Gen C: A new virtual sanity report

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gen c:

A new virtual sanity Culture over Consumption

FOREWORD As management thinker Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, but right now brands need to get strategic about their cultural approach. It has become my mantra over the past few months, it’s not enough to be culturally aware, we must be culturally committed. We are reframing and resetting and with that comes a new code of conduct. The thrills of the boom feel like a hedonistic consumer and sales frenzy that through our new COVID lens, we are all left wondering how we ever played a part. Just like people, brands need to stop apologising and over analysing their past, and act for their future. We’ve gone from the frivolity of lockdown baking to the wakeup call of Black Lives Matter. Being momentarily paused allowed us to go back to basics... but then much more powerfully, looking at rewriting the wrongs. And Gen C has spoken.

Gen C is ageless, unable to be categorised, they are strongwilled and yes, divided. But for all brands out there, it’s clear which side to show up on when it comes to surviving the next purchasing wave of COVID. Our recommendation – use that lens that COVID has gifted us and focus on what matters to people. Bring who you are to the table and put what you’ve learnt into practice. Brand bandwagons, whilst making some change, are too hollow. Commit and then commit some more. Yes, you’re about to see stats and data, but look to those instinctively charged around you because they are the ones that will help you as a brand rebuild. And I’m pleased to say this report has been emotionally curated by our Youth and Culture team. The one constant we can all continue to bank on is change and there’s a new formula in town, and I for one know how excited I am to rework mine. Lauren Winter, Managing Director of Brand and Consumer Culture, EMEA FleishmanHillard


gen c: A NEW VIRTUAL SANITY Invest in culture over consumption In these never-before-seen times, we don’t have a nicely rolled up blueprint for what happens next. Across wider society, of all ages and backgrounds, we’re currently connected to each other in our shared experience of being apart. Rarely do moments in time unite generations with such uniformity. Drastic changes might be affecting our lives differently, but we are united in adapting to those changes and people are trying their best to come out better for it. Through this united experience comes talk of Gen C, a term coined to describe a digital audience connecting, creating and curating in communities. With an embrace of the digital culture that surrounds us in modern society, this new cohort is not connected by an age group, but by a way of life and mindset. Transcending borders, barriers, demographics, stereotypes and trends, this is a generation of people that cares about culture and acts to create movements in the world they live in.

This hunger for a digital community and content has seemingly become more prevalant through our digital dependence in lockdown time and looks to become a mainstay as modern life increasingly digitises and 5G impact takes shape within a few years. However, there are still questions of what life will look like in time, and the dawn of a different today will have extraordinary effects on brand behaviours of tomorrow. The changing where and how of socialising, entertainment, purchasing and consumption is putting different demands on industries and will continue to do so. From the role of healthy CBD drinks, to virtual bar experiences, to changing preferences on home entertainment, we’re anticipating a new virtual reality for everyone, from Gen C to Baby Boomers. The New Virtual Sanity report explores a new cultural shift, how our behaviours and brand expectations are changing amid the pandemic, and whether they can be expected to stay. Etching just a little bit more of that blueprint to find out where we’re going and to find sanity in the new world.


Meet Gen C A new generation with distinct characteristics

Connect Connect

Shared content connects curators and communities together, with Gen C finding emotional connection through its interactions and reactions. Consuming content is half of the journey for Gen C. Whether physically chatting or digitally sharing, they want to spread what they deem, “shareworthy”, to their community.

Connecting has become a way of life, as they engage with culture and community digitally and augment their physical moments with virtual communication. A connected world provides opportunities and community for Gen C, with anything and everyone available at their fingertips.

Create Create

Original content is only part of Gen C’s creative powers. Creating today sees filters and hashtags trigger shared movements, where Gen C can engage and put their own twist on the latest social challenge. It’s not just what you create but how, where and to whom you share it with.

Curate Curate Always on with a plethora of platforms available, Gen C wants to engage with their communities. No longer restricted by location, communities revolve around shared connection and association, whether that means family, friends or followers. A mix of these distinct groups forms their wider community and is where they get a significant portion of their inspiration and information.

Community Community 7

The Methodology Together with FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice, we examined existing reports and analysed primary and secondary research and data to help us develop key insights for a post-pandemic world. Third-party reports analysed for this paper encompassed a wide range of topics and demographical surveys, which examined consumer trends in pandemic times. Our own “COVID-19 Mindset� report involved fielding an online survey of adults 18 and older in various markets from March 30 to April 3, 2020. The total number of participants was 6,566 and the markets involved were: US, UK, China, South Korea, Italy and Germany.

