-quality, relevant spaces.
Brands that target high-quality LGBT+ media environments will guarantee your reach of an audience actively interested in LGBT+ issues, while positively signalling your own commitment and interest in the community.
While it is advantageous to reach the LGBT+ community through print, radio, out-of-home, or even TV programming – you can also find diversity within diversity, with many titles dedicated to specific audiences across the spectrum. It is also possible to amplify your representative creative to a broad audience, through wider mass-reach media.
If you are using a ‘site list’ approach to brand safety, ensure you include a range of LGBT+ media platforms within it, and deliberately look and plan for online and offline media opportunities tailored to this audience. Working closely with these partners can be a great way of securing guaranteed reach and media value while working together on shaping content.
Avoid excluding LGBT+ audiences through brand safety measures.
While it’s essential to use brand safety settings to limit the funding of hate – if used bluntly, these tools can accidentally end up excluding minority audiences.
This not only limits your reach to these valuable consumer groups but it also directly cuts off the funding of reporting and content relating to LGBT+ issues and makes it less likely these publications will continue to exist.
A study by Vice found that generic words like ‘lesbian’ and ‘Muslim’ were appearing more frequently on brand’s key-word blocklists than ‘murder’ and ‘rape’.
Adtech platform Cheq found that 73% of positive or neutral LGBT+ content was being misclassified and potentially blocked. Some of the real experts in this field are the diverse publishers themselves who deal with this issue, and safe ways to get around it. Consider working with one not just on their own inventory but as a means to improve your overall approach. Avoid generic keyword blocking in your brand safety approach, and ensure that minority titles are being broadly blocked.
Gaming – ‘the action or practice of playing video games’ – has long held a difficult position in British society. To some it is celebrated as a means of improving dexterity, encouraging and developing the imagination, and helping to improve communication skills through connected play. To its detractors, gaming is an iconoclastic presence that isolates individuals, engenders sedentary lifestyles, and promotes an unrealistic and unhealthy perspective on human behaviour.
As an individual who sees gaming as a source of good, it lifts my spirits to know that the three months of lockdown have delivered nothing but positive vibes for the gaming industry. In fact, during a time where self-isolation has kept us all physically apart, gaming has kept us all connected. Whether it has been playing online with friends, consuming a non-stop diet of live streams on Twitch, or sourcing the latest Triple A titles through digital download transactions, the whole category has seen its figures soar in recent months.
The numbers are fairly staggering: Sony recently reported that ‘PlayStation Now’ – a subscription service that gives the user access to a library of over 700 games – doubled its audience when compared to last year (1m to 2.2m).
Mobile gaming has also benefited from this sudden increase in active players with the number of installs to smart devices increasing by 84 percent during the Coronavirus crisis.
While it is clear that the daily number of active gamers has increased as people turned to new activities to kill time during lockdown, there are other behavioural and psychological reasons behind these figures.
According to Dr Dayna Galloway, the Head of Gaming and Arts at Abertay University, online gameplay is a vehicle for “communication and collaboration”, and can readily “replace some of the activities that are no longer feasible due to social distancing”.
It is this ability to reach out and socialise with friends and family – albeit virtually – which drove Nintendo’s ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ to the top of the gaming charts and led to its coronation as the official ‘game of lockdown’. Many players have credited Animal Crossing with “providing a lifeline during lockdown”, courtesy of its fantasy world where building accommodation, catching butterflies, and the price of turnips has offered respite from the daily Covid press briefing and the tragic updates it delivered.
With lockdown now easing and our freedom of movement becoming more expansive the challenge for gaming is how to maintain the impressive increases in numbers across the last few months.
‘Traditional gamers’ have plenty to look forward to with the next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X being released later this year. However, for gaming to continue to grow it needs to retain the casual gamers acquired during lockdown. To achieve this, publishers should double down on the features that proved successful over the last few months. Namely, a focus on online play, community, wholesomeness, and an ’everyone can play’ ethos should be the starting point for moving a pandemic behaviour into the mainstream.
Last week we tuned into Nudgestock, the annual behavioural economics festival, which reminded us of just how important behavioural science could be as we come out the other side of the pandemic.
In its simplest form, behavioural economics suggests that we make decisions according to the context in which we find ourselves, and by changing that context through subtle nudges we can change behaviour.
COVID-19 has completely disrupted the contexts in which our lives play out. But unlike the drastic, sudden changes of the crisis, Rory Sutherland argues that businesses will need to focus on behavioural economics, and the subtle nudges it teaches more than ever as we emerge out of lockdown.
Here are three of the ways we can put this into practice:
Context is king, and now more so than ever.
An often overlooked ticket to good media planning, context is king as we emerge from lockdown. Ensuring your brand is visible in the moments when context changes post-lockdown is one way to bounce back more quickly. Reviewing the basics, whether that’s changing context like time of day or the new context of category behaviours like the weekly shop, is a good place to start.
Create positive feedback loops.
For businesses that haven’t been able to viably adapt to lockdown (think cinemas or live music) there’s urgency to return to pre-lockdown habits, but snapping back feels optimistic. Dan Ariely, a key player in behavioural economics, talked about the importance of closing the gap between fear and reality through positive feedback loops.
For things like commuting this will happen quicker, but for activities like going to a concert or to the cinema the gap will remain wider so long as we are not exposed to a positive experience. By creating “intermediary institutions” that get people used to the halfway house – e.g. smaller gigs or exclusive cinema experiences – brands can nudge back to pre-lockdown behaviours.
Get back to the “real why”.
We should all be questioning ‘the real why’ people buy our products and services, and whether that’s changed in the context of COVID-19.
During lockdown we’ve seen brands quick to find a new “real why” – services like Oddbox have seen an uptick in some customers subscribing as much for reliable delivery as for the contents themselves. As Rory Sutherland suggests, “the real why” is one of the last competitive advantages that brands have and something we should all be reviewing as post-lockdown contexts change.
Nudgestock has nudged us back into thinking about behavioural economics. Context has never been so important, and as we start to regain control of the contexts in which our brands and communications are encountered, we could all learn a thing or two from Rory and co.