We live in an age where something can go viral in a matter of minutes, seconds even, depending on how divisive the statement, image or clip is. We’re learning a lot of lessons as we adjust to life in the pandemic age, but for brands, the overwhelming takeaway here is that they can no longer afford to focus all their efforts locally, not when the world is facing change on a scale we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. 2008’s economic crisis was just a warm-up. 2020 is effectively ground zero.
The big global issues we’re so used to viewing from afar are now being felt on a local level too, thanks to a convergence of events all happening at once. While the coronavirus brought the world to a standstill, each country had different considerations and tactics in dealing with it, unique to their own market. The #BlackLivesMatter movement began in one American state and then moved the world to action. Lebanon’s devastating blast shone a spotlight on a country that has been battling a worsening economic crisis for years, only now getting the coverage it deserves.
Essentially, global and local considerations have merged to the point where everything today has a glocal element, whether we realize it or not. There have been issues rippling under the surface for some time now, glossed over or suppressed, because let’s face it, as much as we love to hear bad news, we don’t actually want it to change things.
The coronavirus brought global markets to a halt, and while there are some shoots of recovery emerging, this isn’t something that we can move on from overnight. The latest projections from the IMF indicate a contraction of 4.9 per cent in global GDP in 2020, lower than the three per cent drop it predicted back in April. They have also downgraded their projections for 2021 on the back of rising unemployment and debt.
The economic repercussions of this pandemic are huge, but so too is understanding the societal shifts that we all had to accept to keep safe and stay alive. Regionally, I believe we fared better than other countries, thanks to the swift and decisive action taken by our government to limit movement and take precautionary measures early on. As we get on with things, containing the virus for the time being, the bigger concern now is ensuring the information we continue to receive, share and engage with as the responsible public is accurate.
Good news may travel fast, but bad news travels faster and in the early stages of the pandemic this exploded like never before. As fear took hold, so too did the spread of misinformation and scaremongering. Opportunists sprung up to capitalize on the anxiety being felt across the world. As we all retreated indoors, big tech became even more powerful, with news coverage rolling 24/7 and a surge in social media platform usage to keep up to date with developments.
According to data from The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram reported an increase of 22%, 17%, 16% and 12% respectively during this period.
Social platforms have evolved from a place for 1-1 activity to a global hub for information, and as such they now have a greater responsibility in monitoring the content being featured. Brands too have to ensure they aren’t ignorant to the wider issues going on beyond their own market operations. The digitalization of each industry has accelerated our ‘glocal’ expectations, as consumers look for platforms they can trust, and connect with companies that want to make a difference, not just pay lip service to change.
Within the advertising industry, this is particularly true right now. Staying silent equals complicity and as social media becomes an even more powerful tool for self-expression, brands need to use their voice. You only need to look at the coordinated effort now being used to drive the #BlackLivesMatter movement forward to realize this. Businesses like Nike, P&G and Netflix have been all too aware that actions speak louder than words, creating ads to raise awareness and donating funds to help support the wider black community.
I think that digital media has changed the game for social activism overall. Market silos no longer exist when you can broadcast your message everywhere at the touch of a button. Claiming ignorance doesn’t work in this social age, we all need to take some collective responsibility. In my opinion, this is long overdue anyway. We have been far too insulated or selfishly focused on our own needs to appreciate what is happening globally.
We’re at a crossroads right now. The realization that everything is linked has taken some time to settle in the brand and consumer consciousness.
Consumers, for their part, are (rightly) wary of any brand that weighs in on something without putting their money where their mouth is. Campaigns need to think global from the outset, understanding local nuances but not being led by it, letting creativity guide the way. In the past this may have been the other way around, but 2020 has changed the narrative completely; we are more united than ever because of a shared global experience, and this needs to be reflected in the content they put out.
Even though lockdown is over, don’t think for one second that the tough choices are over.
Right now, the biggest consideration we all face is weighing up our health vs the need to go back to work and earn a living. Should we stay at home for much longer, potentially risking our livelihoods, or do we continue to go out and flatten the economic curve instead? There’s no right or wrong answer; everyone has to make their own judgement call.
What I will say is this. We can only take things one day at a time, never taking anything for granted. These glocal concerns have been devastating on the one hand – the pandemic grounded us, the #BLM protests pushed us to confront some unpleasant truths – yet on the other, we have been brought together to appreciate what’s most important, and have helped force change higher up the agenda for diversity in media.
Ultimately, brand agendas will have to change, focusing on action, not just pretty words to survive. Users will hold them accountable, something which was starting to happen already, but it’s now accelerating at a rapid pace. Finally, it feels like everyone is on the same page and realizing that for change to actually happen, we all need to be on board. After all, we’re stronger together than we are divided.