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COVID-19

Pandemic Parallels

ARF members contributed to a new book, Transitioning Media in a Post COVID World, which highlights some surprising parallels between the current pandemic and the 1918-19 flu pandemic.

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  • Article

Can Virtual Communication Curb Creativity?

A study tried to assess the impact of working from home and the use of videoconferencing on generating creative ideas. The researchers concluded that videoconferencing interferes with idea generation.   The study was prompted by what the researchers call a “COVID-19 accelerated decade-long shift to remote work,” which normalized working from home on a large scale. They cite research showing that 75% of US employees in a 2021 survey reported a personal preference for working remotely at least one day per week, and studies estimate that 20% of US workdays will take place at home after the pandemic ends. The study examined how this shift away from in-person interaction affects innovation, which relies on collaborative idea generation as the foundation of commercial and scientific progress.

  • The findings of a laboratory study and a field experiment across five countries (in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia), indicate that videoconferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas. By contrast, when it comes to selecting which idea to pursue, the researchers found no evidence that videoconferencing groups are less effective than in-person groups.
Departing from previous theories that focus on how oral and written technologies limit the synchronicity and extent of information exchanged, the researchers conclude that effects are driven by differences in the physical nature of videoconferencing and in-person interactions. Specifically, using eye-gaze and recall measures, as well as latent semantic analysis, the research demonstrated that videoconferencing hampers idea generation because it focuses communicators on a screen, which prompts a narrower cognitive focus. Our results suggest that virtual interaction comes with a cognitive cost for creative idea generation. Source: Brucks, M. and Levav, J. (2022, April 27). Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Nature.

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People Crave Simpler Brands

According to research in the new edition of Siegel+Gale’s World’s Simplest Brands study, the pandemic has made people’s lives more complex. It is causing many consumers to desire — and to pay a premium for — simpler experiences.   World’s Simplest Brands ranks the leading brands on simplicity, asking more than 15,000 people across nine countries which brands and industries provide the simplest experiences, ultimately reducing stress and improving the lives of consumers everywhere. Google led the global rankings, followed by Netflix, German grocer Lidl, YouTube and another German grocer, Aldi. In the United States, Amazon was named the simplest brand, followed by streaming services Hulu and Netflix. Costco and Google rounded out the top five. The brands that did best in both the global and national categories tended to be those that consumers relied upon during the pandemic. That’s no accident. “The pandemic has made life harder, and World’s Simplest Brands found that people want transparent, direct, simple experiences that make their lives easier,” said Howard Belk, co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer, Siegel+Gale. “The brands that topped this list simplified not only the consumption experience; they simplified the human experience.” Two takeaways:

  • 76% of people are more likely to recommend a brand that delivers simple experiences, compared to 64 percent in 2018.
  • In the 18–34 demographic, 55% said their life was more complicated, while 45% in the 35–54 segment shared that sentiment. Only 37% of those 55+ said life became more complex.
Source: Siegel+Gale. (2021, December 15). As the pandemic makes life more complex, people crave simpler brands. Siegel+Gale (Omnicom Group Inc).  

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Does the New Normal Mean Slower Growth?

Predictions for social media use mirror recent trends in TV and streaming usage—slow growth after a period of strong growth during the pandemic and lock-down.   eMarketer predicts that growth in time spent with social networks among US users will taper to 94 minutes in 2023 following a huge uptick starting in 2020. This comes after US social network users spent an average of 97 minutes per day on the platforms in 2021, a gain of 2.5 minutes over 2020. Users' time spent with social skyrocketed 16% in 2020, which might make 2021's 2.6% look low, but it shows social media platforms were able to maintain the first year of the pandemic's gains. Growth in 2021 was driven by TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Meanwhile, weaker performances by Facebook and Pinterest tempered growth, as they struggled to hold onto 2020's growth. Source: Lebow, S. (2022, March 22). US time spent with social increased in 2021, but growth was slow. Insider Intelligence Trends: Forecasts & Statistics, eMarketer .

