Mar 9, 2020

Marketing in a Pandemic: Changing Behaviors

I’m catching up on the gamecast of Sunday’s U. of Maryland vs. U. of Michigan basketball on my phone via ESPN, and I’m served this ad in the article:

surgical masks

That’s right. Surgical masks. In full transparency, I’m 55 and drifting untethered into the quicksand of a higher-risk demographic for coronavirus than I’d like to admit. The irony that I work in marketing, and spout off on all of the great wonders of targeted personalization, is not lost on me.

But the way the masks were marketed to me was blunt, highly impersonal—no copy, no message, just the image and “buy.” Not even a smidgen of scare tactic copy. Primitive at its best. Insulting at its worst.

How will the pandemic change consumer behavior not just short term, but long term? And how will that affect marketing and marketing channels? What behaviors will stick?

As of this writing, Monday, March 9, 2020, at 2PM, the Dow Jones had dropped 7%+, yet Pharma and Biotech stocks (SPEX +208%), household goods (Clorox +10%) and home entertainment (CYOU +15%, gaming, video, etc.) were gaining in various sectors or suffering smaller losses than the market average.

Panic still seems to be the dominant response.

Despite that market response, certain trends in behaviors, channel usage and messaging are beginning to take shape.

Behaviors & Channels

In addition to becoming better hand washers and more aware of covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze, many people are hunkering down at home, quarantined, in either self-imposed or government-/work-enforced exile. Needs change with this behavior, increasing desire for on-demand services and products:

  • A greater reliance on online channels for communication, entertainment, information, and commerce. Social and news hubs (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), streaming and entertainment services (Twitch, Fortnite, Netflix, HBO, etc.)
  • Potential growth in delivery services and products (Amazon Prime, Grubhub, Instacart)
  • News content consumption (The New York Times, Reddit, etc.)—people are hungry to be better informed
  • Commerce: Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, etc. Exchanging money without touching it


Post-pandemic behaviors may carry and shift audiences more into digital channels than in the past.