Why there won't be a new normal for brand communications

None of us have any idea how the government should get us out of lockdown. You can’t hashtag your way out of this. However, many of us need to pull together communications strategies to get businesses ‘out there’ again. This is not simple. 

Whilst it’s true that all sectors have taken a hit, some have been knocked out. This complicates things, as does the fact that consumer behaviour and sentiment is also shifting. We’ve gotten used to things as they are (that’s not to say we’re not still worried about catching coronavirus), but we probably no longer need a condiment to tell us everything is going to be ok. What’s worked for the last couple of months is going to stop doing so.

How we feel now
How do most of us feel about the pandemic right now? Half of us remain very or somewhat scared of getting the virus (YouGov May 2020), and most of us would be okay with lockdown staying as is until July (again, YouGov May 2020). We’re still anxious. 

This concern has declined since the start of lockdown, which is why we’re starting to see less of the (now) cliched Covid-19 brand communications that we saw a lot of six weeks ago. That’s not to say that work was not effective, it was. Brands that reflected the way we felt in those weird early days of lockdown, got both our attention and our appreciation. In the Tiger King days the emotional, sentimental TV campaigns run by Tesco, Aldi, EE and even Currys PC World were effective (IPSOS Mori and Thinkbox May 2020). We felt a bit scared and they told us it’ll all be alright. And we listened to them and liked them more for it. 

What’s going to work now that we’re still a bit worried but don’t need a metaphorical cuddle from a personal computer retailer?

The new normal
As the lockdown lifts, we’re going to be stuck between worlds for a bit. Stuck between the comfort of lockdown and the hope of life outside it. We’ve adapted to the restrictions and developed new routines, have started to see that things are improving, but we’ve not yet moved on with our lives. That’s the bit we’re just about to start, the bit a lot of thought leaders are calling the ‘new normal’. 

We don’t know how long it will last, but it looks like it’s going to be here for the large part of 2020. What we do know is that as we get to do more and more, many of us just won’t bother. Only a third of us would feel comfortable going back to bars and restaurants straight away, and just 17% would be relaxed about going to a large social gathering (YouGov May 2020). At the same time, we’re getting bored of heroic messaging, in its place we’re developing an appetite for lighter content (IPSOS Mori and Thinkbox May 2020) Ant and Dec style content. Great! As many of us are spending evenings watching films with our family, it follows (for example) that planning content around family classics or nostalgia during this period will see a good return.

How brands can connect
Culture’s moved on a bit, but we’ve not changed. We miss our families a lot more than we normally do. That’s not a new normal, that’s just a difficult few months (without down playing the huge suffering some have experienced). It’s context. 

And in this context, over the next few months there’s an opportunity for brands to connect with consumers over the things that matter more to us at the moment. The first hug with Mum, the first BBQ with friends, the first Sunday lunch with our families. The kitchen sink drama. And yes, maybe that means playing charades on Instagram with a white goods manufacturer now that we can’t get Sharon to look after the kids when we go out. 

We don’t want a new normal, it’s not a thing, we simply want what we can’t have for a short while. We can help people miss it less, and even to forget about it all for a bit. That’s our job.

Written by Peter Elms, director of agency Alpaca Communications