A month ago, when we launched a new special newsletter rounding up MediaPost’s coverage of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having, we debated what to name it, because we realized it wasn’t just about a disease, but about the longer-term effects it would have on us: economically, culturally and behaviorally.

We ended up calling it CRISIS REPORT, because it seemed to cover all of the fallout we’re experiencing from the pandemic -- but in retrospect, I wish we had named it the way Kantar Consulting’s J. Walker Smith labeled it during an ARF webinar last week: DISRUPTION REPORT.

As Smith explained it, yes, we are experiencing the effects of an existential disease, and yes, it is causing multiple crises, but those are the causes of longer-term disruptive effect that is accelerating some underlying shifts that have already begun taking root among consumers, society-at-large and across the advertising, marketing and media industries.

According to Smith, the shift represents a new epoch in marketing in which the focus is moving from a focus on how brands benefit people individually to one in which they make the world a better place.

He also said the COVID-19 pandemic is the third of three major crises that have helped prompt this shift.

The others included the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, but I think there’s an even bigger, more fundamental, and longer-lasting crisis that is also accelerating it: the effects of climate change.

Whatever the individual prompts are, individuals, society and the industry are realizing that we are all in this together, and we all need to work better together to solve problems that go well beyond our individual lives, or even those of our local communities.

As pandemics, global economic recessions, and especially climate change, have shown us, the world truly is -- as Marshall McLuhan famously labeled it -- a global village.

And as Smith -- and other speakers during last week’s ARF webinar -- show us, the real purpose of brands going forward is how they impact our village.

Smith showed evidence of this belief growing from just half of consumers three years ago to about two-thirds in the past year. I’d like to see that research updated now, or in the months following the pandemic, but I guarantee you it would show another big jump.

I’m heartened that over the past month a variety of consumer research studies from Kantar, Ipsos, Edelman, Mindshare, and others have shown that most consumers have a high regard for how brands have responded and messaged during the pandemic.

Mindshare’s weekly tracking of consumer sentiment and awareness indicates that it dipped slightly in the past couple of weeks, but overall awareness of the role of brands helping consumers during the pandemic remains quite high: more than 40%.

Importantly, Mindshare’s weekly tracking represents unaided responses.

Recent research from Ipsos shows more Americans approve of what brands have been doing than local and national governments, or the media.

And yes, I understand these are self-reported perceptions and attitudes, but I believe it provides a new guidepost for a future of marketing that puts society at the heart of most brands’ purposes, and if brands can pull that off, it will make the world a better place. Especially the world of marketing, which historically hasn’t been among the most highly regarded industries in the minds of most consumers.

Disruptions can be painful -- especially ones that involve existential crises -- but they also represent opportunities for positive change.

There’s already anecdotal evidence, and a fair amount of research showing that consumers have already begun to change the kinds of products, services and brands they use because of the pandemic.

A lot of them are obvious shifts related to the need to provide products and services while being stuck-at-home, but some research from Mindshare and McKinsey’s weekly tracking of the pandemic also indicate many consumers plan to continue utilizing some of the products, services and brands they tried even when things return to “normal.”

“As consumers’ habits have been disrupted, a majority of consumers have tried out new brands and new services, which could have effects on brand loyalty in the future,” says Alexis Fragale, director of consumer insights at Mindshare USA.

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