The original Summer of Love took place in 1967, when hundreds of thousands of people embraced free love, community-based ideals, mind-expanding drugs and what we would now call prog rock. The epicentre was San Francisco’s neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury but its impact was felt all over the world and it heralded a new era of free expression and respect for social norms. Of course, the counterpoint to all of this was punk, post-punk and the birth of the best music ever made but let’s not go into that here.
The second Summer of Love was 22 years later in 1989 when acid house inspired baggy music and baggy jeans, long nights of sweaty clubs and “illegal” raves, smiley faces, Ralgex, Lucozade and a desperate need to rehydrate. Of course, the counterpoint to that was Oasis, The Strokes, Meanswear and some of the dullest music every made but again, let’s not get into that.
As lockdown lifts…
It feels like we are well overdue another Summer of Love. With the end of lockdown and the opportunity to see friends, meet people, go to festivals, enjoy a drink or three, and just be happy, is it time for a third summer of love? It might be too late for me but I am convinced there is a generation of kids desperate to make this happen, and we have seen evidence of the start of this with huge gatherings in parks and a massive outpouring of relief that people can meet again.
Obviously, this is purely speculation and maybe it won’t happen as a social phenomenon but it should happen from a marketing point of view. We have just come through some of the toughest times as an industry. People have lost jobs, agencies have closed down, we have lost some of the biggest brands on the high street and others are really toiling.
However, there have been a few things that I have seen which gives me great hope that we can not only return to pre-pandemic spend levels but, maybe, supersede these.
Loyalty is key
First of all, loyalty has really come to the fore in the last year. I don’t mean gathering of points and air miles but real, genuine, love for brands, locations and people. I live near a small market town and the way that the community has rallied round the local businesses has been astounding. People have been visiting the town every day even with nothing open. Click and collect is thriving, the coffee shops are run off their feet with takeaways and there have been small markets popping up to sell local produce.
People are choosing the brands, stores and more that they want to see survive and are effectively paying to make sure that happens. I am sure we are not the only household to have bought stuff we don’t really need (clothes to wear for imaginary nights out for example) because we want to have the choice to buy from these places again in the future. Surely this is a sign of real love?
Secondly, the pandemic has forced a huge amount of innovation. For example, my friend who runs a small brewery had always planned to have a direct to consumer offering but had no need until last summer. Now we can buy direct from him (and we do, regularly) and drink his fine beer at home. Many smaller retailers have done the same. Granted, it was out of necessity but as a result, consumer choice has massively increased. We can spread our love, as it were.
Does this mean the death of the high street? I am not convinced. Clearly it will mean a rationalisation of the high street, but when you see the queues of people outside shops in recent days and weeks, you can see that physical shopping is a hobby for many people and that won’t change. But it does mean much more choice for the consumer and more variety in the ways that we engage with brands.
Engage with consumers where they are
Which brings me to my third reason for hope. Over the last year we have seen a rise in more traditional marketing techniques. For example, the ongoing decline in the use of direct mail has stopped and we saw a small increase in spend in 2020. That’s not a surprise as consumers were at home, some other media channels – such as outdoor and events – had had to stop, and it makes sense to speak to people where they are based.
What I do hope is that it makes marketers, and agencies, consider their audience and where to engage with them rather than just following a trend and the latest thing that is new and exciting. I have heard much more talk of customer journeys, audience segments, matching want and need, and multi-channel approach than in a long time. Marketers have always known that these principles are what should be getting followed but that didn’t stop massive amounts of money being spent on mass targeting through Facebook or Google because it was fashionable.
And, of course, as a data geek, I am always happy when customer knowledge is at the heart of decision making.
When you combine all of these factors, from a marketing point of view we have a fascinating summer ahead. A summer where the loyalty that consumers have shown to the brands they have supported through all of this is rewarded; where brands and consumers can connect directly without the need of an intermediary; and where marketers focus on the people they want to have a relationship with, and embrace them while knowing more about how they are and what they are interested in. Quite possibly the recipe for a third summer of love perhaps?