New York Times READ

America’s Changing Brand Buzz Since COVID-19

Published by Engagement Labs April 29, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought countless challenges to Americans over the past year. From the everyday issues of social distancing, sickness and childcare, to the financial issues of concern over jobs / personal finances and understanding the stimulus – the past year has altered everyone’s way of life. But has it impacted how we talk about brands? This analysis looks at trends in brand WOM since the pandemic to reveal the impact of COVID-19 on how Americans talk about brands.

Overall, WOM levels held steady during COVID-19 era, but certain categories gained momentum during the pandemic

Overall, offline WOM levels were largely steady (a small decline of 1%) during the COVID-19 era.* So even with social distancing and lock downs, Americans kept talking offline about products, services and brands as they navigated the many changes in their lives, and with it new brand choices that they needed to make.

This average includes certain categories that gained momentum during this time, including health/healthcare (+10%), financial services (+4%), beauty/personal care (+3%) and media/entertainment (+3%). At the same time, other categories decreased, some dramatically. Among those declining in offline talk are sports (-13%), as well as travel (-7%), home products (-7%), telecom (-7%), auto (-5%) and beverages (-5%).


US % Change in Category Offline Volume COVID Era Ending 4/18/21 vs. 1 year prior

Looking closer at specific product sub-categories, streaming media services, websites, discount stores, facial and body products and home centers gained serious ground since the COVID-19 era began. In contrast, talk about sports teams (NFL, MLB & NBA) tapered off significantly, as did talk about movies and casual dining – both industries shut-down across much of the country and throughout much of the pandemic.

US: Change in Sub-Category Offline Volume COVID Era ending 4/18/21 vs 1 year prior

US: Change in Sub-Category Offline Volume COVID Era ending 4/18/21 vs 1 year prior


COVID-19 remains the #1 most discussed topic

During the past three months, 36% of Americans reported discussing COVID-19 on a daily basis, confirming that this is still not only top of mind but also very much a topic of conversation. Although it should be pointed out that this percentage has come down quite dramatically from late March/April a year ago when it was at 62%. Places to shop, nutrition/dieting, and the President follow as other popular topics among Americans.

“Concern about your own financial situation” remains discussed by one-in-five Americans on a daily basis, but this is down nearly 8-points since a year ago when times were much more uncertain and thus, this was a much larger topic.

US: % People Talking About Issues Offline 12 Weeks ending 4/18/21

US: % Talking About Concern about your own financial situation


A silver lining for Financial Services: Americans have better things to say about the category

Net sentiment (positive less negative/mixed) of financial conversations has improved, especially since late 2020. In fact, net sentiment reached its highest levels since TotalSocial’s inception in 2015. Financial companies, generally, have been understanding and aware of their customers financial situations during these unprecedented times. Policies across the industry ranging from deferred payments to extended filing deadlines to lower mortgage rates have helped cement a stronger relationship between financial companies and many Americans despite the ongoing pandemic.    

Financial Services - Net Sentiment - Rolling 8 weeks


And, closing on a happy note...

A lot of consumers’ most impactful conversations in recent weeks relate to the COVID-19 vaccine, talking about loved ones (friends, family, husband) as well as the country and our President.

A year ago, more Americans were feeling scared/confused as a result of their most impactful conversation. Today, the feeling of happiness far outpaces other feelings which is a good sign for our well-being moving forward.  

US: Trend of % Impactful Conversation Emotions among Total Public

Word Cloud of Most Impactful Conversation

Word Cloud of Most Impactful Conversation

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