WHO WE ARE Situated within the Brand Marketing and Consumer team, the Youth and Culture (YandC) specialism is a dedicated offering that focuses on the changing of generations and culture to gain insight and understanding of opportunities for business. Culture is what unites and divides us. By understanding the hearts and minds of people, we know how to reflect their wants and needs, connecting the dots throughout society to see the bigger picture and future-proof work. It’s about understanding and listening so actions can speak for themselves. For more information, any further questions or simply to say hi, please contact:


1. LIFE’S Redefined Essentials

Times are changing (just don’t get used to them)

While Gen C has had the chance to reevaluate what’s important to them, they’re tentative with their commitments to some of their current alternatives too. As our needs change along so too must sensitive and consumers.

and preferences continue to with lockdown restrictions, brands continue to remain engage empathetically with

When the easing of social distancing happens, it will undoubtedly bring back some old pastimes that we’ve missed. However, many have also discovered new pastimes while stuck at home and may continue to pursue those activities.

Change is the only constant:





of UK consumers have re-evaluated which products and services they value the mostxi

intend changes to their buying behaviours to continue when the pandemic is overx



say the pandemic has changed how they view the worldx

are exercising morexvi

1 IN 2

say the pandemic has changed how they view their countryx

stopped buying unhealthy takeawaysxvi

are choosing to ‘play board games’ as an alternative to going out, and plan to do this more frequently once the lockdown has been liftedxvi

“In some ways, even the word ‘audience’ has lost a lot of significance. The most important thing for these modern communities or shared mindsets is to show up with a combination of authenticity and creativity. Like all the best people, brands must show up both interesting and interested. That’s why we are committed to co-creating with our audiences to ensure that not only the tone and topics are on point, but the very work shares a genuine point of view or even philosophy with those people we’re showing up for.” Kev O’Sullivan, Executive Creative Director


So What’s The Point? Whether it’s facilitating new hobbies or aiding in skill-acquisition, brands need to think strategically about how to create impressions that can become positive associations. Finding ways to create spheres of community can help create opportunities for Gen C to connect and grow over shared passion and enthusiasm. You don’t necessarily even have to host the community to make an impact. Simply connecting others together, while being a supportive member yourself, can empower others to lead discussion and agenda. Another potential outcome, however, is once pandemic-related mandates begin to lift there may be just as much of a desire to embrace new activities, allowing a return to the freedom of choice and exploration that had previously been taken for granted.






of people plan to play less video games, spend less time on social media, stream less TV or movies, and not shop online for nonessential items post-pandemicvii

say they plan to continue socialising as a family viii

say they plan to watch more news coverage, more streaming services and more videos viii

say they plan to keep exercising after the pandemic viii

Social data indicates a polarised view on temporary remedies such as drive-in movies and concerts, with some eager for a new experience and just as many doubtful on the actual enjoyability of a concert sat in or on your car. Reactionary or niche tactics may provide short-term benefits but will require continued thought and reinvention to remain relevant post-pandemic. For some brands, it will also be vital to continue creating new associations and emotional connections with consumers post-pandemic, in an effort to distance

themselves from an association with what is a negative time period for many. The times we’re living in today are by no means a longterm “new normal”. While some will have found new habits and activities that will stick, many others will revert to old habits over time. Brands should continue to operate by listening to consumers and build loyalty by helping in any way possible – even if just creating spaces to share concerns in the immediate term.

Just over half of UK respondents reported their drinking habits had changed, either drinking more or abstaining since lockdown began: 25–34 YEAR-OLDS

reported an increase in alcohol intakexvi


1 IN 10

decided to go teetotal and avoid it altogether in contrastxvi

1/3 of people over 55

report they are drinking less alcohol, instead preferring to turn to caffeinated beveragesxvi


Reliable Soothsayers Speak Loudest Calming anxiety is understandably high on the priority list for Gen C right now and organisations should be looking at how they can quell those worries in the short term. At the very least, brands should avoid adding fuel to the fire for individuals or wider community to reduce risk and long-term impacts to reputation.

