Chris Cashen writes about things that don’t change, even after a global pandemic
As we approach restoration, there is no doubt that challenges lie ahead. Marketers face tremendous obstacles, but perhaps the most significant intervention is to remind ourselves that taking the temperature on how our brands fit into consumers’ lives.
It was sociologist Jib Fowles who coined the term chronocentrism.
Chronocentrism is the belief that present times are paramount, that other periods pale in comparison. Covid-19 has confronted everyone with a deafening chorus of chronocentric voices stating we are at the apex of unprecedented change. Daily we are bombarded with sweeping pronouncements about the transformations that the pandemic will spur.
While we may have to live with coronavirus for some time, the transformations are low resolution at best. Bill Bernbach knew that however fashionable it is to talk about the changing individual, we must concern ourselves with what remains unchanged. That obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love and to take care of our own.
TRENDS A TRAP
It has taken millions of years for our instincts to develop and millions for them to even vary. Categories, goods and tastes change slowly. Everything might be different now, but very little will change. There is also George Lois’s warning that trends are a trap. Once we follow an emerging pattern in behaviour, our solution becomes an imitation of that idea.
2020 will be erratic, but the decade will prove stable. Trends should always be observed and examined as an exercise in preparedness, not a bullseye at which to aim. We know the weather is erratic each day. We look at forecasts to see how prepared we may be, not for an exact picture. We don’t ask the weather forecast app how to dress tomorrow.
As media consumption reverts to pre-pandemic levels and as the country gets back to stability, so should our focus. That is not to ignore that some trends are energised and will have a sustained impact. Change has accelerated in online retail. Its share had been increasing one per cent per year like clockwork since 2009 – that’s 11 years ago now.
It has jumped by 10 per cent in eight weeks, a decade of change squashed into two months. Will it remain at that level when things open-up? It’s unlikely, but perhaps a few anchors have been laid in online delivery that didn’t exist before. The 1918 influenza killed 50 million people, the strongest reason for everyone to accept no risk in returning to ‘normality’.
But the 1920s brought a frenzied flight into sociability.
The Roaring Twenties bloomed parties and concerts. Anyone proclaiming that things will never return to what we left are engaging in fatalism. Home cooking has become hugely popular. However, anyone who thinks that’s a precursor to a new focus on home dining failed to notice the queues as McDonald’s opened drive-thrus in some Dublin locations.
When you hear bold predictions, beware of predictive fallacy. Just because current circumstances provide collateral to think that something should be, it rarely translates into what will be. How long will the effects of the pandemic last is precarious. But what is certain is that its impact on the extent of sociability will be temporary.
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Five years from now, there will be as many mass gatherings as there were pre-Covid.
They may have a different inflection, but they will be there. As will the return to categories affected by lockdowns. Brands need to appeal to our senses. A brand’s personality, its body language, how it looks, and acts are far more critical to the persuasiveness of your message than explaining how your brand is here for me through ‘this difficult time’.
Principals are what endure and the current tactics exist only as a stopgap.
Whatever comfort or familiarity people gravitated to through uncertainty will vanish and our polygamous loyalty to brands will rise again like the phoenix from the ashes.
Chris Cashen is strategy director at Mindshare and a regular Marketing.ie columnist