Summer is fast approaching, and almost no one is booking plane tickets for summer vacation. Gyms and pools are closed, lockdown snacking and drinking has been out of control, so who is really worrying about their bikini body? Grocery stores are still struggling to keep cleaning products so typical “spring cleaning” is on the backburner. New boat for the Memorial Day Blowout Sale? Forget about it.
COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior this spring so drastically that seasonal marketing is almost unrecognizable for most brands. With lives at risk, the economy still sputtering and struggling, jobs gone or uncertain, and nowhere to go safely and socialize, even states that are loosening restrictions do not look or feel normal yet – and probably won’t for some time. The priority in most families is to save money for now, just until we know what is going to happen.
However, at the same time, schools have closed, most daycares have closed, public parks, public pools, camps, community playgrounds, arcades, grandma and grandpa’s house in many cities, and every other support system parents or caregivers relied on (the “village” so to speak) is either shut down or treading very softly as the pandemic rages on. This means that the one exception to the “save the money” rule right now is parents who are desperately trying to keep their kids healthy, happy, educated and entertained WHILE AT THE SAME TIME keeping their jobs, and their houses, and their lives, managed.
It is a monumental undertaking that 1/3 of the US workforce is facing right now at an unprecedented rate. Which means this audience desperately needs products and services that can support them in the absence of their villages this summer. Some parent/kid-specific brands definitely have the memo, but it is important for all brands to consider what parents need from them moving forward.
For Parents of Young Children
- Activities that burn energy. Small kids spend a significant amount of the day in active play. Without public play areas available, backyard playground equipment, pools, indoor gyms and the like are seeing a surge in sales, but that is not the only way kids can burn energy. Brands could also suggest interesting sidewalk chalk games, building a fort, scavenger hunts, and obstacle courses. If they want to be really ambitious, instructor-led physical activities are also welcomed resources for this audience.
- Activities that are intellectually stimulating. While there is no shortage of tablet apps that teach reading, writing, math, social studies, languages, etc., parents of young kids are always looking for ways to reduce screen time – even in the time of the pandemic. Brands could suggest easy family science projects, pretend play, and family games. And while it still could be considered screen time, live story readings, virtual field trips, and audio books all change things up from app time.
- Activities that can be done by younger children autonomously. This is perhaps the greatest support parents of young children could receive. Even the ones that don’t work need time to take a shower and clean the kitchen, routines that take a lot of effort during the pandemic. Brands can offer a product or simply suggest activities or structures that will hold kids’ attention with little to no parental aid. Some brands have also developed virtual sitter or educator services to take the onus off of parents for a space of time.
- Healthy food ideas. Staying at home for people of all ages generally means more snacking. Staying at home under the stress of COVID-19 when normal groceries and resources are not available means that kids (and parents) need healthy options. For little kids, parents especially need easy, accessible snacks and ingredients that don’t require a lot of prep.
- Support in helping kids to understand pandemic conditions. Explaining a dangerous, stressful situation to young children is never easy. Parents are sorting through their own feelings and issues with the situation even as they are trying to make the process as painless as possible for their kids. Resources that can help parents navigate this time with their young children are much needed. Especially when it comes to teaching safety.
- Simple, uncomplicated messaging. Parents are busier than they have ever been. Brands’ missions should support them without becoming another source of stress. Messaging, suggestions and products should all be very easily accessible and simple to understand and/or implement.
- Compassion and acknowledgement, not patronization. Blogs and other publications have plenty to say about wallowing in parental self-pity during COVID-19, but most parents have passed that stage. While they still need sympathy and support, now is not the time to pat them on the head and tell them it’s ok that they made macaroni for dinner. They know that. But we should acknowledge that this time is difficult and that there are resources available to them.
For Parents of Teens
- Social support to keep kids in touch with friends. While young children miss their friends, social development and interaction is critical to teenagers, and they have been abruptly cut off. It could be an online social platform or other online tools that a brand could offer, but it could also be ideas for social games that keep kids connected. Drive-by hellos or birthday parades, water gun pranks and other suggestions can help parents keep their kids involved with their friends during the pandemic.
- Help showing teens healthy coping mechanisms. Little kids need help understanding why they are stuck at home, but big kids totally understand, and that is the problem. Sorting through feelings and thoughts about the pandemic can be tricky for adults and extremely difficult for teenagers, meaning that they act out toward their parents. Several services offer online support and therapy that parents can connect with their teens, and brands can help make those resources available.
- Activities that can be done as a family. Autonomy is needed for little kids, but big kids sometimes have to be dragged from their rooms kicking and screaming to maintain a connection with their families. Ideas for activities such as more challenging recipes, tinkering projects, family games, movies, etc., are needed for this audience.
- Activities that are intellectually stimulating. Just like with the littles, big kids need to keep using their brains while on lockdown.
- Physical activities. While the needs of teenagers are more about maintaining health than burning excess energy, COVID-19 makes active play especially important for teens as they are more sedentary under the circumstances. Apps that provide running or other physical goals, fitness trackers, and other products can be helpful, but so can simple suggestions or “challenges” to keep big kids in the game.
- Healthy food ideas. For the same reason parents of teens need physical activity products and resources, they also need healthy food ideas. We all know the cliché about how much teens eat. And if brands have a way to make healthy eating fun or tied to an activity such as family cooking or gardening with how-to resources, even better.
These are by no means comprehensive lists, but they convey the shifted priorities of an audience that would ordinarily be packing up for the beach right now. Trying to convince them they should still be going to the beach or looking toward the next year’s vacation does not serve their needs – especially as parents are learning how to manage their lives under extreme, unforeseen circumstances. And if brands can find ways to lift them up, well, you know what they say about rising tides.