The good thing about putting our research out, is that each one of us can now make our own conclusions and interpretations, basis our own life experiences, and mental faculties. If you’ve seen some videos, you may well come to very different conclusions from what I have below, and that’s how it should be. Only small minds think alike. If you haven’t, and have just stumbled upon this, I would gently urge you to see a few, provided of course, you don’t get bored. These findings illuminated for us the impact of Covid on lives that are very different from our own.
Like any other individual, with the same data but on another day, I might find some more, but here are the seven conclusions I came to.
1. We know that in marketing, as in life, perception is bigger than reality. Feeling is bigger than fact. Mainline news is good to get facts around a phenomenon. Twitter is fine to hear the views of the narcissist, or of the activist or simply of those who’re very impressed with themselves. Other social media platforms are great to share what’s shareable, what’s sociable. But to understand the deeply personal, to understand how the majorities are ‘feeling’, there’s nothing like reaching out. Because the majorities don’t reach out. Or won’t. Or can’t.
2. We saw a high level of despondency across most cohorts, but we also noticed a strangely high level of acceptance of the grim reality…a level of acceptance usually not found in western societies. Why so? I feel the answer lies somewhere deeper. When the western/westernized logical mind is faced with something she cannot understand, she struggles to accept it. The amazing healing and recuperative power of trust in something higher order makes a faith-based society grapple with the incomprehensible better. One personal learning is that faith-based societies cope better with things they can’t understand like Covid, than logic-based ones.
3. From the unabashed apathy and self-centeredness of the white collar, to the extreme dejection of the blue collar, to the stoic resilience of the house help, to the surprising maturity of the youth, to the desolate victim syndrome of the homemaker, and finally to the never-say-die spirit of the trader and shopkeeper, there are very large sections of India that have reacted to Corona in their own unique ways. Simply because it has impacted them very differently. In our endeavor to reach the highest common denominator in such researches or in national campaigns, sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the operative word in that phrase – the ‘highest’. Homogenization and distillation of pan-India findings is often just convenient, not always correct. Many brands in many categories have these cohorts as their lead target markets. To them, we would just say, recognize the differences in the feelings of each of these ‘segments’, and resist the temptation of carting all under one large, ‘spirit of India’ kind of finding. That would be over-smart and conference-room-friendly, but in real life, is unlikely to connect.
4. The caricaturising of audiences is detrimental to standout marketing. We need to stop showing youth as the yo-brigade, for they have been more mature than many, and have shown more sides to them. Stop singing paeans to the white collar, and get to their grey sides without morality-related worries, and they’ll identify with the brands that do, better. Stop showing the shopkeeper as the rustic technophobe, and put a shine on his spirit, for that will outlast any marathoner’s. We don’t need to get either stereotypical or deviant. We just need to get deeper.
5. The mood of the nation has been grim for far too long. People stopped watching news channels, because, as one said, ‘it is the same sad news I see every day…in a loop’. Every cohort also spoke about ‘corona-ad-fatigue’. So media arts, including advertising, have a very pressing responsibility. Advertising needs to refrain from sermonizing the weary. It needs to inject some lightness, evoke some laughter, which will go a long way in healing hearts faster. Brands that uplift the mood while doing the selling will become dearer to their audiences. Acts are fashionable nowadays in our industry, but it’ll be good to remember that simple words, and stories with some humour can also heal.
6. Little indulgences will grow faster across all segments. We’re now in a ‘postponement’ economy. But the human mind is such, that it cannot postpone ALL that it wants to indulge in, so compensation behaviour will kick in. The only guys for whom life will be normal will be those at the very top and the very bottom of our socio-economic hierarchy. As Steinbeck had said in his epic, The Grapes of Wrath’, the very rich and the very poor are alike in many surprising ways. It is in the middle that we find the differences. The large middle of India, at various steps in the hierarchy, will want small indulgences for themselves and their families to feel good, especially as the festive season approaches.
7. Corona started a vicious cycle – issues cascaded into larger issues – from health-related, to economic, to psychological. Corona did what it could. We need to do what we can. We need to start a virtuous cycle. As long as it doesn’t empty out our pockets, we need to give the maid, the worker, the driver their unpaid salaries. They will only use it to spend, on their homes, their children, and on themselves. Which will help pick the market up faster. Which will impact sentiment positively, and create confidence. Which in turn will bring a warm, positive ripple effect back to us. Feelings can change facts. We don’t just need to remember this truism, but must also actively fuel it.
To conclude, this has been an eye-opening journey for us. Our people and I, who’ve done this have come out wiser and a bit more empathetic and knowledgeable about people unlike us. We had started this project not with the aim to benefit brands and improve communications, but more to understand human nature better, as it tries to navigate life through a crisis. Project As Is was about people, and not about consumers. Strangely, we now have more learnings about opportunities in more categories than we even work on. Strangely, it has ended up informing our consumer and creative thinking in a way we hadn’t planned for or imagined.
The author is planner and founding partner, The Womb