welcome change

6 Design Lessons from 6 Months Into the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are changing. Over the past five months we’ve all experienced radical shifts to our world: from COVID-19 to the wave of protest in support of Black lives. These changes are creating new consumer mindsets, and new challenges and opportunities for the brands we serve. We invite you to engage in the conversation.


Insight: According to an Edelman study on brand trust and COVID-19, 77% of consumers agreed that brands should only talk about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact it has had on people’s lives.

Design Implications: Solve, don’t sell. Many brands have been entirely avoiding traditional marketing speak since early in the pandemic, leaving out glossy product shots, and avoiding high-production advertisements, which feel out of sync with the time. Instead, they are opting for low-production, straightforward communication, and steering clear of cliché messages.


As we approach six months with COVID-19, will this shift toward more authentic and empathetic communication last? Is the future of the creative industry high-speed, low-production?

Steak-Ummm’s is back and serving up honesty via twitter.

Steak-Ummm’s is back and serving up honesty via Twitter.

Burger King does Christmas in July.


Insight: When presented with a pattern we recognize, our brains reward us with a satisfying dose of dopamine, but when we are confronted with something new, the chemical response in the brain becomes disorganized and overwhelming.

Design Implications: Stay the course. While we’ve begun to establish new habits and behavioral norms, day to day tasks that were once routine are now linked to high stakes consequences, fear, and risk. We are being forced to think critically about every decision. Even more than before, consumers are on auto-pilot — avoiding unnecessary or time-consuming choices and sticking with what’s familiar, like Campbell’s soup, whose sales were up 59% from last year.


How might brands make themselves the easy, autopilot choice? In what categories does longevity serve as a compelling RTB? How else might brands associate themselves with comfort?


Insight: People turn to humor as a coping mechanism to process stress. Laughter can improve mood, blood flow, immune response, and pain tolerance.

Design Implications: Make ‘em laugh! Early on, traditionally playful brands tapped into shared quarantine experiences to stay funny and relevant for their audiences — with two major caveats: 1. Making jokes at someone else’s expense won’t win you love, as Busch Lite and Burger King found out the hard way; and 2. Brands should build on their established equity. If you’re not usually one to crack a joke, now probably isn’t the time to start.


Which shared experiences will continue to resonate with consumers as we enter different phases of COVID-19 recovery, and how might brands tap into funny truths? Where are natural intersections between your brand’s character and our current reality?

Oatly launched a “Department of Distraction Services” (ODDS), delivering novel ideas on how to combat quarantine boredom.

As fans watch baseball from home, Bud Light brings the beer — and their favorite beer slinger — to them.


Insight: On average, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. It’s been well over 66 days since the crisis became widespread and we’ve completely changed our daily routines.

Design Implications: Meet consumers where they are. Daily norms, like riding the subway and then browsing at the grocery store, are being replaced with new shopping habits, like setting up recurring deliveries online. Brands that can appeal to us now and seamlessly integrate into our lives will become lasting favorites as our new habits form.


How might brands shape new routines during this time? Which consumer habits will continue after the pandemic is over and which will be unlearned?


Insight: A new wave of nostalgia for the not-so-distant past is beginning to take shape. People are longing for the now-obsolete activities that were entirely ordinary just a few months ago.

Design Implications: Keep it current. Previously happy, normal scenes (like a group of people tailgating without masks) might trigger sad emotions instead of positive ones. TIME warns, “Even seemingly bland things could be upsetting for consumers in fearful lockdown, like a pizza commercial that shows people at a now-FOMO-inducing sporting event or any ad at all for the disinfectant wipes that seem impossible to get.”


How might brands respond to the emotions attached to Newstalgia? How might brands reimagine old rituals in a safe (for now) way?

Walmart is converting parking lots into theaters as moviegoers yearn to catch flicks on the big screen. Get your popcorn!

Ben & Jerry’s has been a leader in corporate activism before they were even corporate.


Insight: According to a recent survey by NEXT Data & Insights, 47% of people are motivated to rebuild a fairer and more compassionate world.

Design Implications: Act on your values. Purpose-driven branding has accelerated in response to racial injustice and COVID-19, and consumers expect real action not just messaging. Some brands are taking a local and community-based approach. Others are looking inward and re-shaping their internal culture. Brands who established themselves as purpose-driven before it was cool, like Patagonia, are resonating most with consumers.


What social justice conversations does your brand belong in, and which are not authentic to your purpose or past? How might purpose-driven branding evolve to inextricably link brands with social change?