Millennials put off by promotions referencing Covid-19

02 July 2020 5 min. read
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With a number of companies claiming to celebrate the efforts of their staff amid Covid-19, but failing to actively support them, a majority of Millennial customers feel negatively toward brands referencing the pandemic in promotional material. A majority of customers in general would also rather companies advertised like they did before the crisis.

A number of high profile companies have rolled out commercials during the coronavirus pandemic, lauding ‘hero’ employees in a bid to show solidarity with staff. The public displays of apparent gratitude aim to show firms as compassionate employers, helping to pick up customer from increasingly purpose-led customers amid a turbulent economic moment. That may be easier said than done, however, and many of the youngest generations of consumers regard these ploys with suspicion, as they often contradict the material actions of companies.

One apparent example of this is Amazon. During the pandemic, the ecommerce giant rolled out a series of adverts the efforts of its “Amazon Heroes,” while CEO Jeff Bezos published an open letter thanking his employees for their work during the coronavirus crisis, offering his support as many of his workers have spoken out for more assistance from the company.

Millennials put off by promotions referencing Covid-19

At the same time, the company has routinely claimed it is doing everything in its power to shield its staff from the virus, while downplaying infection rates in its warehouses. In May, for example, Senior Vice President Dave Clark appeared on TV show 60 Minutes to claim Covid-19 cases in Amazon warehouses were “popping up at roughly a rate generally just under what the actual community infection rates are.”

The problem is, the safety of these facilities has been hotly contested by Amazon workers – particularly in the US. There, staff have disputed the company’s claims, and even staged protests and walkouts in warehouses over what they describe as an uneven and inadequate corporate response to the coronavirus. Contrary to the claims of the firm’s CEO that staff would be better supported, or the firm’s PR campaign lauding staff as heroes, however, workers who complained about Amazon’s lack of transparency or handling of the crisis encountered a fearsome retaliation campaign. Some, like Staten Island protest leader Chris Smalls, were even forced out of the company.

According to a leaked company memo, initially published by Bloomberg, infection rates in Amazon’s warehouses may indeed be worse than the firm has let on. As Bloomberg reported, by the middle of May, Amazon “was aware of 45 Covid-19 cases at its MSP1 facility in Shakopee, Minnesota, enough for an infection rate of 1.7%”, according to the memo. “That was higher than the rural county that surrounds the warehouse, and roughly four times higher than any county in the nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.” In other words, the infection rate in one Minneapolis-area warehouse far outpaced that of the surrounding community, and Amazon knew it. Meanwhile, it appears to have looked to silence dissent in the company on the matter, as it ran an ad campaign to appear a model employer.

With examples like this, it is perhaps unsurprising that a survey conducted by Sapio Research and Blackhawk Network found that consumers find adverts signposting company solidarity amid Covid-19 off-putting. Almost two-thirds of people said that they found such efforts irksome; as 65% said they would rather brands looked to promote and advertise as they did before the pandemic. This was most pronounced among 25-35 year-olds, with a majority of Millennials stating that they felt outright negatively about brands referencing Covid-19 during promotions.

Indeed, Blackhawk’s research reinforced the idea that while brands were trumpeting their support of staff, they were failing to make them feel valued. The poll found that 83% of employees like being rewarded for working hard, and 82% agree that receiving gifts or rewards from their current employer makes them feel valued. Despite this, only 15% of employees have received a digital gift card that can be used in multiple retailers or brands.

Retail lessons

Matt Howe, Managing Director of EMEA, at Blackhawk Network, commented, “Covid-19 has brought in many changes and it’s not surprising that many of these will likely continue well beyond the pandemic, and possibly even change consumer behaviour permanently.”

Aside from attitudes toward advertising, Blackhawk also polled consumers on their feelings toward payment methods, online shopping, and their desire to return to physical stores. Retailers will need to learn from these trends quickly, as 75% of people expect some permanent changes to their shopping experiences as a result of Covid-19 precautions.

One of these changes is in payment methods, thanks to the encouragement from stores to use contactless methods, along with a spike in online shopping. Around 46% of people are purchasing from retail stores less than they were a year ago, while more than four-in-five 5 people feel safe receiving online shopping deliveries at home compared to 46% currently feeling unsafe shopping at physical retail locations.

Howe added, “The key to success, even for the retailers that have stayed open during lockdown such as supermarkets, is going to be about reassurance and making customers feel safe while in-store, but not intimidated or scared about the safety measures in place.”