In the course of a few weeks, the world as we knew it changed irrevocably. Millions of workers were sent home; millions more lost their jobs entirely. Many businesses closed their doors; others pivoted to entirely new offerings and ways of operating. Normal consumer habits—dining, shopping, traveling—completely transformed or ceased to exist.
In the face of these seismic shifts, many marketers are wondering what to do next. While evolution is necessary to some degree, don’t throw the whole rulebook out the window. In fact, the global pandemic has underscored how purpose-driven marketing, grounded in values such as inclusivity, authenticity and diversity, can transcend a crisis.
Last summer, The Female Quotient partnered with Google and Ipsos to conduct a survey on how inclusive advertising impacts consumer behavior. The survey found that people are more likely to consider, or even purchase, a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive. To find out if this purpose-driven, equality-first marketing strategy still stands in our current pandemic, we spoke with Tara Walpert Levy, vice president of Agency and Brand Solutions at Google, who shared five key takeaways from the survey:
- The pandemic is accelerating trends that were already present.
- A key priority for marketers should be driving equality and fostering unity.
- Advertising that shows pre-pandemic behavior still resonates with consumers.
- Data shows that representing diversity resonates with consumers.
- Advertising that represents diversity will be a major differentiator moving out of the pandemic.
To find out more about these takeaways and what they can teach marketers about continuing to connect with customers going forward, we talked with Walpert Levy. Here is what she had to say:
The Female Quotient: Why is purpose-driven marketing more important now than ever?
Tara Walpert Levy: This crisis has reinforced how interdependent our societal, business and personal needs are. The purpose of marketing is to shift mindsets and behaviors, and there is more awareness of the need for that now than ever. People may debate who needs what, but it seems pretty clear that we’re living in a different world than we were just four months ago.
At Google, we often say we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. People are experiencing this pandemic in radically different ways, depending on their race, where they live and their circumstances. It’s important that marketers know and understand our responsibility, given how advertising impacts society, and to help all those voices to be heard.
The pandemic is accelerating trends that were already present. This certainly applies to purpose-driven marketing. Right now, marketers should be thinking carefully about the contribution their brands—and businesses—are making to the current social climate and what we can do to encourage positivity and empathy, whether that means driving equality, fostering unity or even providing a healthy escape. The need for these brand attributes existed before the pandemic and the current groundswell for racial justice, but now it is brought into sharper focus. As our study from last year showed, consumers are far more likely to purchase a product or service when they see a campaign that reflects their values and that they believe to be purpose-driven.
FQ: Equality is such a priority for you. How are you helping your clients also keep it a priority during this crisis?
Walpert Levy: I like to believe that collectively we’ve been trending in the right direction when it comes to equality. Now, I recognize that many problems have lingered for too long, but it’s because of momentum that had existed prior to the past few months that we’re now seeing more pronounced social engagement and an acceleration of change. As a result, we as marketers have an opportunity to be bolder and more aggressive, and Google can help to surface insights and best practices that let the data help show the path forward.
We are putting data and insights in front of clients that demonstrate how important equality is for their workforce, growth and connecting with consumers. We’re lucky to have data that shows how representing diversity resonates with consumers. We believe this will be a major differentiator moving out of the pandemic and helping to translate protests into progress. Those organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion will have a competitive advantage that will last well beyond this moment. We’ve reached the point when it’s clear that the marginalization of anyone works against everyone.
FQ: What behavioral changes have you seen in consumers in terms of what type of marketing resonates with them during the pandemic? Do you think these will be temporary or will any have lasting effect?
Walpert Levy: As the pandemic exploded, lives in crisis expressed different needs. No question there was an initial shock to the system, but now as we move to this next phase, whatever this next phase is, we are seeing consumers return to their full range of interests relatively quickly. People are dreaming about things, like going on vacation or buying a new car, even if they’re not doing it in the present moment.
Initially, marketers wanted to be careful about recognizing the moment and not be insensitive or taking advantage of it, so there were lots of COVID-specific ads. For a brief period of time, those resonated—but interestingly "business as usual" ads still had surprising resonance. When we look at April, there was an uptick of ads that referenced the pandemic, but still more than 80 percent of ads had little change in tone or expression and even showcased a lot of pre-pandemic behavior. We didn’t see much change in consumers' reception to those ads. What that says to me is the fundamentals still apply. People have a fundamental need to connect, and they still care about authenticity and seeing themselves represented in campaigns.
FQ: How does marketing reinforce equality in the wider world?
Walpert Levy: Marketing at its best doesn’t just reflect culture, it shapes it. It shifts mindsets and behaviors. You can see that from the past century. Think about what campaigns like AdCouncil's “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,” Dove’s “Real Beauty” or Always' “Like a Girl” did to shape culture. Look at what brands like P&G and Nike are now trying to do with the platforms for equity that they’ve spent a long time building and the resulting impact of recent spots like “The Choice” or “Just Don’t Do It.”
I see marketing as a torchbearer of innovation and as an engine of progress in society. Data suggest we are making progress, but we’ve all felt the need for a faster acceleration, and I’m hopeful that this moment will serve as a meaningful accelerator for equality.