Life under lockdown: The impact of COVID-19 to date

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

The past couple of months have seen such rapid change, presenting marketers with constant challenges. We’ve been monitoring the impact of Coronavirus on consumer behaviour and media consumption since the start of the UK outbreak. Now, in week seven of lockdown, behaviours are starting to stabilise and both advertisers and the public are beginning to look beyond the restrictions.  

On the 4th June, our head of strategy and planning, Tim Lawrence, will host a webinar that dives into what might come next.Five Consumer Trends Post-lockdown' will introduce the trends that are likely to continue, including small luxuries and the changing language of communications. We’ll discuss how habits are formed and the likelihood of behaviours changing.

Let’s recap the impact of COVID-19 to date, homing in on three behavioural phases…

1. Preparing/panicking

There was little reaction in the UK to COVID-19 until 7th March, when searches for Coronavirus began to increase. By 12th, all sport was cancelled, and people started to either prepare or panic.

Opinion shifted quickly; from 9th to 20th March, the proportion of people who felt concerned about COVID-19 jumped from 37% to 54%, and by 20th, 32% had already purchased extra food supplies (Source: Global Web Index COVID Tracker Wave 1, Toluna-Harris Interactive COVID Barometer Wave 1).

Consumers’ attention moved towards basic needs to protect and cocoon themselves. Between Monday 16th and Thursday 19th March (four days before official lockdown), 88% of UK households visited a grocery store, prioritising pantry and frozen products. Soup sales were up 206% YoY, frozen meat was up 139% and toilet paper +138% (Source: Kantar, IRI Point of Sale data). People were stockpiling, and searches for ‘can I freeze’ hit an all-time peak on the 19th March.

Media behaviour shifted to news and information, with 32% watching significantly more news coverage and 24% spending more time on messaging platforms (Source: Global Web Index Survey 16-20 March).

2. Lockdown shock

Although most people anticipated lockdown, the sudden restriction of movement caused a shock to demand, and an economic uncertainty that lasted from around 23rd March until the beginning of April before stabilising.

A Marketing Week survey found that 69% of brands saw a drop in interest, up from 39% three weeks prior, and 44% of larger firms were having supply chain issues. By the end of March, consumer confidence had dropped drastically, falling to –34 – the biggest fall since records began in January 1974.

Level of concern jumped again from 54% to 68%, and the proportion of people worried about the health of their family rose by 14% in just one week (Source: Global Web Index COVID Tracker Wave 2)

52% were concerned about their job as searches for Universal Credit hit an all-time high. (Source: Global Web Index COVID Tracker Wave 2, JL Partners for ITV).

According to Marketing Week, as of 31st March, nearly nine in ten (86%) marketers were delaying or reviewing their campaigns – up from 55% on 16th March – leaving just 14% of activations continuing as planned.

Potentially the biggest initial impact of lockdown life was on media consumption. In the first week, households watched more broadcast TV than in any week for the past two years, excluding Christmas. And 51% were using more streaming services, as Netflix suffered outages across Europe, Disney+ launched and All 4 viewing increased by 37% (Source: Global Web Index COVID Tracker Wave 2)

Use of digital devices also rose, with 53% using their smartphone more, 39% spending more time on messaging platforms, 38% on social media and 26% playing more video games. (Source: Global Web Index COVID Tracker Wave 2)

3. Restricted living

In early April, habits (even if forced) began to normalise.

For consumers, attention has turned to coping as people become accustomed to restricted life, with an increase in ‘how to make’ and ‘homemade’ searches, and lockdown rules being queried with rises in terms such as ‘are DIY stores open in lockdown’ and ‘can I wash my car in lockdown’.

New concerns related to restricted living and health are emerging. 24% say they are looking for tips on staying healthy, and 22% for activity inspiration. 

People are turning to small luxuries to brighten locked-down days. Instagram engagements with #littleluxuries and #littlemomentsofjoy have risen significantly. YoY sales of premium nail products (+24%), oat milk (+500%) and premium home delivery (Mindful Chef saw a 452% increase in new customers) show the ‘lipstick effect’, where consumers trade up on lower cost items to cheer themselves up. (Source: Nails - NPD Group, Oat Milk – Nielsen, Mindful Chef - CrowdTangle Instagram Public).

Brands are also finding their way. Empathetic communications and acts have performed well, for example Pret A Manger’s discounted drinks for NHS staff, and some brands are manufacturing essential items.

Brands have also been giving back by rewarding customers or donating to charity. Admiral is rewarding policyholders with a £25 ‘Stay at Home’ refund, and Sainsbury’s matched all customer donations to Comic Relief. Others have tapped into the small luxuries trend to brighten lockdown, with Iceland replicating Nando’s and Ben and Jerry’s introducing a ‘Netflix and Chilll’d’ flavour.

Next up: post-lockdown life. We don’t know when lockdown will end, but it’s time to think about the trends and behaviours we may see when it does. Tune into our webinar on 4th June to start shaping your post-lockdown plan.

To find out how we can help your business get fit for recovery, contact us through your account manager or at results@icrossing.co.uk.

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