Wherever you are on the planet, your world changed in 2020 like it never had before. Things we’d taken for granted – going out to eat, meeting a friend for coffee – became impossible.
As the economy crashed and we were shut indoors, we began to only buy products that met our basic needs. Discretionary spending seemed dangerous, even impossible in some cases.
The result was a mental health and economic disaster. In March, 32% of adults reported stress and worry about Coronavirus. By July, that climbed to 53%. Meanwhile, 53% of U.S. households have been underemployed by the pandemic, causing fear and uncertainty across the country. And nothing cripples an economy like fear and uncertainty.
But while advertising and marketing have an important role to play in getting the country back on track economically, what’s less obvious is how it can also help us heal from a mental health perspective.
Advertising’s outsized impact on the economy has been well documented. It creates a 7:1 economic return in the EU, and at 19:1 return in the U.S. More than one in six labor dollars are driven by advertising. Simply put, our economy is healthier when brands advertise and consumers buy products.
But advertising is more than just an economic engine. Brands also have a part to play in keeping us connected and raising our collective spirits.
Our inability to interact with new brands, or buy products from our favorite brands during lockdown left us feeling disconnected. While consumers may not consciously turn to brands to help them feel better, we often do so to express ourselves and feel connected with others in “normal times.” This has real personal benefits.
In addition to missing concerts and restaurants, we also miss walking into the office with a handbag, a cup of coffee from our favorite shop, or a sticker on our laptop. These simple acts of self-expression help us connect with others and communicate who we are.
When we see advertising, we subconsciously think about how a product purchase will help us express ourselves and connect with others. Stuck at home and unable socialize, we stopped doing this as frequently. I believe that has contributed to our country’s mental health challenges.
Savvy brands were able to fulfill our need for connection digitally during the pandemic. Buy Buy Baby, for example, asked its Instagram followers to share work from home tips for people with young children at home. Lululemon hosted live workout classes on Instagram and encouraged people to record their workouts and share online with others.
Advertising tends to get a bad rap when it’s intrusive and impersonal. But advertising keeps us connected – to each other and the world around us.
I shared this with our staff at a recent all-hands meeting. A few people were excited about the economic data, but nearly everyone was moved by the emotional benefits we experience from connecting with brands.
For a long time, I looked for real purpose for my career in marketing and advertising – until COVID-19.
Too often I hear, “Well, we’re not saving lives here in advertising!” Maybe not directly, or in the moment. But I am inspired by our ability to connect people and make their lives better. And that is is a truth the industry should be sharing with the world.
Jay Friedman is President at Goodway Group.