Consumers Are Looking to the Future—Brands Need to Do the Same

Too many marketers are caught in the wrong phase and missing their buyers

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Last week, my daughter invited me to a Pinterest board called “Things for our puppy.” Except we don’t have a dog. We have no plans to get one.

But for a girl who effectively had her 13th birthday canceled due to Covid-19, things are turning around. She’s ready to plan for the future again and—at least in her mind—it includes a new four-legged friend.

My daughter’s not alone. We’re seeing searches like “future home,” “future wedding” and “summer party” make a comeback. After a sudden dip in future-oriented searches immediately after isolation began, they’ve been slowly climbing in recent weeks.


People on Pinterest have started to come back to the future. It makes sense; we’ve always been a platform where people plan for what could happen rather than scroll through what already did. That’s proven uniquely helpful in the face of such an unpredictable time. When the pandemic hit and isolation began, most people needed immediate help. Searches like “pantry recipes” and “how to entertain bored kids” spiked. But then, surprisingly quickly, people are getting back to future optimism. They’ve returned to searches about travel, event planning, summer, weddings and more.

Consumers are ahead of advertisers right now. While consumers look forward, most messaging looks back. Consider the four phases we’ve outlined below. Most brands are in phase one or two, but most consumers are securely in phase three, with some even moving to phase four. Check your media and messaging mix against what consumers actually want right now. 

Phase 1: Triage and information

Your audience is disoriented. They need immediate help. They want information for right now. Whether it’s “setting up a home office” (up 150%) or “DIY haircuts” (up 400%).

Almost all advertisers start here, but many are staying too long. Actions in this stage should include auditing in-market messages for anything insensitive or off-putting and moving media dollars online to take advantage of cheaper than usual auctions due to the massive influx of users, especially since OOH doesn’t make much sense while we’re in our homes.

Phase 2: Empathy and relevance

Your audience is worried. They’re grieving the loss and pain of the situation. As you evaluate your messaging, keep in mind what might be surrounding your content. Your audience might be receiving solemn news of loved ones in their feeds. If you have an inspiring or positive message, put it where people go to feel inspired, not to see the latest updates. Consider shifting messages from “Blowout sale” to “Supporting our customers—take 25% off.”

Phase 3: Escapism and optimism

Your audience is starting to get restless, bored or lonely. People are escaping the present by turning to the future. It might surprise you to realize that we think much of the U.S. is already here, joining users in some European and Asian countries who’ve been in this stage for longer. Shift messages from support to inspiration and give people something to look forward to tomorrow, like future travel and ideas related to postponed life events.

Phase 4: Recovery and rebound

Consumers are rebuilding. Their habits may have changed permanently, so they’ll expect brand habits to change, too. Show them how you’ve changed with them.

For example, consider how the upcoming holiday season will be different. Third and fourth quarter holiday media should embrace more conscious family gatherings, rituals and moments. As purse strings tighten, consumers will prioritize brands that align to their values. Share your values. Share the values-driven actions you’ve taken. You’ll stand out when you stand up for something.

Media planning for the future starts now

One of my favorite quotes is “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” It feels particularly prescient in this moment. We all have a role in envisioning what’s next—including brands. Be part of the tomorrow they looked forward to today.