Putting the future on pause
while living in the present.

Man on a balcony

With the pandemic having intruded on life events such as family weddings, moving cities, going to school and travelling the world, people have been forced to park some of their aspirations in order to deal with more pressing and immediate challenges and needs.

The longer the pandemic foments uncertainty, will people continue to take a pass on the future in favour of living more in the present? Will they become generally averse to making longer-term plans?

There are significant implications to brands and companies who serve consumers’ long-term needs and decisions. How marketers remain relevant to consumers who are firmly planted in the here-and-now will grown in importance the longer the pandemic grinds on.

A data review helps determine just how likely it is that people will shy away from making decisions about the future, and create options for marketers to consider.

Sign that reads "Essential workers - you can travel. thank you" and "Everybody else - Go home. Don't travel. Save lives"


People sought new outlets when the future felt bleak.

The cloudier the future, the more likely people will strive to make the most of today, be that for basic survival or carpe diem pursuits. When the future weighs heavy, finding ways to maximize the present has proven to be a natural reflex in the past.

Shorter-term pursuits and interests flourish in the face of uncertain days ahead.

The Roaring 20s saw life lived with abandon to move past the war.

Group of people from the roaring 20s

The Great Depression inspired new expressions of culture.

Children being served food during The Great Depression.

The Baby Boom saw people turning to family values in the face of nuclear escalation.

A family during the Baby Boom

Millennials witnessed the struggles of earlier generations and delay traditional decisions such as marriage and the buying of first-homes. They are the Experiential Generation and they already prefer living in the moment.

Man taking a selfie photo
If history predicts the future, and people follow similar patterns, it is likely that the post-pandemic period will continue to see people living life more in the near-term than the long-term.


No one is talking much about the future on social media.

As validation of history’s precedents, people’s social media focus as of late has partitioned off the future behind its own version of conversational plexiglass.

Man interacting with social media on a mobile device

The present has displaced the future.

With no clear end in sight for the pandemic, and even as restrictions are being eased around the world, overall 98.7% of people continue to be focused on present day matters.

With social media chatter indicating people are exclusively thinking about present day, with near-zero evidence of conversing about far-off plans and dreams, it could be anticipated that a lag effect will occur before attention balances out again between the present and the future. Possibly the pandemic will need to be fully behind us in order for people to imagine days further out in time and share ‘likes’ about them online.


Optimism and planning for the future has chilled.

When asked directly, the majority of people say they are now more focused on enjoying the present more than they were before the pandemic began.


of people are trying to live in the present vs. thinking about the future.

Even if people aren’t spending as much time thinking about the future, for the most part they nonetheless remain optimistic about it, albeit in lesser numbers now than prior to the pandemic.


of Canadians feeling optimistic about their own future. Down from 80% prior to the pandemic.

Generational Spotlight:

Versus other generations, young adults (20 & 30 year olds) are now much more pessimistic about the future, much less likely to be making future plans, and more likely to be spending their money on short-term gratification.

40% are now pessimistic about their own future (vs 24% pre-pandemic)

A sad emoji

51% focused on enjoying the present (vs 38% planning for the future)

A happy emoji wearing shades

Over 1/3 are more likely to be buying things that provide immediate enjoyment than before the pandemic

A party emoji
As people maintain their focus on the present, it appears particularly important to monitor how younger adults modify their behaviours towards goods and services, particularly those related to later lifestages. With heightened pessimism about the future and instant gratification fueling their cash burn rate, categories aiming to start a relationship with younger consumers in anticipation of future reward may need to find new ways to engage and connect.


Deliver on near-term needs in order to maintain relationships for the longer-term

With fewer consumers looking down the road, are companies and brands thinking about how to stay close to their customers and remain relevant in the near-term? How well synched are consumers’ time horizons with companies’ growth ambitions?

Most CMOs believe that people will return to a balance between spending today and planning for tomorrow, but that in the near-term, being available to consumers who want to try and find the pandemic cloud’s silver lining is critical to remaining relevant.
“For those living in the moment and feeling secure about spending disposable income, we want to capture that sale with greater discounts than our competitors.”
“We are hoping people spending more time at home will drive more demand for our home-focused products.”
“Our brand celebrates life everyday, everywhere, so we want people to recognize that now is important.”
“We have seen our customer stop to re-evaluate how they currently spend their time and money. They may book something now and worry less about the consequences.”
While CMOs are sensing consumers’ mindsets and behaviours have changed, they don’t seem to feel it will translate into a long-term shift. Nonetheless, they do recognize that building back short-term business sales and momentum will require a change in approach to regain consumers’ trust and attention.



Make consumers’ “today” a safer and less complicated one.

Maintaining personal health and safety will now inform day-to-day choices and stressors. Brands should respond by creating simpler and safer experiences whenever and however the customer engages and transacts.

A lady buying tea while wearing a mask

Offer hope and positivity when connecting with consumers, but skip the rose-coloured glasses.

People will gravitate to the brands they can repeatedly trust, regardless of how unsafe the world becomes. Institute a continuous human-focused effort, and avoid one-and-done quick fixes.

A takeout bag with a handwritten note that reads "Thank you, with love!"

Values and beliefs are shifting; don’t fall out of touch.

As people re-evaluate their lives and focus on what matters, they will look to brands with purpose that reflect their values and shared beliefs. But it’s not enough for brands to just be “cool” and aspirational. There will be newfound respect for brands “who help”.

A cup of coffee with a message on the cup reading "What good shall I do this day?"

Support new behaviours and seek out emerging communities of shared interests and needs.

Consumers have had to make changes, which has created opportunities for brands to find new solutions and new relevance. Providing ways for consumers to get the most out of changed regimens – diet, exercise, physical & mental-health, faith, entertainment, personal finances, social relationships - just about everything has undergone some sort of change. Now is the time to reassess how value is created for consumers and move towards it.

A woman doing virtual yoga

Rewind the future and give it everyday relevance.

If people are feeling more uncertain about the future and more comfortable in the present, brands competing in categories involving longer-term decisions (such as personal investing) will need to reframe future-orientated decisions and outcomes into something that feels closer and more practical for consumers.

COVID-19 is changing consumers. Are you changing with them?

To explore and apply further insights about post-Pandemic consumers for your sector, business, or brand, please contact:

Suresh Raj

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Dig Into Deeper Perspectives

Our global network has pulled together additional perspectives that help shine more light on the data analysis and trends we’re tracking along the recovery from the pandemic.

  • Analysis and points of view from Interviews with international CMOs.
  • Historical cues and other thoughts from renowned cultural anthropologist.
  • Changing trends and themes from social-channel listening around the globe.

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