Memes capture the human experience of living through COVID-19. Behavioral scientist Dr. Namika Segara explains how the prevention and promotion mindsets influence decisions and how markets must change the way they advertise products to appeal to prevention mindsets as a result of the pandemic. 

Wash your hands! Remote work. Social distancing. Zoom. Online groceries. Hydroxychlor-what? Amazon. Walmart. Face masks. Remdesivir! Back-ordered. Toilet paper. Food delivery. Sales. Protests. Will this be permanent?

The whole world is living through a historic and modern pandemic in a tumultuous social, political, and economic time. Crises change human behavior and norms. Changed behaviors introduce new jargon into everyday language. The incorporation of coronavirus lingo reflects the nuances of a changing culture. As a result, human behavior is evolving through this pandemic. 

Behavioral scientist Namika Segara, Ph.D., and Menaka Gopinath, President of IPSOS social media exchange, discussed recently the evolution of human behavior during the coronavirus pandemic and how brands should adapt their marketing strategies to meet these changes. IPSOS is a global leader in market research and uses data in context to help clients come up with the best marketing strategies.

According to Ms. Gopinath, consumers across the globe are on an emotional journey as the pandemic unfolds. The stages of this journey are (1) uncertainty, (2) preparation, (3) adjustment, (4) acclimation, (5) endurance, and (6) anticipation. 

IPSOS Social Media Exchange President Menaka Gopinath said, “This [emotional journey throughout the pandemic] especially comes to life when we look at memes.”

When the pandemic started and people were in the (1) uncertainty phase, coronavirus tinder dating profile memes circulated the internet. However, this stage quickly moved into the (2) preparation phase, where the web was filled with new memes about expensive toilet paper and hand washing. During the (3) adjustment phase, people were figuring out how to work remotely from home. In a meme popular in The NEW YORKER, a man with sunglasses and a parka held onto the shower curtain rod above him in his bathroom while wearing Apple earphones and browsing his iPhone in his hand. This imitation captured what New Yorkers look like every day on the way to work on the subways. In the (4) acclimation phase, many memes showed people weighing themselves on a scale during stay-at-home orders and depicted messages about being kind to oneself. At that point, the scary reality that we are really living through a pandemic had sunk in for most people. Memes in the (5) endurance phase and the (6) anticipation phase addressed questions such as, when is this going to end? What does the end look like? And what we should be anticipating moving forward? 

Throughout this emotional journey, people braced themselves as they became increasingly tired, anxious, and angry. Many also felt that they were too “inert”, especially compared to their productivity in their pre-pandemic life. The memes provided context for the data that revealed these findings from research studies and surveys by IPSOS Online Communities. 

How are people’s mindsets impacting behaviors?

Dr. Namika Segara analyzed the evolution of human behavior during the pandemic through Regulatory Focus Theory. In social psychology, Regulatory Focus Theory examines the relationship of how the motivation of a person impacts the way that they achieve their goal. This theory classifies human behavior into two mindsets: promotion and prevention. Dr. Segara explained these two mindsets with an example of parenting. 

Dr. Segara says, “if you are a parent and have children, and if you’re a promotion-focused parent, you’re more about letting the kids explore the world and have them try new things. On the other hand, if you are a little bit more on the prevention side, you might want to make sure that bad things won’t happen to your kids. We want to make sure that the kids are getting to school safely, coming home from school safely, and that they’re washing their hands.” 

However, she clarified that the promotion and prevention mindsets are not dichotomies. Just as one is neither fully an introvert or extrovert, these two mindsets exist in a spectrum depending on the situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more people to adopt mostly prevention mindsets to keep themselves and others safe. 

Therefore, when applying the Regulatory Focus Theory to consumers, markets must change the way that they advertise products. In this premature post-COVID-19 era, a consumer’s natural tendency will no longer be to buy products through the promotion mindset. 

Menaka Gopinath concludes that, for example, now that everyone wears face masks, will eye makeup become more important? These are unusual questions that brands must ask themselves in order to continue to stay competitive in this post-pandemic world. 

Karen Jang

Karen Jang is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She is studying Chemistry at Barnard College of Columbia University and Classical Violin at the Manhattan School of Music. Karen is a graduate...