At CES 2021, Marketers Discuss Pandemic-Related Trends—and What to Expect Next

Execs from Uber Eats, TikTok and Bank of America shared a virtual stage this week

By KATHRYN LUNDSTROM | Adweek | Jan 15, 2021

Despite 2021’s chaotic first impression, marketers from across the industry are still finding ways to be optimistic about the coming year.

While the pandemic has upended countless plans and expectations, there are other consumer trends that only accelerated in 2020. And in a moment when unprecedented events seem to come a dime a dozen, identifying points of continuity is just as comforting as it is wise as we look to the future.

At CES 2021 this week, marketers gathered virtually to discuss how some of the biggest pandemic-era trends have informed their marketing and advertising decisions, and what they expect will outlast the season of lockdowns and social distancing.

But for the most part, those trends were already evident before Covid-19 hit. To kick off a panel discussion with marketers from TikTok, Bank of America and Uber Eats, The Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema spoke with Mastercard’s Cheryl Guerin about recent polling data the brands gathered on consumer behavior.

Touchless is here to stay

While fears of virus transmission has led buyers to sanitize everything for door handles to grocery store items, the option to pay using contactless technology was already available. Still, it gained significant momentum as people began thinking differently about points of contact throughout the pandemic.

With 41% of global transactions being carried out using contactless tech, 74% of Americans say they plan to continue using contactless even after the pandemic is over, said evp of North America marketing and communications for Mastercard, Cheryl Guerin.

While that’s made in-person experiences largely impossible, marketers continue to find ways to connect with consumers in Covid-safe capacities. TikTok, of course, is one of the places where marketers have worked to fill in that gap in consumer engagement.

“Tiktok can be a place where [brands] can maybe have a little bit of fun, take a risk, jump in on a challenge or the latest cultural trend, but also take part in things that are really meaningful for the world,” said Katie Riccio Puris, managing director of global business marketing for the platform.

A continued focus on health and wellness

Valued at more than $4 trillion before the pandemic hit, the health and wellness industry—and its impact on consumer spending across categories—was another area that saw renewed focus during one of the most stressful years in modern history.

Looking ahead, Gerzema said poll data indicates that consumers, especially the younger cohort, are demanding a stronger focus on mental health within the wellness space. “This younger generation is breaking the taboos around therapy and around help and counseling and that’s very encouraging for all of us,” he said.

But the trend toward betterment extends beyond just the health and wellness industry itself. Circumstances have demanded that brands step up to support the wellness of their employees and partners during difficult times as well. DyShaun Muhammad, global head of brand marketing for Uber Eats, highlighted the ways that Uber and Uber Eats have shifted resources to support the wellness of employees, partners and merchants during the pandemic and economic downturn.

“We’re having active conversations about all the different ways that we can support the way that people are moving… but also doing so in a way that is safe and helping our merchants just manage this crisis,” said Muhammad. The pandemic “has just brought that human element to the fore and you can’t turn that back in,” he said.

Get ready for post-pandemic ‘revenge spending’

While folks shifted their spending toward items of immediate comfort in the first months of the pandemic, alcohol, ice cream and chocolate can really only get you so far. Guerin said that based on data from the recent poll, consumers are anxious to start spending on the things they’ve been denied over the last year—like travel, dining and in-person entertainment.

Marketers on the panel agreed that it’s something that provides opportunity for marketers as we move out of a state of crisis.

“There is going to be such a pent up demand that when we’re allowed to travel globally again, you’re going to see a tremendous amount of that activity,” said Lou Paskalis, svp of global communications strategy and media investment at Bank of America.

More than half of American consumers have put away some money this year, Gerzema said, calling savings “the biggest enemy of consumption this past year.” At this point, those savings are burning holes in the pockets of American consumers.

“There’s a savings dam that’s about to burst,” Gerzema said.

Calendar reshuffling will continue through 2021

Event cancellations were the name of the game in 2020, and continue to upend the cycles and seasonality of sports and business as in-person gatherings remain inadvisable for the time being.

That’s likely to continue throughout 2021, said Gerzema. Even as in-person events do become more feasible, it’s unlikely that the rescheduled events will fall within the same season they would have prior to the pandemic, meaning this “un-calendared” state of being will characterize 2021 just as much as it did 2020.

“The implication here is: don’t think in conventional timelines,” said Gerzema. “Marketers need to be agile.”

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