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Brands Flex Their Pricing Power

Big brands and retailers are raising prices, partly due to pandemic-related costs — but also because the drumbeat of inflation and supply-chain news provides air cover. AdExchanger says that many companies are raising prices to expand profit, not to sustain it and revisits the “brand” concept. But what is a “brand” anyway? In most cases, it’s the difference in price between a well-known name and the generic alternative. How much more will someone pay for Frosted Flakes if it’s sitting next to a Frosted Flakes look-alike? This has been put to the test by retailers launching white-label lines. On the other end of the spectrum, brands are fighting to fend off ecommerce natives and DTC brands throttling them on price, especially on Amazon. These twin dynamics have long kept prices low. But now, thanks to general inflation, well-known brands are flexing price as a muscle. What is the lesson here? Perhaps better-known brands did not need to fight so hard on pricing after all. Big department stores, fashion and consumer technology sellers all pursued a similar strategy during the holidays, ditching deep Black Friday sales and focusing more on stats like “Average Unit Retail,” which rewards stores that sell at higher prices even if they sell fewer items. Source: AdExchanger,  (2022, February 14). Legacy Brands Flex Their Pricing Power, Platform Ad Prices Skyrocket. AdExchanger.

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Insights from Research on Comfort Levels During the Pandemic: “We Are Never Returning to Normal”

“We are never returning to normal,” according to Joanna Piacenza and Samantha Elbouez, of Morning Consult. You’ve likely read that sentence before. It’s possible you’ve thought it on a particularly bleak afternoon, or you heard a friend say it from behind a computer screen — or from behind a mask. But when you look at the data, there are signs of hope that at least some Americans can return to some semblance of normal. We’ve been fielding our “Return to Normal” surveys for 109 weeks. The first survey gauging consumer attitudes on the coronavirus yielded results on Jan. 26, 2020. Analyzing the more than 239,000 U.S. responses we collected, tells us what consumer attitudes and habits didn’t change during the COVID-19 pandemic, which ones boomeranged, and which ones may be forever altered — essential insights for business leaders considering if and how they should be changing their consumer strategy as various ramifications of the pandemic continue indefinitely. On the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, head of Industry Intelligence Joanna Piacenza unpacks consumer comfort insights from Morning Consult’s 109 weeks of survey research. Background: Morning Consult’s “Return to Normal” project has primarily served to highlight consumer comfort levels throughout the pandemic by charting the share of Americans who feel safe doing certain activities. We’ve seen healthy majorities report high comfort levels for many activities, but we’re nowhere near pre-pandemic normal. When looking at this consumer survey research, it’s important to understand the part that motivated reasoning plays in consumer comfort. While respondents are considering whether they’d feel comfortable re-engaging in certain leisure activities, there’s also an element of pent-up demand — activities that consumers miss doing or want to do often present differently in public opinion research. What’s more, high consumer discomfort isn’t necessarily a death sentence for industries connected to these activities: As you’ll see with moviegoers, many report discomfort but still show up to the theater. Source: Piacenza, J. and Elbouez, S. (2022, March 2). What Our Return to Normal Looks Like After Two Years of the Pandemic. Morning Consult. Tags: Covid-19, work culture, consumer attitudes, consumer behavior

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Slowest Population Growth in Decades

The nation's population growth is slowing because of lower birthrates, more deaths and less immigration. Between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, the U.S. population grew by just 0.1 percent—a gain of 392,665 people. This is the first time since 1937 that the annual numerical population increase has been below one million people, the Census Bureau reports. With births falling and deaths rising during the pandemic, it's little wonder population growth has slowed to a crawl. Immigration is below normal as well, dragging the numbers down. Deaths outnumbered births in 25 states between July 2020 and July 2021. The excess of deaths was greatest in Florida, which had 45,248 more deaths than births that year. In three other states, deaths outnumbered births by more than 10,000: Michigan (-14,353), Ohio (-15,811), and Pennsylvania (-30,878). Overall, 17 states and the District of Columbia lost population in the past year. Sources: Russell, C. (2021, December 22). Slowest Population Growth in U.S. History. Demo Memo: Demographic Trends with Attitude. U.S. Census Bureau. (2021, December 21). National Population Totals and Components of Change: 2020—2021. The United States Census Bureau.  

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Will Pandemic-Diven Consumer Habits Persist?

  • MSI

While many businesses were disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were some others who discovered new opportunities. The pandemic also made available new methods of study to assess the changes which occurred in consumer behavior due to Covid. Today, there are questions as to what pandemic-induced behaviors will hang on for the long haul and which will fall away as the pandemic recedes. For instance, will the success of food service delivery continue?

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