Jonathan Hopfner | July 23rd, 2020

Feel like you’ll wither away if you read even one more sentence about the pandemic and its various impacts (well, after this one)? Apparently you’re not alone.

COVID fatigue” is a real, and rising phenomenon - and it’s as evident in media and marketing as anywhere else. One study of 7,000 consumers globally found that while most appreciated the pandemic-centric communications they received from brands in the earlier stages of the crisis, a growing number are “ready to move on,” with 41% keen to hear about topics totally unrelated to COVID-19. Separate research focusing on the US found 66% of people felt overwhelmed by pandemic-related information and a whopping 93% were interested in non-COVID related content, with a particular thirst for stories of hope and inspiration.

It’s easy enough to dismiss this as a demonstration of one of the most basic of human instincts: the urge, in the face of overwhelming adversity, to stick one’s head in the sand and hope it all goes away. Yet it points to a very real dilemma for any organisation aiming to inform or inspire an audience at a difficult time. Whether you’re discussing trends in education, technology adoption or the trajectory of financial markets, one factor looms above all others, and it’s difficult to say anything substantive without at least giving it a passing mention. This also makes it inevitable that a lot of organisations are saying similar things.

Faced with these realities, how is it possible to produce content that’s informative and insightful on the key issues of the day, yet still distinctive, and engaging to a potentially COVID-weary audience? It’s obviously not realistic (or desirable) to brush over the pandemic completely. But at the same time the market might not need another lengthy treatise on how the pandemic is going to utterly transform industry X, forever and ever (and the phrase ‘new normal’ needs to be put definitively out to pasture). The fact is, no one really knows, and there might well be a stampede back to the comfort of old habits and practices at the first signs of the situation turning.

The power of context

Rather than constantly trying to catalogue all the potential impacts of the pandemic, it can be more effective to aim for balance. Yes, COVID-19 is monumental, and important, but in most markets or sectors it is one of a number of complex factors that are acting as agents of change, from demographic shifts to infrastructure spending plans to a rising focus on ethical conduct. Reminding your audience about those other factors - effectively forcing the virus to share the stage - can put a very different spin on what you produce, and lead to perspectives that seem positively refreshing in the current environment.

As an example, we recently worked on a campaign for a client that examined the outlook for diversity in the financial services sector over the next decade. COVID-19 was certainly referenced, specifically the way it’s effectively validated the work from home model and could encourage more women who struggle to balance career and family obligations to remain in the workforce as a result. But the analysis also touched on a host of other, no less important trends, including changing patterns in education, the desire of millennial and Gen Z talent to work for progressive employers, digitisation, and the ferocious battle for talent.

What could have been framed as a study of diversity in the post-COVID era - and lost in the churning ocean of coronavirus-centric content - ended up being something much more ambitious that doesn’t risk looking dated this time next year. The study also developed into something uplifting, because it shows that beyond the fog created by our constant focus on the virus, there are still multiple other forces at work - and many of them are positive.

As content producers, the choice then isn’t only between contributing to COVID fatigue, or ignoring the pandemic and helping people play ostrich. Instead we can take advantage of opportunities to shift the focus now and then - and expand the collective field of vision in the process.

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