A picture is beginning to emerge of how consumers may change their behavior and attitudes as a result of the terrorist attacks as several agencies offer the results of surveys taken after Sept. 11.
The results for the most part seem to indicate that the attacks and their aftermath "will have a long-term impact" and even perhaps "profound implications," said Ted Nelson, managing partner and director for brand planning at Mullen in Wenham, Mass.
"This will fundamentally affect strategies and what campaigns say to people," he added. "Brands that respond appropriately will succeed."
But what is the appropriate response? Ay, there's the rub.
For instance, 61 percent of respondents to a survey by Strategy One, a research company in New York, said they agreed that it was appropriate for marketers to take and communicate a position on the attacks. At the same time, 64 percent said they agreed marketers should focus on talking about their products and services.
"People want to see both," said Steve Lombardo, chief executive at Strategy One, part of the Edelman Public Relations Worldwide division of Daniel J. Edelman Inc. "They want to move forward rather than recapitulate what happened," he added, but they also want marketers to be sensitive to the new environment.
The survey found that if marketers decide to address the attacks, slightly more respondents said they would like to hear from the employees (36 percent) than from the chief executives (34 percent); 25 percent said they would like to hear from both. Most of the commercials and advertisements related to Sept. 11 that have appeared so far were done under corporate names or the names of top executives.
One important result of the survey, Mr. Lombardo said, was that 8 of 10 respondents said it was "a relief" to see the return of "the programming and advertising they are accustomed to seeing" in the media.
The respondents "want companies to carry out their planned advertising and marketing communications," he added, because they perceive that as part of returning to normal.
Also, 7 of 10 respondents said they thought the overall tone of marketing communications should be "hopeful and optimistic," Mr. Lombardo said the same words they used to describe their own feelings toward the coming holiday season.
The survey by Mullen, part of the Partnership division of the Interpublic Group of Companies, echoed some findings of the Strategy One survey.
"People are looking for advertising to remind them of the things that are truly important and relevant in life," Mr. Nelson said, "and to guide them in ways to better realize those experiences."
As part of that, he added, there is likely to be "a resurgence of respect for rituals and traditions," even those that until recently may have seemed cliché, as well as a desire for "comedy about that which makes us human, not just irony that comes at the expense of increasingly valued traditions."
Still, consumers appear to be retaining some of the skepticism that has so recently confounded marketers and agencies because they "suggest they'll have less tolerance for business leaders who aren't `front and center' with their plans of action rather than their expressions of sympathy," Mr. Nelson said.
"Consumers want to know what insurance companies, airlines and investment firms are going to do," he added, "not merely how they feel."
A survey was also conducted by another Partnership agency, Initiative Media North America in Los Angeles, part of Initiative Media Worldwide. That survey was focused on entertainment and media preferences.
Ads that offered expressions of sympathy related to the attacks were deemed appropriate and in good taste by 69.8 percent of respondents. Also, 62.8 percent of respondents described such ads as patriotic expressions.
Forty-four percent of respondents said the attacks had made them more sensitive to "certain themes and story lines" in the television programs they watch.
When asked what they were more likely to watch in the next few weeks, with more than one answer acceptable, news updates were most frequently mentioned by respondents, at 59.8 percent, followed by comedies, 57.2 percent; all-news networks, 38.4 percent; police and detective dramas, 38 percent; and action-adventure shows, 33.2 percent.
Tellingly, the percentage of respondents who said they were more likely to watch action-adventure shows was 45 percent lower among those who live on the East Coast.
At the other end of the scale, only 13.8 percent of respondents said they were more likely to watch soap operas in the next few weeks, followed by reality programs, at 17.2 percent; game shows, 21.2 percent; talk shows, 24.2 percent; and family dramas, 26.2 percent.
Finally, respondents to a survey by Knowledge Networks-Statistical Research in Westfield, N.J., and Menlo Park, Calif., said they were comfortable with the recent resumption of regular programming and advertising after the attacks.
Of those asked whether it was time for the TV networks to start running the new fall programs, 32 percent agreed strongly and 48 percent agreed somewhat, compared with 4 percent who disagreed strongly and 15 percent who disagreed somewhat.
Of those asked whether enough time had passed for commercials to be included in entertainment programs, 21 percent of respondents agreed strongly and 56 percent agreed somewhat, compared with 6 percent who disagreed strongly and 15 percent who disagreed somewhat.
However, when asked about the resumption of commercials in news coverage, respondents were much more closely divided, as 52 percent said they did not mind and 48 percent said they wanted uninterrupted coverage.
STUART ELLIOTT, The New York Times September 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.