Consumption in Crisis Mode - How Brands are now Making Themselves Indispensable as Development Aids


Psychologically, people are currently in a transitional phase: they feel that their more carefree life and consumption past may be lost forever. They are facing an uncertain future. This is accompanied by melancholy, the feeling of one’s own fragility and careful pausing. At the same time, they feel a desire for support, new confidence and prudent departure. Brands should be aware of this consumer condition and be both ‘grief companions’ and ‘supporters of new beginnings’. Consumers are longing for products and brands that stand by their sides, understand them and accompany them through this crisis transition.

Not expressing oneself as a brand at all and sitting out the crisis is just as misplaced as ignoring the state of mind of the consumer by continuing to communicate in the same way as before the crisis or by trying to create a carefree, euphoric consumer mentality ‘under full steam’.

“Before was yesterday and today is tomorrow,” is how one respondent from the rheingold Corona studies sums it up.

1. Settling into a Smaller Circle of Life

The time of big shopping sprees, greedy consumption and unbridled enjoyment is behind us. Ebay classifieds are booming, Generation Z no longer travels to New Zealand but nearby and settle down for weeks with their parents. The radius is getting smaller – physically, but also mentally.

Corona increases consumers’ longing for closeness. The ties to family, neighbors, but also to local retailers are becoming more important. Globalization is viewed critically, the conditions of mask deliveries have shown how dependent we have become on China. The fact that clothing retailers produce masks, breweries mix disinfectants and fair equipment builders have produced plastic masks for cashiers is appreciated as an act of solidarity by the private sector.

We observe a shift in consumers tending to buy more regionally – to strengthen local companies and retailers. Cat food that was previously ordered online can now be bought at the discount store around the corner, vegetables and meat are purchased at the nearest farmers’ market. Amazon & Co naturally retain their relevance, especially for products that are not available in the immediate vicinity.

People are occupied by themselves and the stabilization of their everyday life. Contemplation, enjoyment, self-efficacy, satisfaction is found increasingly in the small joys of life like spending time with the family, gardening, hiking, cooking, decorating and handicrafts. Contrasting this group are the high speeders who throw themselves into a mindless hustle and bustle, thus banishing their feelings of powerlessness and gaining control. Professionally, one video conference chases the next: travelling, commuting, transitions from one meeting to the following are eliminated. Multitasking parents who work and look after their children full-time have hardly any time for themselves. Nor do they have time for consumption. They do not strive for the big goals either, they rather flirt with small moments of escape and rewards for their efforts.

All in all, consumption is being scaled down and reflected upon. People no longer shop as impulsively, the desire for variety, inspiration and the desire to try things out is diminishing. The buying impulses are accompanied by the question “Do I really need that?”.

2. Opportunities for Products and Brands

Shopping is possible – but different. Our carefree, experimental mood has disappeared, and Corona has forced us to retreat, physically and mentally. Even if shopping malls slowly convey an image of increasing normality, our inner state of mind is anything but normal.

a) Stabilization and Structuring of Everyday Life

The strong need for control leads to a generally more considered and less impulsive way of shopping – ultimately, only the small circle of life needs to be stabilized and equipped. . This is the time of brands already known from childhood, brands that convey trust and support and whose ‘strong shoulder’ can help get through the crisis. Classic brands are now more relevant than trying out new, unknown brands.

Food is of course essential, but the purchasing experience is very limited. Accordingly, people write shopping lists, make weekly bulk purchases and are less driven and inspired. The stabilizing function of food is important: Salty snacks are booming, chips are used to nibble away the wish to escape. Sweet snacks and dairy products comfort and soothe.

Many consumers also feel a fear of drowning and arm themselves against it. They do so by avoiding canned or ready-made food and use more fresh vegetables, and generally cook more themselves. Fears or the new reality of unemployment can also lead to a shift towards entry-level priced products and private labels. Some try to safeguard themselves through third party reviews, quality seals and official approvals. Significantly more people are turning to fruit juices to stay healthy and “juicy”. The fast-growing lye products like pretzels promise a nibble without sacking, especially when feeling drained. Some Americans turned to baking sour dough breads.

