Media is in a period of disruption as result of technology, changing consumer habits and more recently, as a result of a global pandemic. Numerous legacy brands are being challenged in the current environment. However, for those willing to make a shift, there are real opportunities. Key to realising these opportunities is understanding why consumers behave the way they do.

During a recent Future of Media digitized event, in collaboration with Vodacom, Ezi Ads, Everlytic, Proudly SA and The Media Shop, and moderated by Pearl Sokhulu, MD of Vuma 103 FM, the focus was on how to adapt and thrive in the current environment.

Over the past decade advertising has increasingly focused on human connections and understanding consumers better. Behavioural science has become an integral part of advertising. Adam Gottlich, head of Behavioural Science at Standard Bank explained that through behavioural science, they have found that people frequently make unpredictable decisions.

According to Gottlich, cognitive biases change the way that we recall past events. Referring to the peak-end rule, a psychological heuristic which explains how we focus our memories around the most intense moments of an experience and the way it ends, rather than the total sum of the experience, he stressed the need to understand people as they truly are. Don’t take consumers at their word in terms of what their want, he said. Instead, apply data and research to find what is driving their behaviour.

Social media has fundamentally changed the way brands communicate with consumers. What brands need to understand, explained Bronwyn Williams, a trend translator and future finance specialist at Flux Trends, is that they can no longer always opt out of politics and will increasingly find themselves in binary and polarising spaces.

One of the mistakes brands can make is over relying on technology and the data it produces, she said. “Data is meaningless unless you apply insight to it … there is a big difference between automating efficiency and automating inefficiencies.”

Many brands are currently repositioning and pivoting themselves to work within new constraints, said Williams, adding that larger organisations are viewing the demise of smaller companies as an opportunity for mergers and acquisitions.

She advised that brands need to follow where the market leads and add value rather than trying to cynically extract value at this time.

While advertising has traditionally been dominated by psychology which is focused on mindsets and motivations, anthropology and its study of culture, behaviour, ritual and habit, is starting to play a bigger role. At heart people are storytellers and we tend to connect with stories, explained Claire Denham-Dyson, the head anthropologist at B2B agency, Demographica. “The big issue right now is trust, which is in turn being associated with morality,” she pointed out, adding that consumers expect brands to be acting responsibly during the Covid-19 pandemic. As consumers re-evaluate how and why they make decisions, advertising needs to focus on being useful rather than being clever.

While there is much talk of the ‘new normal’, Denham-Dyson said this is an exciting time for brands and advertisers as they have the potential to shape the future. Empathetic brands could perhaps step into the gap consumers are feeling with regards to not being able to see friends and families.

More than ever before, brands need to be accountable for the promises they make to consumers, agreed Chris Botha, group MD of Park Advertising. Consumers want to see brands step up during times of crisis. A failure to live up to their brand promise can result in significant brand damage, particularly given that social media has given everybody a voice – and brands have little control over that voice.

While platforms like TikTok have seen incremental audience growth over this period, their challenge is that they are not yet seeing a return in advertising revenues. “The reason for this is that adspend is down drastically across the board,” Botha explained.

The big losers during the lockdown have been the outdoor industry and print, characterised by the closure of Associated Magazines and Caxton’s magazine division. If media owners are to survive this crisis what they need to be doing right now is to gear themselves up to monetise growing audiences in order to take advantage of the turnaround when it eventually happens, advised Botha.

While consumers tend to be quickly drawn to content that appeals to them, they integrate with media types very organically – and not necessarily in the way that brands would prefer, he reminded.

One of the big dangers right now is the threat to mental health, including burnout as people struggle to draw a clear line between work and family time. Mental health has a direct correlation to productivity, pointed out Williams, which does not lend itself to creativity or innovation.

Living in an increasingly complex world, many people are on the verge of information overload and burnout, agreed Gottlich. Rates of depression and anxiety are higher for those who spend more time on screens. As a result brands need to be aware of the impact of technology and use it productively in a way that does not leave people feeling overwhelmed.

The next digitized event, ‘Collaboration in Turbulent Times’, will be taking place on 11 June at 10h00. For more information, or to register, click here.

If you would like to partner and be involved in driving these insightful sessions, contact Cortney Hoyland on Hoylandc@arena.africa

The big take-out: Consumers want to see brands step up during times of crisis. A failure to live up to their brand promise can result in significant brand damage.