Collective Suffering

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in some way or another. While the disease may not have touched everyone directly, there is no question that 2020 was different than years previous. No one has been immune to the shifts in lifestyle and culture that the pandemic has necessitated—we’ve all felt the pain.

Brands are no different than us in this respect. Though some lucky few have benefited from the pandemic (e.g. Dominos or just about anyone manufacturing and selling disinfectant), most brands were not so lucky. As consumers tightened their financial belts due to diminished incomes and job loss, they also constricted their spending. With this narrowing of the broader market, it makes it more important than ever for brands to establish worth to consumers. They need to make it easier for consumers to choose their products over another.

To this end, brands are seeking to ingratiate themselves to target markets through the idea of “collective suffering.” Brands are attempting to demonstrate that they, too, are feeling the impact of all the negativity of 2020. They want consumers to see: “Hey, we’re all in this together.” The in-it-together mentality is a move that could potentially help align a brand’s positioning with that of the current consumer sentiment.

Fast-food chain KFC is using this premise with a bit of nostalgia. The company brought back vintage holiday buckets for its chicken for the Christmas season. For the brand, this is a way to signal that the company has been a part of the family dining experience for years and is a reliable facet in consumer’s lives. The company is leaning into nostalgia as a way to relate its products to a safer, simpler time in the past.

Another company that is trying to demonstrate its place in the recent cultural shift is Coca-Cola. The brand is adding “Holiday Heroes” labels to the “Share a Coke” bottles. The bottles highlight those who have been particularly affected during the pandemic: teachers, doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Coke is putting a spotlight on those who have gone above-and-beyond to make the world a better place in tumultuous times.

Undoubtedly, businesses have suffered on a global scale, but can multinational brands sell consumers on the idea that they have endured similar hardships to those hit hard by the pandemic? This is a sensitive road for non-human entities attempting to parallel the hurt that so many people have felt on a visceral, personal level. Brands will have to toe a delicate line as they build relatability to their consumer base without assuming too much familiarity with real people.

As we attempt to exit the pandemic, this idea of brands and consumers being on the same team will not be lost. Moving on from 2020, brands will emphasize their value to consumers by highlighting that we are all on the same team, fighting the same battles.