Physical fitness is very important. We run and strengthen ourselves in order to remain flexible and to have the situation under control. Products for cooking, baking and gardening have double-digit growth rates, they also allow us to structure our daily lives, spend time with our families and stay active. People are extending their spring cleaning, get rid of stuff, book boxes are left on the streets to give away, and household cleaners bought in bulk are used for scrubbing. Winners of the crisis are hardware, garden and DIY stores. Do-it-yourself is a proven remedy for worries and feelings of powerlessness.

In this emotional situation, brands generate trust through closeness by being at eye level with their consumers. Communication measures negating vulnerability, overemphasizing power and inherently belittling the consumers’ powerlessness are typically rejected.

b) Mood Modulation

The longing for big mood changes has given way to the desire for small mood ripples. People no longer seek excess as it can lead to fears of mood swings and outbursts. Beer is used for sedation, but the slight buzz is typically not to be exceeded. This is also the time of Netflix, Disney+, Prime & Co. – distraction and entertainment are sought in order to keep the big wishes to escape under control.

For momentary relief, we love viral clips, little jokes and funny memes in social networks.
Brands and retailers can now score points by making consumers’ lives a little more colorful and carefree. The current situation should be addressed in an encouraging, constructive and creative way.

c) Small Joys and Improvements

The rheingold Corona studies show that consumers want to compensate and reward themselves for the contact, event and mobility sacrifices they have suffered. Life in their new small circle should be enriched. That’s why people are looking for special products and brands that were less on one’s mind before Corona. The special chocolate, the lavender soap from France or the organic steak offer a sensual upgrade. These improvements are typically also experienced as well justified since so much money is saved that would otherwise be spent on eating out and entertainment.

Corona is reinforcing a trend that already started before: quality over quantity, for example in beer consumption. . The big breweries have been experiencing declining sales for years while small, craft beers and breweries are booming. We observe an increasing willingness to try special products with a high quality promise and sensually and aesthetically designed packaging.

d) The Icing on the Cake: Brands as Transition Helpers

Through stabilization, mood modulation and small joys, products and brands can successfully improve the new small circle of consumers’ lives. However, this is primarily the foundational support products and brands can provide. Opportunities beyond are backed by the current transitional state of consumers: On one hand, products and brands can become grief counselors: stay close to the consumer, show genuine understanding for the difficult transition phase in order to make grief possible. Secondly, to support the look ahead as a helper to create something new, to fill the Corona void positively by having one’s back and confidently seeing light at the end of the tunnel. However, this is not a carefree, buoyant future, but a future that is a little more introspective and acknowledges the vulnerability of life. This can be quite touching and open the view beyond current blind spots. People want brands that appeal to the heart, to the power of people to endure, to the appreciation of basic pleasures and the belief in better times. Brands are challenged to build a bridge between the lost normality and a newly shaped future.

3. Social Responsibility of Brands

rheingold studies show that loved brands have for many years been filling the void left by the disappearance of moral authority. We had little to hold on to in the face of political, racial, and religious scandals, visionless leaders and public figures and celebrities losing their integrity.

Through Corona and after Corona, brands and companies will be even more sensitive to CSR, transparency in production, supply chains and employee treatment. Consumers expect to assume social responsibility. People prefer to purchase from companies that act morally and give something back to society.

The brand purpose, which has become increasingly important in recent years, will receive a strong boost from Corona. What mission does a brand want to follow beyond product sales and KPIs?

At the beginning of the crisis, companies like Edeka (Edeka says thank you) or Mercedes (#stayhome) put people in the spotlight, ahead of their products. Continuing to put humans first, in these cases employees, can have a lasting effect on the acceptance of these brands.

Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) is also seen as a supporter with its initiative (’10 GB free data volume per month’). Deutsche Telekom is here fulfilling a social responsibility in two ways: it facilitates communication with loved ones and it is making a name for itself as a promoter of the Corona digitalization boom.

Contact the author

Frank Quiring

Frank Quiring


Frank Quiring, psychologist, is a member of the management board of the Cologne market research institute rheingold. The focus of Frank Quiring's work is on packaging, food / drinks and cultural psychology. Quiring is one of the authors of the rheingold youth studies. Tel .: +49 221-912 777-69 E-Mail: quiring@rheingold-online.de