Leo Burnett looks at Canada’s Covid-induced anxieties, and the role for brands

Early last year, the leadership team at Leo Burnett decided it needed a better understanding of how the pandemic was changing Canadian consumers.

They wanted to know how people were feeling, how their needs were changing, and what new problems they were facing. “When we do that… we start to uncover genuine human needs and problems to credibly solve with our brands,” said the agency’s chief strategy officer, Tahir Ahmad.

Released this week, “The HumanKind Study” covers a wide range of big issues and concerns, from divided societies and environmental worries, to mental health, the pandemic’s harm on children, and technology overload.

Canadians are looking for help with very significant issues, said Ahmad. “This is a tremendous opportunity for brands to step in to that void.”

For Leo Burnett, the research can lead to new and different kinds of creative solutions that go beyond communications.“Ultimately it’s about working out what the problem is from the beginning, and designing a new product or service or experience that can solve it,” said Ahmad.

The research was conducted over several months with Maru Public Opinion, and included a survey more than 4,600 adults in all provinces, with an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.5%.

Some of the findings point to angst that is almost existential in nature. Many Canadians (37% of respondents) said they feel fundamentally unhappy with how they are living their lives, 47% believe their communities are more divided than ever, and 69% feel like society has learned nothing from the pandemic.

And while just 20% of respondents think brands have a role to play in solving some of these big issues, the study also showed that most brands (76%) don’t understand people’s problems. That data represents the opportunity for marketers to use a better understanding of Canadians to do more.

While not every brand can bring divided communities together, or help individuals overcome a sense of malaise, brands can look for ways to provide relief in a way that makes sense for them.

“What we’re hearing from people is they want some sense of progress,” said Ahmad. “It doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t need to be massive.” It can be as small as a food brand providing something for parents and kids to spend more time together in their kitchen, sharing a meaningful moment away from screens for example. “Any tangible step in the right direction is appreciated,” he said.

The impetus for the research was in some ways inspired by Leo Burnett himself, who believed that what helps people also helps business. “We truly believe that if you put the needs of people first and foremost, then you will  build a brand that matters to them,” said Ahmad. “And when you build a brand that adds value and matters to them, you’re going to build that emotional connection.”

Asked which findings stood out for him personally, Ahmad pointed to the discovery that about half of Canadians feel like they are living a life that is unfulfilling—that they are wasting much of their life doing something that doesn’t make them happy.

“That just shows you that while the pandemic has certainly reduced enjoyment and happiness in our day-to-day life right now, it’s caused us to take stock of the life we have been living and ask ourselves ‘Is this it, is this the best that I can do, am I living a life that is really fulfilling?'”

Similarly many parents expressed concern about what the pandemic has done to their children, and many worry they’ve somehow failed them during the crisis—with 61% saying they believe their children have been more emotionally effected than they show, and half believe they need to be more actively involved in their children’s lives.

“There is a stat that says ‘This is so incredibly important to me, my kids are everything to me. I just don’t know how to make this happen,” he said.  “And, again, there’s a great opportunity for brands to step in.”

Along with the findings, Leo Burnett provided some examples and suggestions of how brands can respond:

  • Fear of Others: 48% of respondents said they expect to retain a fear of being around other people long after the pandemic. What to do: Brands need to be thinking about ways they can help people who have those fears and concerns, or how brands can to thrive in a less physically connected future.
  • Financial insecurity: 40% expect to never feel as financially secure or confident again. This economic insecurity is higher with women. What to do: How can brands innovate to address those insecurities and concerns, perhaps by introducing tiered pricing models.
  • Mental health: 43% of respondents said they are not feeling or functioning the way they want to because of stress and anxiety. What to do: Can brands provide tools to help people manage their stress, or else provide some distraction or moment of respite.
  • Environment: 55% believe Earth is past the point of saving. What to do: What can brands do about (not just talk about) the environmental crisis, and how they can help their consumers feel like they are making a difference.
  • Screen addiction: 40% of Canadians are worried about how screen addiction is having an impact on their relationships, and 51% are concerned about social media culture. What to do: Brands can look for ways to contribute to more positive social media, and encourage moments of real in-person connection.
David Brown