Summer in the COVID-19 era: Special summer trends and implications report

By C-K’s Brand Planning and PR/Social teams

Despite hopes that the summer heat would kill the virus, COVID-19 persists. Case numbers are surging throughout much of the United States, including in several states that were among the first to reopen. While consumers may be done with the virus, it seems the virus isn’t done with us.

Four months of pandemic living has taught us to expect the unexpected. Guidelines, regulations and restrictions change by day and vary widely from state to state, city to city. Typical summer activities, from vacations to festivals to camps, have been canceled or morphed into something that looks and feels very different. Schools, businesses and sports teams are cautiously announcing their fall plans, all caveated with the likelihood to change. The stress of not knowing and the inability to plan effectively reminds us of the old adage, “It’s like nailing Jell-O to a tree. You just can’t do it.”

So what are we to do? We need summer now more than ever.

Even with the persistence of the pandemic, and no end in sight, Americans are still finding ways to reimagine summer fun and vacations and to prepare for what may come when school “resumes” in the fall. What follows in this special summer edition are the trends we’ve identified that are helping to shape our very unusual summer and the implications of those trends.

Trends for summer

  1. Summer Fun Reimagined: Many of our favorite seasonal activities were put on hold, but as the U.S. gradually reopens, we’re seeing entertainment take shape in new ways.
  2. Staying Close to Home: Consumers aren’t letting COVID-19 stand in their way of vacation time – they’re just looking for things to do and places to visit where they feel safe.
  3. School’s Out: As COVID limits summer opportunities for kids, parents looking to find reprise from their burnout this school year are left without many options.

Summer Fun Reimagined

A lot of hard work has been happening behind the scenes for months to make sure summer isn’t entirely canceled. Some favorite summer pastimes have gone virtual while others are being realigned with the “new norm” as things reopen. Time will tell if all the hard work keeping summer from being cancelled pays off or leads to bigger issues as the COVID battle continues.

  • The return of baseball…sort of – America’s favorite pastime is returning with extra precautions to ensure safety. While some players have opted out of the season entirely, those who have chosen to play are getting used to an extensive list of new rules, including regular COVID testing, a spitting ban, and social distancing in the dugout, bullpen and outfield. Fans will not be permitted to sit in the ballpark bleachers, at least at the beginning of the season, so we may see some dancing robots filling the stands instead.
  • Amusement parks reopen with new restrictions – On July 4, two of Disney’s Orlando theme parks reopened with a myriad of new safety protocols including capacity limitations, face mask requirements and temp checks. Throughout the park, barriers and social distancing markers have been put in place to prevent large groups from gathering, so it’s doubtful that everyone’s favorite Disney characters will be roaming the grounds for their typical hugs and photo ops. If Disney sets the standard, this could be the adopted method at theme parks worldwide for the foreseeable future.
  • Concert cancellations abound while innovations attempt the next best thing – Many summer concerts, festivals and other events have been canceled, rescheduled, or modified. Highly anticipated tours —including Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Billie Eilish —are being pushed back, as are festivals such as Coachella, Stagecoach, and Lollapalooza. Yet, while so much is canceled, the pandemic is driving innovation and the future of musical festivals in the COVID era is here.
  • Finding new ways to utilize the great outdoors – From picnics in the park to restaurants building outdoor seating on sidewalks, we’re capitalizing on the space we have to dine out. Cities around the U.S. have been closing off streets to help restaurants boost capacity while also maintaining safe social distancing guidelines. It’s also given pedestrians more room to roam as more people leave their homes to enjoy the summer weather.

Staying Close to Home

Summer travel has long been a tradition as families seek to spend quality time together and create memories while kids are out of school. However, this year summer travel plans have been interrupted because of the pandemic and families are having to rethink their options.

School’s Out

The end of the school year left many parents reeling after an arguably disastrous online-only finish to the year. COVID’s effects are now stretching into summer as camps and school-initiated programs and activities are being canceled or limited. It’s difficult news for droves of parents who were hoping that summer would give them time to take a break from juggling remote working and homeschooling responsibilities. As a result, parental burnout continues for the foreseeable future.

Implications: What summer trends mean for brands

Lean into delivering a “more normal” summer.

Summertime brings a strong desire to be out and about and enjoy the nice weather, but the pandemic is impeding those plans.

Anything brands can do to help consumers forget reality and enjoy a summer escape will be well received, so long as it follows all appropriate safety precautions. Here are 9 tips to help consumers get the most out of this unusual summer.

  1. Recognize the conflict consumers feel. Tensions and stress are at an all-time high as consumers struggle to balance staying healthy and safe with living life and enjoying summer.
  2. Create safe ways for consumers to participate, experience and/or shop your brand. Offer assurances where possible. Retailer Nordstrom highlights their safety protocol on their website with a video showing the steps taken to ensure a safer and cleaner shopping experience.
  3. To cue commitment to customer safety and well-being, consider partnering with other brands to borrow equity in the health and cleaning space. United Airlines created the CleanPlus Cleanliness Initiative, partnering with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic to give flyers extra peace of mind as to the cleanliness of their fleet.
  4. Help consumers enjoy (public) outdoor spaces even more. This summer the U.S. Tennis Association launched a campaign, “Get Out And Play,” promoting tennis as a social distancing-friendly activity.
  5. Re-create a distinct summertime experience in a new way. Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat introduced a limited-edition scented candle that allows you to bring the beach inside. The scent is titled Beachside (Inside).
  6. Target consumers vacationing in closer range to their homes. Chances to escape and relax are very welcome, even if it’s just to the backyard, around the corner or to a neighboring state. Retailers REI and West Elm teamed up to help people feel “at home, outside,” encouraging customers to create their own unique getaway sand make a socially-distanced summer easier and more stylish.
  7. Think about a little something for the kids. With school “officially” out and many summer camps closed, families are looking for something to do with the kids. Illinois utility company ComEd created a virtual STEM summer camp filled with activities to keep families busy.
  8. Identify new ways to assist parents and students getting ready for back-to-school, in whatever form it takes this fall. Backpack maker Jansport created a series of films entitled “Lighten the Load” that showcase different kids talking about mental health. The films address the mental strain COVID-19 has put on Gen Z and the need to talk about it.
  9. Prepare for disruption. Don’t be married to anything. What’s true one day can quickly change the next. Continue to be ready and willing to pivot, even at a moment’s notice.