#22 Class Wars From Covid & The New Creative Challenges From Retail

Hi there. It’s week 6 of isolation and I’m slowly starting to get used to this life of not going out. A few weeks ago the speed of change felt more vertiginous, there was a ‘new normal’ every single day.

Now things are starting to fall into place again, although I’ll admit this newsletter is taking me double or triple the time it used to in the previous 20 editions (that Friday deadline keeps evading me!). Tips for concentrating or dealing with this are more than welcome.

This week I’ve got something for everyone. I’ve been reading and researching on different topics and got an eclectic mix of resources and themes. I’ve still got to watch more webinars than I can fit in a day, but there is one piece of advice from Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategy officer at AMV BBDO, that I wanted to share here and relates to the issue of mental health which I touch on later:

It’s OK to feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing. If you didn’t feel that way, you’d be truly terrible at your job. Feeling uncertain, in uncertain times, means you have the emotional intelligence to thrive in the future. But don’t let the uncertainty paralyse you. Think like a caring human being with the resources to help millions. Then act accordingly, in the mutual interest of business and society.”

Let’s get into this week’s edition.


🏠DAILY LIFE: RETAIL AND SHOPPING

I visited the &OtherStories store in Regent’s Street on March 6th, the last time I was around Soho before lockdown. Since then, I’ve been shopping exclusively online, and I’ve been wondering what new creative challenges we will face as the culture of shopping in physical stores changes once we’re allowed outside.

Only pharmacies and grocery stores are open now, and the measures they’re introducing might shine some light on what those challenges could look like for retailers. For example, here are some of the changes Lidl has implemented to ensure staff and customer safety: queue management, a limited number of customers allowed in the store, signs to remind people to keep 2m apart, disinfectant for cleaning trolleys, etc. Plus, they’ve installed safety screens at the tills, providing a barrier between cashier and customer. All explained in this video:

New demands will arise when we’re able to go shopping again. Some challenges will be around health and cleanliness, maybe changing rooms will need to be disinfected between uses, and we’ll only be able to try fresh, out-of-the-bag clothes that have been previously sanitised. But there will be others, from staff (I’m sure facemasks will be the newest addition to staff uniforms) to design (safety screens are useful but design-conscious brands will worry about their impact on the aesthetic or ‘vibe’ of their stores). We’re going to have to come up with a whole new set of creative solutions.

For brands: your retail space will have to go through some transformation, and this is the moment to start thinking about the safety measures you’ll need to put in place so in-store physical shopping is safe. In China, guards at malls’ entries have temperature scanners at every door to test people before they are allowed in. People will expect these measures to be put in place sooner rather than later, and you should make them a priority if you want to open your stores asap.


🌎 SOCIETY: CLASS DYNAMICS

The advertising industry is still predominantly middle-class, white, and based on major cities with access to culture and experiences. This is often unrepresentative of the average towns where the majority of people live, and the advice to get out of the M25 is valid for strategists and creatives alike. A portion of the success or failure of our creative campaigns depends on how well we know the audience, what they care about, and what matters to them.

Coronavirus has exposed some of the inherent inequalities of society, and right now, a new conversation around class is starting to take shape. I’ve got three perspectives from Australia, the US, and the UK.

Working-class people are the ones providing essential services at the moment. During crisis and periods of high unemployment, people tend to be more supportive of government benefits due to collective anger at low wages, topped with poor working protections and lack of appreciation towards their crucial work. You can see this narrative in play in this news broadcast excerpt from Australia.

Maybe there will be a return to a 1950s-style view of the working class, in which low-wage jobs conferred a sense of dignity, suggested Justin Gest, a deputy director at LSE.

When the working class suffers the worst, the blame will be put on the ‘elite’, a cohort of the population that, depending on who’s talking, might include white-collar professionals, celebrities and/or billionaires.

There is something brewing here. In the United States, Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School quoted in The Atlantic, offered a glimpse into this new dynamic.

People in some pockets of the country might not see mass deaths from COVID-19, but they will still feel the economic devastation—the layoffs, the closed businesses—convulse their town. That could become a source of resentment. The whole thing could seem like a hoax, blown out of proportion by liberal health wonks. If merely simmering cultural tensions brought Trump to power, think what boiling ones could do.

