When the coronavirus pandemic hit in spring 2020, new pop culture moments slowed to a crawl.
Organizers canceled concerts and festivals, movie studios delayed film releases, and theaters shut their doors.
Even sports came to a screeching halt. No more watching basketball in the bar and no more football Sundays with the family.
When Tiger King Became Content Marketing King
In the absence of traditional pop culture experiences, millions of quarantined households started consuming other forms of entertainment.
More than 64 million households watched the incredibly popular Netflix show “Tiger King.” Celebrities hosted livestreams on Instagram and Facebook. And late-night icon “Saturday Night Live” assembled a version of its show using at-home video clips.
While the country is reopening and enabling some pop culture moments to return, we remain in limbo with the first wave of the coronavirus.
Spikes in cases across the country force leaders to wrestle with whether they should tighten restrictions and reinstitute stay-at-home orders. Which could mean a return to quarantine without the pop culture we crave.
Pop Culture’s Role
It’s easy to underestimate just how much pop culture informs and affects our lives.
It acts as a common thread and can influence who we are and how we act as members of society.
Protesters, for instance, often use quotes from popular books and movies to communicate their points in ways that the masses will understand.
So how will this disruption of pop culture affect people’s behavior now and in the coming months? And how will it change their behavior as consumers?
How a Pop Culture Vacuum Hurts Us
For consumers who are suddenly left without regular doses of new pop culture, there’s a void to fill. Watching live entertainment provides people with real emotional benefits.
Tuning into a live NFL game, for instance, lets people experience intrigue and excitement.
Perhaps this is why shows that offer a new angle on old events — “The Last Dance,” an ESPN documentary series about Michael Jordan, for example — have become more popular during this time.
They give consumers something to discover that they hadn’t seen before.
Beyond discovery, live events also offer people cultural grounding.
Even if you’re not a Lakers fan and don’t know who Serena Williams is, sports play a significant role in our culture.
They’re even baked into the way we experience time.
For example,“March Madness” marks a shift into spring for college basketball fans as well as for society as a whole. It gives us collective anchor points that connect and unite us.
Pop culture also offers people a sense of identity. Whether it’s having a favorite team or a favorite band, these identifiers give people a sense of belonging.
International events such as the Olympics can cross borders, heal divisions, and unite people under a common cause. It’s no coincidence that on Christmas Day 1914, the British and German soldiers called a temporary ceasefire to play a game of soccer.
Finding a Replacement: Content Marketing
The loss of these moments and markers of time forces people to seek replacement experiences.
They want to discover new things while in lockdown, but they also want an easy escape button. They crave a form of entertainment in which they can become so engrossed that the realities of the world as it is right now disappear — at least for a little bit.
People everywhere have found themselves with an increased need for comfort and familiarity.
The uncertain future has caused them to focus on soothing themselves in the short term instead of fueling themselves for the long term. But even finding comfort has been difficult because people have such limited options.
They’ve tried to bake their favorite comfort foods with the same four ingredients, host quizzes and game nights over Zoom, and create events such as the Quarantine Olympics on TikTok, all of which are their substitutes for pop culture experiences and moments.
Most people aren’t used to being so alone, so confronted with themselves (or their families) with no ability to escape and find a space of their own. As a result, they’ve tried to create fresh experiences despite nothing new being available.
How Content Marketing Can Fill the Pop Culture Void
What does this environment mean for brands trying to connect with consumers in the face of uncertainty about the virus and an impending second wave of infections?
Here are three content marketing tactics to employ that will demonstrate your understanding of consumer needs at this surreal moment in time:
Tap Into a Need to Explore With Your Content Marketing
Discovery, learning, and play reflect the basic psychological need of exploration. A need that has been left unmet amid this pandemic.
What people usually get from traveling, trying new restaurants, or watching a baseball game, they now get via digital content marketing that allows them to have new experiences.
Podcasts and video games are great examples of this content.
These media formats, which are evolving in exciting ways all the time, can be escapist but familiar.
They’re reliable and have a somewhat repetitive format. But they give us a fresh dose of discovery every time we tune in to listen or play.
Appreciate People’s Thoughts are Scrambled
While consumers are experiencing a need to explore, they’re also less capable of thinking deeply right now in light of all of the information they’re trying to process. A crisis drains energy, and news consumption requires concentration.
According to productivity expert Racheal Cook, “we are going through a collective trauma experience.”
With what little is left of our attention span after consuming crisis information and looking after ourselves and loved ones, it’s hard to consume (or want to consume) content marketing or entertainment that requires significant engagement.
Marketers must be careful to save heavy or complicated subjects for a later time. At this moment, shorter, lighter, and more inspirational messages will best serve consumers and make them more apt to engage.
Create a Mix of New and Nostalgic
The need for comfort and familiarity is driving people toward nostalgia more than ever.
Reruns of classic shows, for example, give us the comfort of knowing what’s coming. A feeling that’s sorely lacking in the rest of our lives at the moment.
For brands, evoking this feeling of nostalgia can be a powerful way to put consumers in a positive frame of mind. And associate that positivity with their products or services.
People are also looking to explore. This means a mixture of both new and familiar material will make for the most successful content marketing and brand messaging.
As part of Google’s effort to encourage people to stay home and save lives during the pandemic, it brought back some of its most popular “doodle games” from years past in hopes that people could occupy their quarantine time with this nostalgic distraction.
Traditional formats presented in fresh ways. New takes on familiar content. All these things make people feel comforted and stimulated all at once.
While we’ve experienced a pop culture vacuum in recent months — and will likely face another in the months to come — we’ve also come together to understand and lean on each other more than ever before.
If content marketing professionals can view that togetherness as a new kind of culture and a new kind of consumer, they’ll be able to rise to this unique challenge.