Megan Keane

Associate Director of Integrated Strategy | dentsu Americas

This week we look at three rising trends from the ongoing COVID-19 and racial inequality crises affecting brands, media and consumers. For brands, it has become clear that corporate accountability is important now more than ever. In media, the past three months have revealed the speed, scale and danger of misinformation. And lastly, disruption to consumers’ lives ‘as normal’ has led to rapid modification of daily routines – one winner: telemedicine.

Below we dive into the details of those trends, as well as unpack what they mean for marketers.

Marketing is expanding as brands are held more accountable.       
The disruptive nature of the pandemic accelerated a trend that was already underway: increasingly, everything is marketing. As the pandemic hit, brands jumped into unprecedented action, with traditionally non-marketing decisions – from shifting production lines to supporting communities to pivoting business models –  having an outsized impact on brand perception. According to a Dentsu survey, 67% of consumers report a more positive opinion of brands based on their response to the COVID-19 crisis.         
Following the heinous murder of George Floyd and many others in the Black community, the nation began, not for the first time, to confront racism and fight for racial justice. The momentum this time feels different -- especially when it comes to holding companies accountable for more than vocal support. Many times before, marketers have said all the right things while failing to translate advertising into measurable action. Now, consumers are demanding transparency and accountability: 69% agree that when brands stand up for racial equality, it can make a real difference (Dentsu COVID-19 Navigator).

The battle against misinformation is ramping up as the stakes get higher.

Trust in social networks has been falling for some time. As of 2018, two-thirds of consumers said social media companies were not effective in controlling fake news, deterring hate speech and protecting privacy and only 30% trusted social platforms (Edelman, 2018).        
Since then, the situation has only worsened. Amid the pandemic and fight for racial justice, misinformation has proved not only bad for our health, but also for our safety.  In May, a video called “Plandemic” began circulating widely on social media, featuring various false claims including that the wealthy intentionally spread COVID-19 in order to increase vaccination rates. Later, misinformation surged during the peak of the protests for racial justice.

Media platforms’ responses have varied. While most swiftly partnered to combat misinformation around COVID-19, the response to misinformation riding the tails of the protests has been spotty and lackluster. Calls to do better are growing.  #StopHateForProfit, a month-long boycott of paid advertising on Facebook has gained significant momentum in recent days and 77% of consumers say media platforms have a responsibility to reduce misinformation & hate speech (Dentsu COVID-19 Navigator).

In times of change consumers are more experimental: telemedicine is benefiting.

After years of slow growth, telemedicine has gone mainstream in a matter of months. Virtual doctor visits have jumped from ~12,000/week to more than 1 million/week (Fortune).

As everyone’s habits are disrupted, adoption is no longer confined to early adopters or younger generations: Of the roughly half of Americans who say they have used telemedicine services during lockdown, 70% are first-time users. And, while younger adults are still more likely to have used telemedicine than older adults, there is a notable increase in usage among Americans 65+: from 18% to 28%. Even more promising for the industry, repeat usage is up: 4 in 10 Americans using telemedicine services have done so 3+ times since the pandemic started (Harris Poll).      
While niche, telemedicine poses a universal question to all industries as the pandemic shapes our foreseeable future: How will consumer routines shift as our lifestyles become more home-centric? Over the last decade, tech companies have set consumer expectations for convenience and seamlessness – this new chapter may set the bar even higher.

What does this mean for modern marketers?

  • Align business practices with company values. Consumers are looking for brands to take a stand on social issues that goes beyond lip service. Brands are being held accountable for how they conduct business, both internally and externally. Ensure you are practicing what you preach and offer consumers full transparency.
  • Ad spaces are a reflection of brand values. Misinformation will only increase if left unchecked and is particularly important in the context of the current crises, as well as the nearing 2020 election. Brands have a role to play by putting their ad dollars towards credible media properties and partnering for healthier online spaces.
  • Consumer openness to adopting new routines and technologies goes beyond telemedicine. Consider what other ‘emerging’ technologies now fill new need states in the context of the pandemic; consider how your consumer journeys have shifted and what more home-centric lifestyles mean for your brand.

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