Regardless of whether your product has calming properties for today’s environment, be straightforward, trustworthy and think of how your actions can reverberate and be remembered in time. There is no doubt that from furloughed staff and the unemployed, to those worried about their own health as well as the health of family members, this is a time where everyday reality is unfortunately providing ample opportunities for stress and anxiety to surface.

“For brands to stay current, tracking, studying and analysing the signals of Generation C is paramount. However, even the best research and data programmes will only get you so far. To truly understand the forces of culture, you need to apply analytics rigour with cultural intelligence and expertise.” Ben Levine, Director and Partner, TRUE Global Intelligence

It’s not just a surge in CBD drinks providing relief, audience remedies have varied, evidenced by an uptick in social media discussion around horror movies and live-streamed comedy. We’ve also seen the mass-popularity of Animal Crossing and its peaceful gameplay, along with general interest in cooking with brands through online content that is providing the escapism many are craving right now. Gen C seek out authentic connections and engage across all screens and mediums, meaning there isn’t a failsafe, one-size-fits-all method to reach them and their next trend. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on your end of the equation and make sure you’re there to meet them halfway. Stepping up and investing in culture to provide in a time of need helps bring value beyond the product and give us some of the human medicine we need. Content, entertainment, recipes, activities and community. Just as importantly however, is a strong desire for brands to offer straightforward, practical information on things such as proper safety precautions shopping in-store. One of the best things that can be done to soothe the worries of consumers today is to be straightforward and direct with trustworthy information.

1 in 5 social posts xiii

related to retail in the pandemic have been about how to shop safely, with information around new 50% capacity rules, the importance of wearing masks and physical distancing between shoppers frequently cited.

While people are overwhelmed, brands are best served by being simple, clear, reassuring and consistent with information.

70% of global consumers viii

say that this kind of practical information is the most fundamental expectation of brands right now.

Our hierarchy of needs have shifted. We’re not able to freely buy in the same way, or confidently rely on jobs or work as we did before. So, where to look for solace? Who to look to for guidance? There’s a lot that brands can’t do for us right now. But with a little thought and a little action, there’s a lot that they can do as well.


2. Pivot Power

Digital silver linings

If there was ever a time to take a digital leap of faith, it’s now. Gen C’s digital culture is interwoven into the fabric of modern life, but those who rely on physical spaces – from the historic art galleries to the heaving dance floors – have had to seriously rethink how they inspire others to create, cultivate and connect. Moving into digital spaces is the best some can do for now, but they will continue to provide value post-pandemic and may even be viewed as silver linings to this period one day. Whether it’s missing out on exercise classes or being unable to attend religious services, selfisolation is depriving people of the physical, spiritual, and cultural fulfilment that they want from everyday life. As brands and businesses work to digitise services, the pandemic is reshaping what was once considered possible from the comfort of home. Companies that may once have relied on physical contact are being forced to meet people in new online spaces. The current environment has galvanised and forced the hand of some cultural institutions to explore digital options that had previously always been further down the food chain of resources and focus. It’s not just the actual offering and space that has seen a different shape take form. Previously haughty, and some might even say pretentious or rigid, communication has given way to a more casual tone that is sometimes better suited and feels more natural when limited to an Instagram caption. One British art institution has taken a more laidback approach to Twitter, where they’ve changed their tune to have a lighter tone and even delved

into meme-style posts while sharing artwork. They’re engaging with their audiences now. It started with a simple post on March 18th, “who can draw us the best ham”, which grew to become a #dailydoodle challenge, seeing users across the country and globe send in their own creations. There is still space to educate and inform audiences online, but institutions can also create moments that help make these virtual spaces feel more light-hearted, personable and alive. Doing so helps recreate some of the social emotions these spaces provide, elevating online conversation beyond a two-way street, and instead sparking conversation and creativity that is allowing everyone to participate in their spaces. Gen C crave the connection, community and creativity that digital communities and live-streamed events provide.


