By Mario Morby, Head of Planning at FP7 McCann Dubai

We’ve been running a regional Coronavirus tracking study and one of the things we discovered is that 1 in 5 consumers have been switching up their brand choices.  I know there are demand and supply-side issues at play – which makes this different from previous downturns, but for those with budget there are short and long-term gains to be made. 

Mario Morby

But how do you do this in a manner that is right for the business, reflects the national mood and avoids the cookie-cutter template of platitudes and piano music that is dominating our screens?

At FP7 McCann, we believe brands that play a meaningful role in people’s lives are the brands that are most demanded.  However, there’s an altitude to meaningfulness and brand owners need to find a level that is right for them and their audiences; day-to-day utility or societal change? 

I’m going to set out the case that in this crisis it’s the former.  

What Can Brands Learn From Ziggy Stardust And A Trip Hop Band?

I often turn to song lyrics for strategic inspiration and whereas most people start searching for answers on Google I head to Spotify.  So, here I am searching for an answer to the question of the moment, how can brands play a meaningful in people’s lives during Coronavirus crisis?  And somewhere between David Bowie’s “Changes” and Massive Attack’s “Protection” I’ve found the answer. 

We know from our proprietary research and first hand experiences that people in this region, compared to global folks, feel it’s more important achieving goals than slowing down to enjoy the distractions of life’s journey.  They are driven, ambitious and impatient, which makes Covid anathematic; their focus has shifted from journeying to an imagined future to wrestling with a fragile present.  For many, life has become an unrecognizable and grinding battle trying to protect physical, mental and financial wellbeing.   

The world is changing and things feel strange, by how much and for how long depends on who you talk to.  One thing’s for sure though, consumers aren’t comfortable with uncertainty.  

This is where is where David Bowie comes in. 

He was the master of creative, artistic and cultural reinvention. He embraced uncertainty more than anyone else.  The 70s belter, “Changes”, might well have been a rare display of self-reflection, but it’s also an anthem that makes facing the unknown a little easier.  

This is how brands can play a meaningful role in people’s live, by encouraging them – as Bowie urges, to “turn and face the strange”.

What Can Brands Do To Help People Face The Strange?

This is where my second musical inspiration comes in. 

Protection was the highly anticipated second album from Bristol based Massive Attack, the influential British band that spun out of an early 80s underground sound system.  Protection is also the title track; it’s hauntingly beautiful and stays with you much longer than the 7 minutes song length, especially the chorus: “I’ll stand in front of you. I’ll take the force of the blow. Protection.” 

Because in a time of crisis, uncertainty and the unknown, this is what we do for our loved ones.  Our families.  Our friends.  We stand in front of them to protect them.  We do, not say.  And herein lies the way-in for brands; provide tangible coping solutions which can help people turn and face the strange. 

This is backed up by a recent Kantar analysis of current adverts that found those that show how brands can help have greater potential to drive stronger long term equity gains than those offering hope or encouragement.  

How can brands take the force out of the blow?

  • Create Moments Of Play

There’s a monotonous rhythm to a life that’s been reduced to survival, but physical quarantine and social distancing shouldn’t mean mental isolation.  Playfulness is a powerful alleviator of stress; it builds connections, stimulates the mind and makes people feel happier. 

  • Spark A Reconnection

At a basic human level, people need to feel a sense of belonging, they need to feel part of something.  So, help them reconnect and re-establish links with interest groups and passion points, help satisfy their need for meaningful social connections.

  • Meet People Where They Are Today

Make sure that every consumer can reach your brand in a digital space.  Help those that need it transition from cash to contactless, from offline to online.  And ensure your products, services and experiences get to people, touch-free.  What’s more, delivery is a hygiene factor, literally, so consider how you charge people for it.    

  • The Opportunity For Serendipity 

20% of humans carry the DRD4-7R gene, otherwise known as The Restless Gene.  It compels people to explore.  They’re hardwired to make discoveries and seek out the new and the novel, which is difficult to do in restricted spaces.  Give people the chance to make surprising new discoveries. 

  • Be Generous 

Pay cuts, reduced working hours, home schooling and rising living costs means people are experiencing intense financial and time pressures.  Helpful hacks and money saving deals that can relieve the household burden not only demonstrate authentic empathy, but maintain cashflow. 

There’s no doubt that life in a low-touch economy is difficult, but hope is a peculiar human condition – even in times of distress people have the capacity to see brightness.  That’s why consumers need your resource and ingenuity to face the strange and make life better, not your words.