Covid-19 Is Further Splintering an Already Divided Latin America

Consumers were already dealing with a politically-fueled pandemic

Illustration of the health symbol, leaf, hands and South America
Latin America was already divided by politics before the pandemic hit, and it's certainly not helping matters. Illustration: Aanya Gupta
Headshot of Juan Isaza

There was a pandemic before this pandemic. I’m referring to the pandemic of polarization, which had already affected as many geographies as Covid-19.

In the last few years, the political polarization pandemic had spread to every single market in Latin America. Clearly, it is impossible to identify just one reason, but according to many analysts, the economic inequality across the continent was acting as a very powerful fuel. In the middle of that context, Covid-19 quickly became a pan-regional issue. Now the two epidemics are changing the face of Latin America, perhaps for good.

One of the first symptoms of the combination of these two pandemics has a lot to do with weak governments in almost all of Latin America’s countries. Most of them have low approval rates and active opposition parties challenging every single decision. Interestingly enough, it is not a matter of political tendency. We just have to look at the two largest economies in the continent. Mexico, currently governed by a more liberal party, is being criticized for not ordering a lockdown and social distancing. But this is exactly the same case with Brazil, which also refuses to order a lockdown but is governed by a conservative party. It is not a matter of ideology. It’s a pandemic. All countries are facing the same situation.

[The Covid-19] pandemic is simply accelerating the lack of conformity that was already in place.

The situation now is that when citizens start facing the Covid-19 pandemic, the first reaction is to point at their governments. In a survey conducted across a dozen markets with more than 4,000 respondents, we learned that 46% of the people point to the health infrastructure in their country as the main factor that’s worsening the pandemic. Another 41% mention social inequality as the aggravating factor. For 38% of them, it is their current government that is responsible. Interestingly enough, the top three aggravating factors (health, inequality and government) are local, not global.

Covid-19 might be new but the collateral factors are not. This pandemic is simply accelerating the lack of conformity that was already in place.

We asked people how they see their future after this pandemic. Of course, many things are yet to happen, both with the pandemic and the financial crisis. But for now, Latin Americans know that it will never be the same.

But how is that new face of Latin America? In summary, it seems to be a continent that will be much more careful about two main things: their health and the environment. Over three-quarters agree that they will give more focus on their health. When talking about the categories they are going to prioritize, this selection is clear: 62% will invest more in medicine and health, 54% will give more importance to food and 47% will consider upgrading or acquiring life/health insurance.

Many Latin Americans are also feeling guilty about the way humans have treated the environment. Over a quarter of interviewees actually consider it as one of the top aggravating factors of the Covid-19 outbreak.

It is not only a personal change. They clearly expect a new role from brands, too. This is perhaps the aspect where Latin Americans are more particular. Almost half affirm that they expect brands to stop thinking only about commercial purposes and have a more active role in society. For 42% of respondents, brands have to commit to actively working toward improving the environment. Actually, when these top two demands happen, something very similar to political polarization also takes place. It’s not new; it is just something clearly propelled by Covid-19.

We are not just in front of a new type of citizen but in front of a new consumer. And it is not the typical Latin American we all have in our minds. Obviously, we all know that the attitudes and responses to a survey in the middle of a crisis can be far away from real behavioral changes in the future. However, there is a sense of a new conscience. For example, with an avid awareness of healthy eating. We were used to a consumer always looking for lower prices and better-quality products. Now, it seems that we are in front of someone expecting brands to have a transformational, almost political role. Consumers are perhaps even expecting brands to fill the gaps that those unpopular governments are unable to attend.

We don’t know when we will be back to normal. No one knows. The only thing we know by now is that the new normal is not going to be the same normal, especially for Latin Americans, and definitely not for the relationship they want with brands. The combination of these two perspectives will challenge marketers and agencies in the long run.

Juan Isaza is the strategic planning and social media vp at DDB Latina, DDB Worldwide.