A few weeks ago I was speaking with a friend of mine. The usual topics came up; work, home life, and somewhat predictably, what’s going on in the wider world right now. The big global issues we’re so used to viewing from afar are now being felt on a local level too. If you think about it, the coronavirus immobilized us all, yet each country had different considerations and tactics in dealing with it, unique to their own market.

Elsewhere, the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement began in one American state and then moved the world to action, and rightly so; this has been a long time coming. Ultimately, we live in an age where something can go viral in minutes, for better or worse. Global and local considerations have merged to the point where everything today has a glocal element, whether we realize it or not.


Look, there’s a lot of anger and confusion being felt at the moment, and naturally it’s the pandemic that’s taking most of the blame. After three months in lockdown, a depression on the horizon and a prolonged period of austerity coming into effect, 2020 is effectively ground zero, accelerated by the coronavirus, but not entirely to blame. There have been issues rippling under the surface for some time now, glossed over or suppressed, because let’s face it, as much as we love to hear bad news, we don’t actually want it to affect things. No, that would be a step too far.

The coronavirus bought global markets and our everyday lives to a standstill; that’s not an overstatement, that’s a fact. The latest projections from the IMF indicate a contraction of 4.9 percent in global GDP in 2020, lower than the 3 percent drop it predicted back in April. They have also downgraded their projections for 2021 on the back of rising unemployment and debt. The economic repercussions of this pandemic are huge, but so too is understanding the societal shifts that we all had to accept to keep safe and stay alive. I’m not exaggerating that last point either, because whilst economies had their eye on the monetary cost, there was also the issue of the escalating cost to human life.

Regionally, I believe we fared better than other countries, thanks to the swift and decisive action taken by our government to limit movement and take precautionary measures early on. Now, as things open back up, we’re left with trying to get on with life in the Corona age. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere, but for now it’s contained, and we, the responsible public, have to make concessions to move on. Where things become a bit more complicated is the dissemination of information, sometimes changing daily, and knowing what sources to trust.

Good News Travels Fast. Bad News Travels Faster

I’ve said before that bad news travels faster than good or ‘true’ news, but in the context of the coronavirus, this exploded like never before. As fear took hold, so too did the spread of misinformation and scaremongering. Opportunists sprung up to capitalize on the anxiety being felt the world over. As we all retreated indoors, big tech became even more powerful, with news coverage rolling 24/7 and a surge in social media platform usage to keep up to date with developments. Regionally, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram reported an increase of 22%, 17%, 16% and 12% respectively, according to data from The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

It speaks to how much digital has evolved and become an essential part of how we live today. Social platforms now have a greater responsibility in monitoring the content being featured, and from a brand perspective, they can’t afford to ignore the wider issues going on beyond their own market operations. The digitalization of each industry has accelerated our ‘glocal’ expectations, as consumers look for platforms they can trust, and connect with companies that want to make a difference, not just pay lip service to change.

Within the advertising industry, this is particularly true right now. Staying silent equals complicity and as social media becomes an even more powerful tool for self-expression, brands need to use their voice. You only need to look at the coordinated effort now being used to drive the #BlackLivesMatter movement forward to realize this. Businesses like Nike, P&G and Netflix have been all too aware that actions speak louder than words, creating ads to raise awareness and donating funds to help support the wider black community.

The Rise Of Digital Activism 

Further issues of inequality, diversity, and hate speech, have all gained momentum in the public forum recently. The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis set off a chain reaction with all 50 states protesting for reform and change in the wake of his death. This was then echoed around the globe, as other countries marched in solidarity. It got me thinking how digital media has changed the game for social activism overall. Market silos no longer exist when you can broadcast your message everywhere at the touch of a button. Claiming ignorance doesn’t work in this social age, we all need to take some collective responsibility.

Anyway, it’s long overdue in my opinion. We have been far too insulated or selfishly focused on our own needs to appreciate what is happening in the wider world. Finally, everyone is on the same page and realizing that for change to actually happen, we all need to be on board. In other words, we’re stronger together than we are divided.

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Zuckerberg is currently learning this the hard way, as the “Stop Hate for Profit” Facebook ads boycott gains steam. The campaign calls on social media to implement stricter measures around hateful and racist content on its platforms. At last count, over 90 brands had pulled advertising from Facebook, including big names like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Verizon, with agencies reportedly following suit. In the past, Zuckerberg may have gotten away with making a bold statement that equated to very little action, but now? No chance. He will need to answer advertiser and agency concerns in a very real way to get over this stumbling block.

Do I think that this will affect their bottom line in the long run? No. They are too big a powerhouse, with around 8 million other active advertisers still willing to do business with them. However, they are on shaky ground when it comes to managing their reputation. The rose-tinted view we have taken in the past has faded. Facebook – the good, the bad and the ugly – is out there in the open for both brand and user to see.

Standing For Something Other Than Profit 

We’re at a crossroads at present. The realization that everything is linked has taken some time to settle in the brand and consumer consciousness. Consumers, for their part, are (rightly) wary of any brand that weighs in on something without putting their money where their mouth is. Campaigns need to think global from the outset, understanding local nuances but not being led by it, letting creativity guide the way. In the past this may have been the other way around, but 2020 has changed the narrative completely; we are more united than ever because of a shared global experience, and this needs to be reflected in the content they put out.

Everyone is being asked to make tough choices daily and no-one is immune to the fallout. The biggest consideration right now is weighing up our health vs the need to go back to work and earn a living. Should we stay at home for much longer, risk our livelihoods and go hungry, or do we start going out again to flatten the economic curve, taking steps (as much as possible) to ensure the coronavirus doesn’t affect us again? There is no right or wrong answer here; as I say, it’s tough.

What’s true is this. We can only take one day at a time, never taking anything for granted. These glocal concerns have been devastating on the one hand – the pandemic grounded us, the #BLM protests pushed us to confront some unpleasant truths – yet on the other, we have been brought together to appreciate what’s most important, and have helped force change higher up the agenda for diversity in media.

Ultimately, brand agendas will have to change, focusing on action, not just pretty words to survive. Users will hold them accountable, something which was starting to happen already, but it’s now accelerating at a rapid pace. And we, all of us together, need to be ready for that.

by Ayman Haydar, CEO MMPWW