Opinion

The facets which drive our experiences often lie hidden out of sight. What will be lasting effect of covid?

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Icebergs ahead

Beware: Icebergs Ahead

The iceberg metaphor is familiar to us all. We understand that what we can see or hear or touch is only a small part of the story. The facets which drive our experiences, whether that be of people, products, events or culture often lie hidden out of sight.

We have all been experiencing the impact of the pandemic on a day to day basis but what will be the lasting effect on us as individuals, and as a society? What is it that we are yet to see and that brands will need to think about?

There’s a potential mental health crisis brewing. It should be no surprise that our collective mental health has taken a beating. Searches around mental health have nearly doubled over the last year and according to B&A’s State of The Nation report more than 50% of us agree that the impact of covid has been profound. This rises to nearly 70% amongst generation Z.

One positive consequence is that finally, mental health conversations have come to the fore with a recognition that the state of Ireland's mental health will play an integral part in our recovery.

As such an important and sensitive subject brands should think carefully about how they approach this. Mental health ‘greenwashing’ is not helpful to the debate or indeed something we should aspire to. So consider what you could offer to help create and sustain the conditions for good mental health, and how could digital technology be used to improve our experiences and connections to support networks?

Another profound, cross-generational impact of covid has been the number of young adults living back with their parents. A study released in February by NUI Galway revealed that Ireland had one of the highest rates of young people living with their parents in Europe, 78% of those are between 16 and 30.

More young people living at home with parents has had a huge impact on various categories. Suddenly households are finding they are full of ‘main shoppers’ when it comes to grocery choice and broadband usage and energy requirements have doubled. The sting in the tail across many categories is that younger people have been hit harder financially by covid so this sought after audience suddenly has a lot less disposable income.

So, how should brands respond?

The most obvious challenge is to figure out how to reach and attract different audiences living under one roof. Looking into alternative channels such as gaming and applying the lens of addressable media would be a good starting point. In addition, brands should think about how they could support young people in regaining financial independence. They should also ensure they are inclusive in their communications, so that they reflect the lifestyles of all young adults, including those who have been hardest hit.

Of all the segments in society that have been hit, it is half the population that has arguably borne the brunt of it. 78% of those who have lost their jobs are women and 2/3rd of those are 18-34 yrs old. Mothers, especially single mothers, were more likely to do more home schooling than fathers in the first lockdown, with consequences for their own working time. They were also more likely to have been furloughed, seeing their earnings cut by 20%.

Having kids at home all the time is also expensive: there are more meals to provide and more rooms to heat. Online learning requires access to a laptop and quality internet which government schemes have arguably failed to deliver across the board.

The long-term risk is a decrease in women’s employment and an increase in the gender pay gap, especially with pay gap reporting suspended for a second year running.

So how can brands shine a light on the issue?

They need to both highlight it, take some responsibility and action. Brands that recognise the importance of a diverse workforce must recognise the need for flexible working conditions. Those that don’t, need to take a look at themselves. Brands should seek to champion female role models and male allies in the debate and think about how they can play a role in supporting female careers, childcare, finances, and mental health. Talking the talk is no longer enough.

There is always fallout after a catastrophic event such as covid but how we respond as a society will determine how we recover. Brands and commerce are an intrinsic part of our everyday lives and so have a pivotal role to play in returning our society to health.

Remember, the Titanic hit the iceberg, not because they couldn’t see it coming, but because they couldn’t change direction quickly enough.

Agility and bravery by businesses has never been more important.

Eoin Corrigan is Head of Strategy at MediaCom Ireland


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