Pivoting in Crisis #3: Supporting the vulnerable in society

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20 March 2020

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to spread and an abundance of misinformation muddies the water across the world, behaviours are starting to change. Just as the 2008 crash saw the birth of thousands of new businesses, Covid-19 will undoubtedly mean pivoting marketing strategies and ways of working. Several of the changes that coronavirus is causing will create new consumer needs. It is these changing needs that we’ll be looking to highlight in this, the third of an ongoing content series, in which we’ll look at how we need to support the groups most at risk from Covid-19.

 Covid-19 impacting older and more vulnerable

Overall, the coronavirus death rate is currently believed to be roughly 3.4%. However, a February study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the virus most seriously affects older people with pre-existing health problems, with the mortality rate for those aged 80+ year being some 12 times higher than for those in their fifties and a massive 74 times higher than for those in their teens, twenties or thirties (link):

  • Aged 10-39         Mortality rate = 0.2%
  • Aged 40-49         Mortality rate = 0.4%
  • Aged 50-59         Mortality rate = 1.3%
  • Aged 60-69         Mortality rate = 3.6%
  • Aged 70-79         Mortality rate = 8.0%
  • Aged 80+             Mortality rate = 14.8%

The UK Government recognise the risks facing its older citizens

According to the latest government guidelines (as of March 17th) “people aged over 70, pregnant people, and people with underlying health conditions are being asked to stay at home and avoid unnecessary, close contact with other people for up to 12 weeks” (link).

While most of the scientific and medical community is in consensus that self-isolation is the right health strategy for this most vulnerable group, it needs to be recognised that it throws up its own challenges.

This is already a more isolated and lonelier group within our society

While she was PM, Theresa May launched the first cross-Government strategy to tackle loneliness in October 2018 stating that “loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time” (link). Much of the evidence suggest that, while not being limited to the elderly, this group does feel the effects of loneliness very sharply:

  • There are over 2.2 million people aged 75 and over living alone in Great Britain, an increase of almost a quarter (24%) over the past 20 years (ONS – link).
  • The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years (Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People – link)
  • There are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK and half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one – link).

And of course, we know that Covid-19 related self-isolation will significantly reduce the opportunities that older people have for interaction, with social clubs and groups they are part of and with their family, friends and neighbours. As of last weekend data from our sister agency Walnut Unlimited showed that:

  • 17% of the UK public (and 27% of under 34’s) say that they have “stopped visiting elderly relatives” since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK.
  • 11% of the UK public aged over 65 years say that they have “self-isolated” since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK while 44% of those aged over 75 years have “avoided being in crowded places”.

Key learning: With opportunities for social interaction shrinking because of Covid-19, we need to ensure not just that self-isolators remain healthy but that they also remain engaged with the rest of society.

This group is less able to leverage tech-based solutions

For most of us, the idea of self-isolating, while concerning, is not to be feared in quite the same way as it might be for our older counterparts. We know how to leverage technology to mitigate the worst effects of isolation, by ensuring we are kept fully entertained, the fridge remains stocked, our takeaway habit can be maintained and that we can keep in touch with our social networks. While, it is certainly true that today’s older citizens are more tech-savvy than ever and that their levels of familiarity of tech platforms is rising all the time, many, particularly those above 80 years of age, are excluded from the revolution in connectivity:

  • Online shopping: The proportion of those aged over 65 years who shop online has risen from 32% in 2012 to 54% in 2019 (link) although only 13% buy their groceries this way (link)
  • Usage of food delivery services (Deliveroo, Just Eat, etc): Only 4% of those aged 60+ use food delivery apps, compared with 58% of those aged 18-29 yrs (link)
  • Skype: While some 39% of 16-24 year old internet users have made a video call via FaceTime or Skype in the past week, the corresponding figures for older consumers are much lower – 55-64 = 18%; 55-64 = 9%; 75+ – 7% (link)
  • Social media usage: Some 32% of internet users aged 75 years or over have a social media account – among those aged 16-24 years it is 95% (link)
  • Netflix etc: Those aged 55-64 make up only around one in ten of the user bases of key VoD suppliers (Amazon Prime = 11%; Netflix = 10%, Now TV = 9% – link)

Key learning: With opportunities for social interaction are shrinking because of Covid-19, we need to ensure not just that self-isolaters remain healthy but that they also remain engaged with the rest of society.

