COVID-19: United States Consumer Comfort Levels
Advertisers and their marketing tactics have had to quickly react to catastrophic events before. A powerful example of that is the attacks on United States soil on September 11, 2001. This COVID-19 global pandemic has necessitated advertisers to quickly turn on a dime, even as they are facing an unprecedented drop in revenue as people have lost their jobs leading to hesitancy in consumer purchasing. Brands navigating this crisis need to keep consumers' feelings about COVID-19 top of mind as they plan and then execute marketing and advertising campaigns.
We have curated eleven pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding consumer sentiment in the United States concerning how brands are communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic. This does include, but has not been limited to, how consumers are open to brands addressing COVID-19 in ads.
- When the COVID-19 pandemic was first reported as a major outbreak in mid-March 2020, consumers in the United States were surveyed surrounding their sentiment towards brand communications. Over 50% of those asked said they were happy to see that brands were contributing to the fight against the epidemic by making various donations. Most consumers wanted to hear from brands in that time, while only 15% were not interested in receiving news from brands. This can be visualized in the graphic below.
- Ace Metrics echoes the above data as they polled consumers at the outset of the pandemic and found that consumers were okay with brands addressing COVID-19 in ads. Of those surveyed, forty-two percent said “yes, any mention is ok”, forty-four percent reported that it “depends on the message and/or brand”, and a mere ten percent said it wasn’t ok.
- Moving forward in time to May 2020, consumer sentiment shifted somewhat. According to Mitto, while seventy-seven percent of consumers valued and welcomed hearing more frequently from brands during the pandemic and appreciated being communicated to with the right tone and content, exhaustion over the subject had set in with some consumers reporting that they were ready to move on and hear about something else. It should be noted that this survey is representative of 7,000 respondents across the United States, China, Spain, The United Arab Emirates, Australia, Brazil and Nigeria combined. However, we felt it was relevant, so we included it.
- According to research from Social Media Link, the perceptions of brands by consumers have shifted based on how brands have behaved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-eight percent of consumers report that their perception of brands has been affected during the epidemic. When looking at generational cohorts, sixty-three percent of Millennials say their perception of brands has been affected, compared to Baby Boomers at forty-six percent. When it comes to brands showing empathy during the crisis, Millennials appreciated that the most at forty-three percent. Millennials also had positive perceptions of those brands that were extending benefits (38 percent) and helping the community (36 percent).
- The New York Times published an article that asserted that "some companies have barred any mention of Covid-19 in influencer posts, even if the ads are about staying at home or taking care of family." According to Mae Karwowski, chief executive of Obviously, her agency has recommended that influencers working at home should portray products in everyday clothing and that images should feel “bright and cheerful.” It advised against advertising from bed or in pajamas. She was quoted as stating “We want to make sure brands aren’t attached to those really negative things that are happening while still acknowledging that we’re all communally going through this.” The concept, she said, "is to aim for positivity and calmness rather than stress or anxiety."
- According to a report in the LA Times, recent ads that mention the virus have received high marks from Ace Metrix Inc., which measures whether TV ads resonate with viewers. Scores reflect the fact that advertisements that mention COVID-19 have been eleven percent higher than the industry average. Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix Inc. states that "[T]he novel coronavirus is on people’s minds all the time. You can’t get away from it. We’re seeing that people are really receptive to seeing ads that talk about it, and ads that show these brands stand for something."
- Ace Metrics measured the frequency of the mention of “masks” in viewer verbatim comments about ads at the end of July 2020, and they were able to determine if masks have an impact on the ads effectiveness, and ultimately found the following key takeaways: One: Making masks central to the message of a creative runs the risk of coming off as insensitive to the brand's audience on the matter (ad for Menards & Ice Breakers), but when it is authentic and necessary to the story it can have a net positive effect (ad for Vistaprint & Uber). "When not the sole focus of the ad, mask inclusion remained a trivial aspect in terms of impacting effectiveness. Excluding masks does not help or hurt effectiveness either, with other creative elements making a larger impression on most viewers."
- If the inclusion of the mask was subtle in the ad, viewers made less note of “masks” in their verbatim comments. In fact, fewer than five percent of viewers mentioned it in their comments for 26 out of the 37 mask ads from June that Ace Metrics analyzed.
- Of note is the fact that when negative mentions are looked at directly, a majority of viewers found the masks off-putting because it was either a depressing reminder of the times or they were sick of seeing it in ads: Some direct comments were: “Depressing to see all the masks” (Male 21-35). “I don’t like the images of social distancing or people wearing masks. I think it’s unnecessary, and it just reminds me of how messed up things are.” (Female 50+). “Every single company out there right now is talking about social distancing and masks and hand sanitizer… At this point, it’s just annoying.” (Female 21-35).
- Looking at this same subject from an opposite point of view, the absence of masks in ads did not evoke strong enough feelings for most viewers to even comment on the matter in their open-ended verbatims. In fact, seventy-three percent of the “no mask” ads Ace Metrics analyzed had only one viewer mention the lack thereof in their comment. The other twenty-seven percent saw either two or three mentions. With 395 verbatim comments per ad on average, that is less than one percent of viewers feeling so strongly in regards to the exclusion of masks that they called it out.
- With September looming, back-to-school advertising is yet another COVID-19 challenge for brands. Among consumers who responded to the survey that have children at home, the average Ace Score for back-to-school ads as a group are in line with last year’s results. In verbatim comments, there were a few parents that noted their appreciation for brands that did not avoid mentioning the uncertainty of the upcoming academic year. "Meanwhile, a much smaller percentage felt negatively towards back-to-school ads in general because of COVID-19." Of those commercial Ace Metrics have tested so far, the following commercials are resonating best with parents: Kohl’s: “Buy Now”, Walmart: “Back to School — Free 2 Day Delivery”, Target: “Learning Mode”, Dick’s Sporting Goods: “Day One”, and JCPenney: “The Rhythm” & “Here to Help”.