Lessons from a pandemic: What audiences can teach brands

This post is sponsored by Viddsee.

Will things get back to normal this year? Given the chaos that was January, it looks like 2021 is shaping up to be: “2020: the Sequel”, rather than a fresh start. Having said that, let’s not totally write off 2021 as another disastrously unpredictable year. 

While last year saw us scrambling for answers we didn’t have, the accelerated adoption of digital media platforms such as ours have given us a trove of insights, which can clue brands, content creators and agencies on what we can expect in the coming year.

1. Truth and empathy matters more than ever

Authenticity in storytelling is not new advice, in fact, it’s the foundation of every successful story. But now it is more important than ever given audiences are feeling vulnerable, afraid and uncertain about the future. In times like these, brands and agencies have the opportunity to be that trusted and empathic voice, but only if their messaging is built on truth and authenticity.

One of our trickiest campaigns last year was “As One” – a government-backed campaign to rally Singaporeans to support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign was not without its political stakes and hot-button issues: it was an election year, and some of the government’s efforts had come under a lot of public scrutiny.

The campaign was led by a series of docu-dramas (documentary dramas) that captured the true stories of public officials and citizens who worked together in curbing the spread of the virus. 

What kept it from being plain propaganda, however, were our filmmakers, who sought different perspectives – from migrant workers and behind-the-scenes technicians to front liners – to create a series that was built on inclusivity, and which surprised audiences through the celebration of little-known, everyday heroes that go unnoticed.

2. Build your community through your brand values

The pandemic has taught us how fragile life can be, and audiences have responded by engaging with companies that don’t just pay lip service to their brand values, but walk the talk in serving their communities.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen how big corporates and small businesses have rallied together to give back to the communities they serve in real and tangible ways. 

In Southeast Asia, we saw how Unilever’s #SupportLocal initiative with Carousell enabled 180,000 F&B businesses to connect with local diners, while smaller businesses in Singapore such as Zi Char restaurants Keng Eng Kee and Chao Chao Gyoza did their part in donating meals and hard-earned profits to medical front liners, vulnerable families, and more.

On our part, we created the StoriesTogether initiative to support those in the film making industry through funding content creation, and ensuring their passion for film continues on in tough times.

The point here is that brands have the opportunity to show their brand story isn’t something to be consumed passively, but one that can actively make a difference. Make no bones about it: it’ll involve hard work and lower profits, but a brand that goes all out for their customers will stick around for years to come.  

3. Don’t be afraid of mentioning the C(OVID) word.

It’s understandable that brands and marketers might not want to address COVID-19 in some form or another. After all, it’s everything that audiences have been reading, talking and worrying about for the past year.

Over the past few months, however, we’ve seen a growing appetite for audiences for films that have some relation to the pandemic, and how it affects them on a personal level. 

Our previous Juree Award winners such as Har and The Kitchlets, as well as Viddsee originals such as First Vacation, Cricket Sunday, and The Distance Between Us all highlight themes that have been caused by the pandemic – unemployment, mental health, and long-distance relationships.

On the surface, they may sound like terrible topics to highlight to audiences. But given the right approach that balances between empathy and reality, and acknowledging the present while hoping for the best, we can encourage viewers to reflect upon their own lives, and how they might change for the better.