% more visitors

Virtual tours and online collections have jumped in lockdown times, with UK museums and galleries reporting 723% more visitors than in previous weeks.2


Growth in live-streaming sector between March and April.1


live-stream industry up YOY. 1

People of all ages and backgrounds come together over a shared bond, interacting together whether as active participants or audience members. With rising viewer counts, figures seem to suggest our lockdown isolation has pushed live-streaming to the masses. While it’s unlikely live-streamed events will completely replace live gigs after restrictions have lifted, the future is likely to see a mixed reality where audiences weigh up the mix of physical and digital options available to them. They provide alternative opportunities to connect and create in different ways. Rather than recreating a live experience, it should be looked at as creating something entirely new. It would be naïve to think the current situation is one that’s easy for all to be optimistic about, there is no denying that. But where some see limitations, others see opportunities. Digital or not, the pandemic provides an opportunity to simply think outside of the box, because you have to. The lockdown has forced some organisations to experiment in times of digital need and has pushed them into long-overdue exploration and establishment of online avenues. However, with this surge of digital avenues, there may naturally be an element of digital fatigue to be remedied as we eventually revert to normality. We can expect to see a more balanced approach between physical and digital post-lockdown. While these changes will serve useful in the short term, with the eventual easement of lockdown restrictions we can expect some of the old ways to return. Nonetheless, they will be surrounded by new initiatives and platforms that will only support and supplement.

The way people experience brands is changing and at a rapid pace as we see a huge culture shift on a scale unknown in our lifetimes. Culture-led brands and those that have an earnest approach to consciousness will be the only survivors in this new era. With restrictions, London is no longer the epicentre and brands will have to work harder to stay relevant with Gen C across the UK.” Claire Barry, Director, Youth and Culture Lead, Brand Marketing and Consumer


Tipping Point for Lockdown Locals 68% Local businesses are benefiting as stocks run out, necessity takes priority and brand loyalty becomes an afterthought. Local deliveries have risen to the occasion with a digital makeover that has seen newly-formed online services become vital sources of income for small businesses.

While digital offers a much-needed lifeline for these businesses in the short-term, it will be pivotal they adapt and adjust their offering to reflect the times and continue to offer the personal touches that can be lacking in mainstream consumer brands and organisations. With our purchases prioritised towards our most basic needs, we’ve seen the rise of category purchasing take priority over brand purchasing. As stocks run out on shelves and our favourite brands become harder to come by, a willingness to try new brands becomes more acceptable rather than waiting for our next trip.

say the pandemic has changed the products and services they once thought were importantx

Product categories with the highest trial rate for new brands:3


packaged goods and beverages


fresh and organic foods


household care products


personal care products

These factors are influencing brand, or lack of brand, decisions when purchasing, with a “buy local” trend emerging stronger for it. Consumers are actively buying locally sourced and artisanal products, while supporting community stores in their bid to keep themselves and their communities healthy. Brands who could have formerly rested on their name will now be able to distinguish between consumers who are truly loyal or habitual buyers. Some may temporarily find themselves to be more replaceable than previously thought and will need to reconnect locally, adjusting to be in tune with local sensitivities and engagement. It’s not just what the buyers want however – the local sellers are meeting them halfway too. Part of this rise in local business may be attributed to their willingness to combat the restrictions of lockdown. Many have had to learn new skills, soon realising they can create a digital presence. Creating unique delivery and pickup options or offering vouchers and subscription services, they’ve had to reinvent themselves in times of social distancing. While current over-reliance on delivery may only stick to a degree, many will look to continue with these new ways of ‘protective providing’ even after lockdown restrictions ease. How your product is experienced can be just as important as the product itself. With interactions so transactional currently, optimising the purchasing journey is crucial and effective marketing is still needed to engage in the right way and help forge emotional connections with consumers.

25% 33%

of social posts related to online shopping in pandemic times have been related to troubles with delivery, stock and availabilityviii


have or plan to support local businesses during the pandemicxvi

have utilised their delivery/ takeaway servicexvi



have purchased vouchers


have donated to fundraisingxvi


of consumers would continue their frequency of ordering from takeaways post-pandemicxvi

Whether it’s experiential or advertising, providing meaningful moments matter more than any other medium. As local lockdown leaders have been finding out, a new reality around us means new ways to meet people.


3. Gen Z’s Entrepreneurs Facing Their Biggest Challenge Yet

The kids are alright, but more careful than ever out and marginalised. The closing of service-based industries and retail stores has resulted in many losing their jobs, with many graduates forced to navigate cancelled job offers or put up with virtual internships at best.

Instead of looking ahead to a world of opportunities, Gen Z now faces an uncertain future:

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted how young adults now feel about mortality, opportunities and security. With that shift comes a decrease in spending that requires us to rethink how we can provide service and connection when both are lacking.

Their purchasing power has taken a hit, at the very least temporarily. They are the most likely to be delaying purchasing across several categories according to GlobalWebIndex, partially attributed to lower-income and uncertainty during this pivotal moment in their lives.

