Brand suitability and the power of context at a time of crisis

By Steven Filler, MD, Union

As the global crisis enters a new phase, communities, industries and businesses are confronted with its impact and side effects. Media consumption patterns and attitudes towards advertising are evolving swiftly, both in terms of temporary modifications of behaviour and with regards to new paradigms whose gradual emergence the pandemic has accelerated.

Accurately tracking and quickly understanding these changes is crucial for our industry as a whole.

At Union Media we have been monitoring the effects at a local level, in every market we cover in the EMEA region, through the feedback from our 315 people in 34 cities and the daily interaction with thousands of local publishers with whom we collaborate closely.

We decided to dig deeper by releasing a tracking study which will provide market intelligence and thus augment the decision-making capacity of advertisers and publishers doing business in and across EMEA. In this release, we focus on ten key EMEA markets that have representative coverage and mirror the region’s diversity.

Key questions answered include:

• How have consumers’ content consumption habits and trust levels towards media changed during the crisis?

• How do consumers think brands should shape their advertising strategy during this period?

• How is advertising adjacency to COVID-19 news affecting their buying behaviour per product category?

• How is the media type impacting brand affinity and preference?

You will be surprised to read, on the one hand, how unanimously consumers feel in answering some of these questions and, on the other, how culture, age or unfolding local conditions lead to notable divergence.

What’s more, as with any research that is both targeted and diverse in geography or demographics, the more closely data is examined and analysed, the more remarks or avenues of further inquiry emerge.

There are several indications on subtle trends which, in the context of a broader communications campaign spanning different markets, should be taken actively into consideration.

Key conclusions

Don’t Stay Silent. Consumers nearly unanimously want brands to continue advertising during the crisis. What becomes evident across this survey though is that they need to adjust to the situation. Empathy, that is, and understanding of the local context becomes the key criterion of success for any brand communication.

The North-South Divide. There appears to be a further dimension in which Northern countries demonstrate somewhat more distinct earnestness. This concerns both the comparative increase of news reading versus social media consumption, as well as a higher percentage that, interestingly, thinks that brands should continue to advertise (in terms of not only frequency, but also messaging) as they did before the outbreak.

The Generation Gap? Speaking of divides, some appear much less pronounced than stereotypes would have it. For starters, take age: though Baby Boomers, unsurprisingly, tend to be heavier users of news, younger generations are also quite highly engaged with news sites and local content brands, smashing the tired hypothesis that the “youth” demographic can best be reached via social media platforms only.

An emerging New Normal? Cautiously, as microtrends must be read, an intriguing development may be in the works: in countries most hit by the pandemic, say Italy, sensitivity to COVID-19 adjacencies appears to be receding, possibly pointing to the emergence of a “new normal”. On the one hand, it is too early for such a trend to be conspicuously manifested. On the other, it does point to the eternal trait that is humankind’s resilience.

Brand Suitability. It’s complicated. To say that it all very much depends on the content–context fit or that COVID-19 adjacencies can create a level of annoyance to parts of the audience is hardly startling. What is however unexpected, admittedly with a level of variance between markets, is the equivalent degree of mere indifference, as well as, interestingly, the distinctly low percentage of users that react angrily to such occurrences.

Simply put, in the context of advertising during the crisis, the risk of severe or disastrous blowback, may be much more limited than expected or assumed, but still, brands shouldn’t hold their guards down or take a one-size-ts-all approach.

Clearly, a number of useful insights can be discerned, to help brands navigate the path to a new normal as consumers in EMEA come out of the lockdown or restrictive measures.

We will make sure we track their development over this period and beyond.

One major takeaway that stands out conspicuously from this research is that while there seems to be a converging pattern in terms of increased media consumption, the consumer criteria that influence attitudes and behaviour vary significantly per market.

Now, more than ever, LOCAL CONTEXT MATTERS.

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