Wunderman Thomson’s Jo Weston: the rise of community spirit in the Covid-19 age

Let’s rewind a year. Warnings of travel restrictions, supply chain shocks, potential job losses, medical supplies not getting through, lorries backed up at the border, some of us had even started stockpiling – remember Brexit? There was fear and bitter division in the face of that momentous political decision.

Who’d have known, a year on, we’d be facing a far more real and present danger, but one that we’re still unclear on how to fight.

When you listen to people talk right now, they say they’re scared. Afraid for their health, their livelihoods, the NHS and those around them. They’re angry, at the greed and rampant individualism of panic buying, and blatantly flouting of the rules. And these feelings cut across age, gender and income.*

*Graph: GWI, March 16-20 2020, 2,310 (U.S.) and 2,229 (UK) internet users aged 16-64.

‘Stay Home, protect the NHS, save lives’. ‘There is such a thing as society’. Much as I’d like to deny Boris his Churchillian moment (and inaccurate rebuke of Thatcherism), these are words of unity right now.

There’s a real sense of public consensus which is why we’re beginning to see the green shoots of collectivism; people pulling together in the interests of their communities. Reports of children spending their pocket money on loo roll for the elderly, regular cries of ‘I’m going to the shops can I get you anything?’ from a neighbour, or the silent decorum when our eyes meet in the queue for the supermarket. It’s all around us. And no doubt, the reason giffgaff have brought forward their campaign focused on community.

Our analysis of social platforms showed online conversation around ‘community spirit’ increased 82% in the last month. ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ is being used 70x more than this time last year. The majority of these conversations concern support for the most vulnerable and local businesses, and almost half are from the over 45s.

Shopping for and looking after older people

How can you link people up with the emotional and logistical support they need to survive a long period of solitude? Are there ways to do this without relying heavily on technology? Football clubs such as Bournemouth and Crystal Palace have made good use of players’ downtime, getting them to telephone elderly fans for a reassuring chat.

Supporting the NHS

Don’t just join the applause, find ways to add tangible value. Pret saw their online sentiment jump from 77% to 99.1% positive after announcing they would be providing free hot drinks and 50% off all food for NHS staff.

Organised volunteering

Volunteering organisations are currently overwhelmed. Many charities say they’re facing a fundraising apocalypse. Can your brand help funnel cash to keep things running? Or lighten the load in some way? JetBlue, is donating free flights for incoming medical volunteers heading to NY State.

Supporting local businesses

Hello Visa, hello Amex. #Shoplocal is being used 3 times more per week than it was a month ago. UberEats is making it easier for local restaurants to access its network. Deliveroo have begun a campaign asking us to keep ordering from its many small businesses.

Providing virtual community

From Netflix parties, to online speed dating, from book groups to reading children’s stories, brands experimenting with new ways to bring people together digitally have exploded. How can you unite people (remotely) in a way that is true to your purpose and answers a genuine need?

Celebrating acts of kindness, decency and just keeping people’s spirits up

With rainbows appearing in people’s windows all around the country, how can you help lift everyone’s spirits? The Guinness St Patrick’s Day message is a great example of this.

The burning question is of course: will any of this last? Are we seeing the dawn of a new era akin to the famous ‘spirit of 45’? Well, who’s to say, but if one thing is becoming clear, it’s that the heroes and villains of this era are being forged as we speak. Brands have the potential to emerge as noble warriors or cowardly deserters, especially if they’ve been previously vocal around purpose. So roll up your sleeves and get involved, your community needs you.

Jo Weston is planning director of Wunderman Thompson UK.

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