Young service workers under 22 are losing more work hours than any other demographicxv

COVID-19 is changing our world and our perceptions of it with each passing month of isolated lockdown. One of the groups most affected by these changes is Gen Z, who were on the cusp of entering the workforce amid a time of economic prosperity and record-low employment. Many of them now find themselves frozen

Growing up during a recession, along with accessible knowledge on significant incidents such as 9/11 at their fingertips, Gen Z will be aware and conscious of the challenges facing them and direct more of their budget toward tools and education that give them an edge in the current and future job market.

A generation thought to be self-driven and forward-thinking in comparison to prior generations has just gotten a whole lot more cautious and careful. Career and purchasing decisions have taken on a new level of fragile importance in a suddenly uncertain future landscape for Gen Z.

under 22


of 18–25-year-olds are feeling the financial impact of the crisis (although many are still supported by their family, live at home, and have less to lose financially)5


Almost a third of Gen Z workers have been put on leave or completely laid off compared to only 13% for previous generationsxv


Video call culture There is hope, however. With searches for “virtual internship” trending, organisations are doing their bit to shine a light on the way forward by encouraging students with virtual programmes and the resources to find them. As the world plugs in and switches to a reality with more online options, Gen Z understandably still feel adept as they find themselves better prepared than anyone else to navigate it.

81% “confident” they will be able to secure a new role using these digital platforms such as Zoom, Teams and Skype4

While Gen Z make up the future of the workforce, notably only 11% strive to be their own bossxii despite an increase of entrepreneurial content online, with the majority preferring traditional career paths. Organszations that can lead by example and offer stability will be attractive to a generation who have lived through enough turbulent times to recognise the importance of a reliable and trustworthy organisation. In return, you’ll find a digitally adept generation that has a full understanding of the wider context and an appreciation of the opportunities given to them.

Standards over sales Gen Z care about companies doing their bit on all fronts with support for employees, customers and community.


In times requiring social unity such as these, brands must always consider the greater good, starting with understanding what the employees and consumers need and building community support that adds value.

of Gen Z respondents said the No.1 action they wanted to see from brands was that they ensure employee and consumer safety6

Now is not the time to push sales aggressively; Gen Z value entities with a purpose (1 in 4 rank this as a top priority), and interactions must feel genuine and relevant, rather than an obvious commercial ploy or a desperate attempt to connect.

care about companies supporting public health efforts7

Whether engaging through captivating social media challenges or playing cheerleader and supporting our key frontline workers, the current situation allows brands to align themselves with the real heroes of this time and cultivate the respect of the future generation, provided they engage in manners that resonate with their values around inclusivity and purpose. Whether supporting our front-line workers through social media challenges, donations or 8pm sign offs, the current situation gives us a chance to show appreciation for the real heroes of this time. Gen Z want to try to make a difference, even if it’s just posting a video.



The bad

The good

A well-known fast-fashion retail company saw a sharp negative response on social media after sending out push notifications prompting US customers to spend their justreceived stimulus cheques.

A peer-to-peer social shopping app (with a user base that encompasses 1 in 3 UK 18–25-year-olds) encouraged its predominantly Gen Z users to stay at home long before the government-mandated lockdown, while launching an online help centre for its young user base to answer any questions or concerns they may have about the pandemic.

wanting brands to protect their employees financially6


Nothing Is Wasted On The Young

With their employment and educational struggles, Gen Z are turning to one of the things they do best – creating and sharing content. According to GlobalWebIndex, Gen Z are over 10 times more likely to be creating and uploading videos during lockdown than any other generation. It’s clear that a significant portion have taken this time to make the jump from passive content consumer to content creators. Currently an app that specialises in 15-60 second clips is one of the key platforms youth are engaging with, and this is no different in lockdown. #OnlineClass content is currently one of the most popular tags, from hacks for skipping class via self-made video call backgrounds to sharing prom outfits that may never get worn. They’re using content to treat their day to day emotions, connecting with one another and finding the humour in their situation too. It’s not just for laughs however - Gen Z are trying to make a difference even while quarantined. From the #DistanceDance being supported by a notable American consumer goods corporation with donations to key organizations for the first 3 million videos using the hashtag, to the quick growth of #CelebrateDoctors on the platform, younger people are getting involved in the fight the best they can. Sharing videos might not seem like much, but it’s one way they can feel like they’re taking action. With 65% of them anxious about a friend or family member catching the disease, they’re seeking the escape from a reality that is currently rigid and immobile. Social media can serve as both outlets for entertainment and expression while providing the ability to help their immediate situation. Challenges are playing a key role in this, reinforcing brand image when done right, while encouraging them to create content, get involved and feel part of a movement.



