As we enter August, we find ourselves leaving the house more and more, gently easing ourselves out of the great coronavirus lockdown of the previous quarter. In our Singapore and London offices, some of us have even been going back to the office occasionally. Others have been venturing out to cafes on the weekend, or beaches for some sunshine and sand.
We may once again be revelling in the luxurious feeling of ‘going home’ — the anticipation of leaving a social gathering, errand, or workplace to head to a space for winding down. This is a feeling of relief and expectation that exists as a result of having a place to leave and a place to return to, and a feeling very much missed during the period where we all mostly stayed home.
Lockdown Realities #1: The Home Office
Coming to terms with a public domestic life
In some ways, the great lockdown triggered a return to the old normal. Before industrial capitalism occurred, there weren’t always clear splits between ‘work’ and ‘home’. People carried out their work duties at home, whether that was ale brewing or watchmaking, until the creation of factories and offices split up the rest space from the work space. Commodity production became something that was executed in the communal sphere of the village or city centre, not the private house space.
Fast forward to pre-COVID times:
For the most part of late 20th century to 21st century life, physical boundaries between work and non-work existed. Of course, portable communication devices like phones and laptops made it possible for colleagues to work outside of official working sites and hours. In recent years, the rise of mixed-use spaces such as networking-focused co-living concepts have further blurred the boundaries of work and rest.
What this meant was that people could work from home if we wanted to.
Post-COVID, the world’s largest imposed work-from-home experiment took place, and work was literally brought back home.
A partially made bed, partners ambling in and out, a fast-expanding house plant collection…Symbols of the private life, both animate and inanimate get put on display, giving colleagues a better idea of who we are outside of work, whether we like it or not.
For some people, new vulnerabilities are revealed: people are facing their screens makeup-free, or with lightly made-up faces instead of a full face of corporate-friendly face paint.
People’s private quarters become part of the new office space, and having online meetings also means sharing windows of your personal life with colleagues.
Response: Engaging in Shielding, setting digital boundaries
In response to this new infringement of domestic privacy, people responded by finding digital shields to put up.
We observed a sharp spike in worldwide searches for zoom backgrounds in end March, around the time where most places in the world imposed lockdowns and ensuing work-from-home arrangements. Related top searches were topics like ‘how to change my zoom background’ or specific theme-related background searches like the beach, or star wars.
In some ways, this was a compromise on intimacy. Google searches like ‘zoom backgrounds beach’ and ‘funny zoom backgrounds’ saw huge increases in search frequency in recent months.
Through using digital backgrounds, people were effectively saying: I won’t let you see how my private life looks, but I will show you what I like, what I want right now, and I’ll try to make it a good laugh for us. Digital backgrounds revealed what people liked, or what they were dreaming of. A beach backdrop was a hot favourite in these times — why?
Because it’s understandable (and fashionable) to be missing an idyllic getaway in these times. People are dreaming of a time where one could be reclusive by choice. Affecting a laidback mannerism amidst a pandemic is quite possibly all the wry humour one can muster and sustain in these times.
Video Call Backgrounds have also become Brand Opportunities.
These video call backgrounds also became valuable, free ad space. Brands started releasing free Zoom backgrounds for people to use, for consumers to reveal more about their favourite brands and products.
Lockdown Realities #2: Building Homes Online
Repurposing of gaming as an extension of the physical home space
In the previous quarter, we all saw Animal Crossing take off as the escapist game of the season. At Quilt.AI, we ran a short culture analysis on the game, investigating its appeal. In our study of homes in Asia during COVID-19, we found that across Japan, India and Singapore, interest in the game had grown by 672% since the pandemic started.
Interest in virtual home tours is also increasing rapidly. On Youtube, ‘speed build’ videos are aplenty. People are showcasing their virtual homes they’ve built on Sims, Minecraft, and also Animal Crossing. On twitter, the hashtag #ShowUsYourBuilds became popular.
What can brands learn from the rise of Animal Crossing and related games?
We see that in response to troubled times, people react by gravitating towards escapism as a coping mechanism, especially forms that allow for control, and are as far removed topically from present reality. Brand communications and creative output could experiment veering towards codes of fantasy narratives, whether that is through online customer experience on brand platforms, aesthetics, social media communications or more.
Lockdown Realities #3: From self-improvement to home-improvement
A desire to change status-quo in areas one has control of
In response to a world where unpredictability has become the constant, people have shifted their focus to working on things they can control. The lockdown has brought Hustle Culture into the home. On socials, ‘Lockdown body transformations’ have become a popular new conversation, lockdown upskilling has gone viral too — with people taking this time to learn new skills for greater workplace competitiveness and to better their job search chances.
In our study of Homes during COVID across Asia, we found that in Singapore, home refurbishing saw a 190% growth in interest, with popular search queries such as “home office ideas”, “how to build a home gym”, “decorating ideas” and “diy renovations”. In Japan, searches for home refurbishing saw a 167% growth in interest and an average search volume of 25015 monthly.
In India, search interest in this space skewed towards fix-ups, with a 196% increase in searches related to sprucing up existing spaces, fixing household appliances and enhancing the home office.
Navigating Lockdown Realities: What does this mean for brands?
We observe the intersecting needs of Control, Autonomy and Growth being satisfied through these efforts. People gravitate towards activities and products that allow them to feel in control of their future — whether that’s fixing up a home office for a better work-from-home experience or investing in their future through upskilling.
In terms of positioning, how might brands adapt their key offering to highlight the trio of benefits hotly searched for in these times, and what are the specific needs of their consumers in these times?
To find out how Quilt.ai answers these questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org