We won’t be impacted in the same way, and ‘we’re all on this together’ is nothing more than a myth. This becomes even more real when celebrities show off their mansions and lavish lifestyles. Quoted in Vox Lisa Nakamura, director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan, said:

Other people flaunting their wealth on social media hasn’t typically made us angry because it’s viewed as aspirational content — we believe we could be the next one to strike it rich. But this [pandemic] showed that is never going to happen. When you see an influencer’s clothes, you think, I can buy those clothes. But when you see their capacity to live wherever they want, while other people are stuck at home, it’s ridiculous.

The crisis has exposed celebrity culture, and this brilliant video perfectly summarises it.

Privilege can take up many faces, and in the UK, The Guardian has reported that there could be new class divisions between those who have access to outside space and those who don’t. Before you’re tempted to dismiss this, read the following:

'There are now two classes, people with gardens and the rest of us. It’s really difficult for anyone with kids, especially young kids because it’s hard to explain why everything’s changed. I’m a single parent of a two-year-old son living in a flat without any outside space in Somerset. The play park we used to go to twice a day is locked up, and my son can’t understand why. I have friends with paddling pools, and swings, in the garden. I’ve just got the telly. It’s not the parent I want to be, I feel guilty about that.

If we stop to consider that social distancing measures could be here to stay until 2021 or even longer, we need to think of the consequences for families. Class relations are constantly in flux, and depending on how well or bad the government handles this situation, disgust with the wealthy might reach an Occupy-level fever pitch, suggested The Atlantic. It’s difficult to see how this will impact power dynamics, but being able to read the ‘mood’ amongst the public is always critical for hitting the right tone with our campaigns.

For brands: we need to keep a close eye on this. This could define our social and cultural context for the next few years, and by now we know that brands become icons when they are able to hook onto the tension caused by social disruption.


⚡️ACCELERATED: MENTAL HEALTH

Global awareness around mental health has been growing over the years, but I’ve seen more openness and conversation around it since the crisis began, probably due to the level of burnout we’re experiencing.

This week there was a powerful conversation in Mark Pollard’s Sweathead strategy group on the paradox of working to make sense of the changes around us to provide thorough advice to clients while at the same time feeling a bit numb. This post in particular really resonated with me.

A while ago I read this paper ‘The psychological measurement of cultural syndromes’ by Harry Triandis, pioneer of cross-cultural psychology. He says that, in a way, each culture has its own psychology. This means that the importance we give to specific variables in predicting psychological phenomena shift with the context, and culture is one of the most important contexts.

In this context of pandemic culture, mental health and teletherapy apps like Headspace, Sanvello, and Talkspace, have seen spikes in use. The government is also making it easier for people to access mental health care more easily, and Camden Council is now offering quick referrals for therapy over the phone. Our anxiety will continue once we’re back outside.

For brands: brands can react to this by offering more escapism and fantasy, by facilitating community connections, and by providing relief. We need to think about our brand’s emotional benefit as much as tangible value, all rooted in empathy.


🌟 CREATIVE HIGHLIGHT

Heineken Brasil has done a great job of using stock footage in a very cool way to support bars (an ex-colleague first brought this ad to my attention here). The idea is for people to pay for a beer now and enjoy it when their bar re-opens, and Heineken promised to doubled donations to support the bars during the crisis. No UGC or vertical video on this one, a great ad by Publicis in Brasil that continues to build on the strategic proposition of the brand.

And of course, I need to include Budweiser’s new quarantine edition “Whassup” ad, encouraging people to check on their friends. This is how you bring back a classic.


🕶 Bonus track

TikTok of the week:  This guy has been rewriting popular songs with new coronavirus lyrics for the past 35 days. He sings, plays the piano and the lyrics are about the fun and the boring side of daily life under lockdown.

Extra links:

Thanks so much for reading, and if you want to share any thoughts on this week’s edition, just hit reply to this email and I’ll get back to you, or connect with me on Twitter.

*Cultural Patterns is a newsletter by Florencia Lujani about culture, creativity and strategy. If you’ve enjoyed it, consider subscribing :)


Crisis are some of the best times to work with brands and I refuse to be sitting on my hands. I’m immediately available for work and happy to help you with: strategic planning, scenario planning, insight generation, communications strategy, cultural analysis, digital and social strategy, and trend reporting. Add me on Linkedin or reply to this email if you’re interested. Thanks.