have increased their social media use7

say social media has become an outlet for comic relief, making them feel “capable of getting through this�xiii



said they are going to stream more music and podcastsxiii

said they are going to discover new TV shows and films during this time over the next few months7



surge in Twitch viewership8

weekly increase in gaming since the beginning of March8


4. Generation Connected Pivot around purpose Being too rigid around identity and holding too tightly onto what service you provide can hinder the change required to accommodate those in need. When all around you is changing, the heart of what makes you unique beyond the bricks and mortar can be the spark and foundation needed to change your ways. A brand’s purpose can crystalise to take on new forms in abnormal times and be the hinge on which your pivot relies. Many businesses are changing their ways to accommodate their people and communities the best they can and will rightfully be remembered for it in future times. It should be obvious, but nowadays it’s not just how you take care of your customers, it’s also how you treat your employees and stand as an organisation. Brands are being applauded (and booed) on whether they’re providing in these times of need and social togetherness.

How we consume, socialise and entertain ourselves has altered dramatically the past few months. Our behaviours and attitudes are currently not bound by age but connected through living a shared experience. While we each react and require different things in our isolated islands, we’re all pulling through the same overarching circumstances. 59% of Britons feel that COVID-19 has brought the country togetheri and in a time like this, consumers feel connected to one another and expect organisations to read the room. While brands are changing and pivoting amid changing consumer behaviour, the more things change the more they can stay the same. Organisations with a strong grip on what makes them who they are can easily pivot with the recognition that it’s not just what we do or sell that defines us, it’s how we do and sell it (or in some cases refrain from).

Multinational consumer goods companies are donating masks, food and beverage companies are replacing millions of school meals for free, popular ridesharing apps have repurposed themselves for food deliveries and food delivery apps themselves are waiving fees to support small businesses. From front-line workers, local businesses, to supporting educational institutions, communities now expect brands to instigate change and lead the charge. Do more than just sell and profit, or you risk the wrath of the public. There has been a night and day difference in reception between a well-known brewery and pub chain – who saw a rise in their YouGov “Buzz Score” after announcements they had forgone salaries and started to produce hand-sanitiser, to

a famous UK pub company – who on the other hand saw its score drop dramatically following the owner’s suggestion pubs should be allowed to remain open, while also announcing staff would not be paid until the government stepped in (suggesting they could get jobs at local supermarkets instead). Brands have the capability of leaving something, both positive and negative, etched in our memories from this time. They are not always empty threats or meaningless tweets; the pandemic will eventually go away but the memories and emotions around how you acted during this time will not easily fade. People might not be able to enter shops or stop the closing of stores, but they will recognise the way that brands tried to keep us going.



of people globally consider how a company behaves when responding to issues of race or gender inequality before buying productsxix


of people globally say it’s important for CEO’s to take a stand on issues related to racial inequalityxix

of global audiences say the pandemic has changed how they see companies as employersx


of people said that they’re pleased to hear about brands taking actions to help out communities during the pandemicxvii


of UK consumers have re-evaluated which products and services they value the most due to their actions during this timexi

“Every company, every business leader, every employee should recognise that you underestimate Gen C at your cost. Armed with an instinctive understanding of next-generation technology combined with an impatience with a lack of progress, we should expect to be held to account for any inaction or failure to meet expectations. Be afraid.” Steph Bailey, Managing Director, Corporate Communications, SVP and Senior Partner


You’re Still Allowed To Have Fun, Remind Them Why They Love You When there is nothing that can positively change the situation for your consumers or the business margins, the best thing to ask is how you can shine a light on the little things that make life worth it. In times of social distancing, we’ve seen consumption take a hit and the distance from brand to consumer has never felt bigger. However, it’s not distance that solely defines our relationship with audiences; we can still communicate and remind our audience why they want us in their lives. While the seriousness of the pandemic makes it a sensitive time, sometimes what audiences want from brands is the exact opposite. The pandemic has caused a rise in news consumption, but many people are actively limiting their exposure to COVID-19-related content for the sake of their mental health.