A more caring society is in all our best interests

Clearly, dealing with the impact of the current outbreak is uppermost on everybody’s minds right now, and rightly so. But, finding the right strategies to support our vulnerable citizens in these most testing of conditions, will give gains that are long-term as well as immediate.

All projections for living at home are that it will continue to rise over the coming decades. ONS data suggest that the number of one-person households is projected to rise to 10.7 million in the UK by 2039 from 7.7m in 2017. As recently as 1996 it was only 6.6m (link). With more and more of us living on our own we’ll need to develop more tools for combatting isolation, loneliness and vulnerability to the effects of pandemics such as Covid-19.

How can we support the vulnerable?

How businesses will respond will vary from one business and sector to another but you should certainly consider some of the following:

Give them priority treatment

A tweet posted last weekend around the idea that supermarkets “dedicate the first hour of opening to the elderly. Start the day with newly sanitised trolley handles, doors, tills, fully stocked, no panic etc” (link) and was quickly liked nearly 30,000 times. Supermarkets quickly began to action this idea, with Iceland the first to do so – link – and others following suit.

Remove a financial worry

The BBC has announced that it will delay the implementation of a change to the rules around free TV licences for the over-75s. It had been due to scrap free TV licences for  some 3.7 million people in this group but it has now reversed that decision and will itself pick up the tab, because of what chairman Sir David Clementi described as “exceptional circumstances” (link).

Keep older people connected

Gransnet (sister site to Mumsnet) offers an online forum for information exchange, games, nostalgia and friendship (link). Brands can encourage more of this kind of behaviour, both by promoting existing forums such as Gransnet, but also potentially by creating or growing their own versions. Similarly, online forums have quickly sprung up around educating older citizens on connectivity technology and apps.

Help tackle loneliness

Over recent years we’d already seen brands including Bisto, with their Together and Spare Chair Sunday projects (link) and Pedigree with their dog Dates initiative (link) attempting to help with loneliness. More recently, we’ve seen a wave of tech innovation designed to build AI-based robo-companions such as Lovot (link) and ElliQ (link). The current situation seems very likely to provoke a new wave of such outreach.

 Give something back

With many businesses either having already told their staff to work remotely or seemingly set to do so over the coming weeks, older residents confined to their homes will suddenly have the potential for a lot of that they wouldn’t ordinarily have. As part of the “remote working guidelines” being issued to staff, this seems to be a great opportunity for all businesses to help – either by telling staff it is okay for them to take half an hour out of each workday to go and check on their elderly neighbours, or even going further and mandating that they do so.

But, a note of warning

As ever with any age-based marketing recommendations, just pause for a minute before leaping in.

While over-70s are being told to self-isolate this doesn’t mean that they are one unified group with the same issues, capabilities and challenges. Some over-70s are lucky enough to be vibrant, healthy, affluent and digitally engaged. Others less so. Julian Harcourt of Greyafro, a marketing consultant focused on the over- 50’s suggests that “people ask the over-70s what they want/how they would like to be helped/advised rather than making broad assumptions” (link).

The converse is also true. Just because someone doesn’t meet the age threshold doesn’t mean they don’t need or deserve our help.

Before this crisis arose, we were encouraging our clients to be needs-focused not age-focused. Just because coronavirus is a very extreme and specific threat doesn’t mean that we should forget that advice. We should all be looking to support the vulnerable in our society – both as individual citizens and as representatives of the brands who pay our wages – whether their vulnerability is rooted in age, disability or pre-existing illness. That’s the way we’ll get through this. Together.

What next?

As the story of the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, new challenges will emerge and these, more than likely, will also represent the need for brands to quickly pivot to support a society under pressure. We’ll be exploring more impacts of the coronavirus outbreak over the coming days and weeks so be sure to check back in from time to time.

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at Unlimited Group. 

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