In the context of global fear and anxiety, moments of levity can provide a welcome distraction from negative news updates. Of course, no brand wants to be seen making light of the health crisis but parodying the more mundane aspects of lockdown lifestyles through memes can create positive brand associations and bring joy to stressed-out individuals. Video-calling platforms have seen a surge in popularity and use, which in turn has seen various brands provide free backgrounds that add colour to the everyday lives of its users. Everyone from northern British teamakers to Japanese animation studios have shown initiative and created free backgrounds, tapping into the growth of these platforms and reaching their network of users. Brands are built emotionally over time and a time-tested method of this is advertising. While budgets are being cut and some may question the short-term of advertising during this time, some have taken advantage of advertising avenues to develop their messaging and talk to consumers in contextual but human-centric ways. We’ve seen fast food brands make light of their audience’s attempts to create their own deep-fried delights, both paying homage to their passion while reassuring them with the partial opening of franchises amid lockdown.

A famous American beer recently revamped a famous campaign by digitally replacing the audio to be more in tune with our current cultural context. While playing to its identity as a social enabler and purveyor of good times, the ad still nods to our current situation and encourages “buds” to check in on each other. It doesn’t all have to be tongue-in-cheek either. Historic footwear companies are still serving their trademark inspiration with their campaigns not just serving motivational ads, but also challenging audiences through premium training apps now free of charge and weekly social challenges alongside partnerships with household name athletes. All examples stay true to self and their relationship with consumers, while serving emotional reminders of just why we love them. The coming months present a chance to leave impressions that stick with audiences beyond transactions, not just providing products but providing reasons to smile and remember why we do the things we do.

only 8%

of consumers expect brands to cut their advertising during this timexviii


higher lifetime value in customers with an emotional relationship with a brandii

“Throw away the briefs of yesterday where consumers are bracketed by age and regionality. Gen C will challenge marketing conventions in the most thrilling of ways. This ageless generation seeks culture as a shared value and is catalysed by connecting with others that are nothing like them. It’s about personal growth, discovery and inclusivity – and brands are expected to answer.” Candace Peterson, Global Managing Director Brand & Consumer Marketing


more likely to recommend a company, rather than the average rate of 45%ii


Gen C New ways to live by LIFE success







LIFE balance








As a publican of craft beer, we made a decision when we opened our venues to invest in the culture of our pubs rather than just push products. You can get craft beer anywhere these days but the difference is the experience you have when you come to our pubs; the variety of our hand chosen craft beers, the people you meet and speak to from either side of the bar, the venue itself, the particular mood and vibe you feel when you’re there. The hospitality industry and pub culture as we once knew it has changed beyond recognition with everyone being affected from chains to craft. We’ve needed to change absolutely everything including our operating systems, to how we safely engage with our patrons by adapting our entire business model. What won’t change is the culture that our pub stands for, it’s just taking a different format. Culture remains the essence of our pubs, and our core focus.”

The moment the virus became widespread the official season was over, our team training stopped and even our ability to do individual training properly was pretty much impossible. I went from a day-to-day of high demand, intensive training with a group of people, punctuated by hugely exciting tournaments, to days suddenly limited to the house. The thing that has characterised this period is uncertainty. The disintegration of big goals, such as the Olympic Games being postponed, was hugely disheartening. But, it has encouraged a need to reflect and adapt, not only in the way I approach rugby and training but also life more broadly.”

Theo Caudell, Publican

Tom Mitchell, England Rugby Sevens Captain

@Roseandcrownnw5 @bravesirrobinn4


“I’ve seen months of work be postponed or cancelled, as well as various friends let go by talent agencies and production companies. It’s been tough for some, especially for the live-performance industry, but I’ve also seen some of my network adapt and there are still digital opportunities to connect with fans and artists out there. Personally, I was in the middle of a tour with an artist when the pandemic struck, and the rest of the dates were cancelled. Things don’t look like they’ll be changing any time soon this year as far as live gigs go, but thankfully there’s been grants and certain government benefits that have been a big help for many of us. It’s also forced me to focus on the work I can do at home, which is actually quite a lot!”

The workspace typology has jumped 5 years. We slowly moved away from cubicles and single office spaces into the open-plan office, that most of us have come to know. It was projected by designers that we would start to transition from the static desk to the digital workspaces in the next 10 years, Covid-19 has propelled us to start utilising tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, both of which were created in the early 2010’s. We, the workforce are connecting online, cutting out the commute, the office and the physical interaction a lot quicker than what was expected.”

Diego Diaz, Tour Manager LinkedIn: diego-diaz-539b7061

Jack Hoe, Interior Architectural Designer @insideout_arch


SO... Where To From Here? We all have a responsibility in these times, both brands and people alike, to ensure our well-being and safety both in body and spirit. While Gen C continue to consume content and create at scale, no matter what platform or passion, we all want community and connection in our lives. We don’t conclusively know exactly how things will turn out, but we do know that people and the cultures that bind us together will continue to change and adapt. Whatever the mix of physical and digital our future holds for us, finding sanity in the chaos together requires empathy and a willingness to connect, listen and engage.

“Gone are the days when people can be defined through a single lens of age, gender, skin colour or sexual orientation. The truth is our intersections and lived experiences are what define who we are. Gen C inherently accepts this diversity as a fact and leans into inclusivity and shared values to chart the way forward.� Emily. K. Graham, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, True Mosaic Practice Lead

The New Culture of Brand Behaviour 1 2 3 4 Do more:

Do less:

Think beyond profit, consider the greater good


Be honest:


Be encouraging:

Be trustworthy and direct with information, actions talk

Be aware:

Rely on the connections and successes of yesterday


Shine a light on the little things that can make a big difference

Do good:

Remain aware of others and their different perspectives and needs


Add value in any way possible, provide platforms, give back


Take action:

Step up, and step up genuinely, you will see the benefits



Your brand values and where they need to change

Be interested:

Ask questions and don’t assume, most importantly listen!

Be demanding: Changes made today need to stick, not slip


ABOUT FLEISHMANHILLARD FleishmanHillard specialises in public relations, reputation management, public affairs, brand marketing, digital strategy, social engagement and content strategy. FleishmanHillard was named 2019 PRWeek U.S. Outstanding Large Agency; 2019 Holmes Report North America Large Agency of the Year; ICCO Network of the Year – Americas 20172019; Agency of the Year at the 2017 and 2018 North American Excellence Awards; 2018 Large Consultancy of the Year by PRWeek UK; PR News’ Best Places to Work in PR 2016-2018; Human Rights Campaign Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality 2018-2020; PR Awards Asia 2017 Greater China Agency of the Year; and NAFE’s “Top Companies for Executive Women” 2010-2020. The firm’s award-winning work is widely heralded, including at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. FleishmanHillard is part of Omnicom Public Relations Group, and has 80 offices in more than 30 countries, plus affiliates in 50 countries. For more information, please contact:

appendix end notes Further reports referenced for this report:

Additional sources:



Canvas8, How are people reacting to the impact of COVID-19? ii. Canvas8, Pandemic Culture – Living Report iii. Canvas8, How will COVID-19 impact long-term behaviours? iv. Canvas8, Americans want authenticity in brands COVID-19 efforts v. Netbase, Monitoring Consumer Investment Mindset in Light of COVID vi. Netbase, COVID-19 may have changed CPG forever vii. MorningConsult, How our favourite pastimes will change in a post COVID-19 world viii. GWI, Why we need to be critical of our postcoronavirus predictions ix. Quid, Cause marketing for Coronavirus and beyond x. FleishmanHillard, COVID-19 Mindset: How the global pandemic is shaping global consumer attitudes and behaviour xi. FleishmanHillard, Purpose 2.0 and Purpose POV COVID-19 xii. FleishmanHillard, Project Z xiii. Brandwatch, Covid-19 Bi-weekly Consumer Insights xiv. Protein, What are you really going to change? xv. Harris Insights and Analytics, The Harris Poll COVID19 xvi. CGA, COVID-19: The Lockdown Consumer xvii. Mower Insight, How Brands Should Respond During the COVID-19 Crisis xviii. Kantar, COVID-19 Barometer xix. FleishmanHillard, COVID-19 Mindset: Wave Two, Adapting and Recalibrating coronavirus-streamelements-arsenalgg-twitch-youtubelivestream-numbers 2. apr/20/art-world-coronavirus-pandemic-online-artistsgalleries 3. 4. 5. 6. dosomethingorg-launches-weekly-survey-togauge-gen-zs-opinions-and-concerns-on-covid-19crisis-301038300.html 7. 8. 9. 10. brands-in-a-pandemic-world-insights-fromkantars-covid-19-barometer/43422


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