Illustration of person, buildings that have been damaged and trees all in blue, green and grey

How the war in Ukraine impacts behaviour

When it comes to dealing with the war in Ukraine, seven different consumer coping strategies – including emotional retreat and surrender to fate – have emerged among consumers. [m]SCIENCE’s qualitative experts explain the role of brands in offering support in times of crisis

The war in Ukraine affects people in Germany – and changes their day-to-day behaviour. This is the finding of a new study by [m]SCIENCE ‘War in Ukraine: how the war impacts everyday behaviour in Germany’, the central research unit of GroupM Germany. It has conducted qualitative, psychological in-depth interviews on the topic of everyday changes in people’s lives, and people’s perceptions of the war in Ukraine.

Fundamentally, the study shows that the war in Ukraine deeply concerns and affects all respondents. The situation creates a vacuum in which it is easy to become disoriented. It is human nature, then, to develop different strategies to deal with these difficult situations.

[m]SCIENCE has defined these different ways of dealing with the situation, or coping strategies, as follows: safe world, emotional retreat, surrender to fate, actionism, entering and stepping out, attitude, and emotional arming. These seven coping strategies are not rigidly or permanently fixed. Depending on their situation and emotional state, people regularly change their way of coping. This has a corresponding impact on purchasing and brand behaviour.

For example, in the emotional arming mode, people tend to hoard FMCG products as a safeguard, in case there is an emergency (food shortage). Customers are usually well informed about the activities of the companies and brands in question, and they draw their own conclusions about them.

In the safe world mode, there is more emphasis placed on sharing activities with families and friends, and people tend to prefer brands that are already well known. This gives peace of mind. However, they tend to avoid large purchases and financial risks.

Brands and companies can actively support people in crisis by providing those affected with the orientation and security they need through brand and company engagement. The full study goes into more detail on the potential effects of the different coping strategies on companies and brands.

Seven ways to deal with the crisis

Because of Ukraine's geographic proximity to Germany and the perceived similarities in culture, many of the respondents could empathise with the Ukrainians and their fear. For the first time in decades, German people feel a real threat to Germany. It is also the first time in many years that they are actually being confronted with the topic of war, and not just as uninvolved bystanders.

People feel powerless, uneasy, sad and afraid, and question many things that they previously considered safe. To deal with the war and their negative emotions, people switch again and again from one coping strategy to another.

These are the seven ways in which people are dealing with the situation:

1. Safe world

The horrors of war awaken the desire to create a piece of intact world on a small scale.

2. Emotional retreat

To maintain a sense of normality and to have a break from the emotional turmoil, they avoid the topic.

3. Surrender to fate

Respondents suffer because of the situation, feeling helpless and lonely.

4. Actionism

To stop feeling helpless, respondents take it upon themselves to act and do good things.

5. Entering and stepping out

The respondents dive in – in a highly emotional state – and suffer alongside others, but also manage to re-emerge and put the topic to one side.

6. Attitude

The war in Ukraine leads to the need for (re-)orientation and the desire for a clear stance.

7. Emotional arming

The central goal of this coping strategy is to prepare, both physically and mentally to be ready.

How brands and companies can support

Brands can offer people orientation and support in a crisis like this by communicating clearly and consistently what they stand for, both now and in the future. Positive and hopeful brand messages, showing solidarity, are gratefully embraced by consumers. Companies can appear socially engaged and supportive in times of crisis.

It is very important for companies to be honest and authentic. Brands should position themselves consistently and sincerely – and support this positioning with clear actions. Sympathy should never be self-promoting, or even appear alongside product advertising. Communication should be discreet – without giving the impression of merely serving to improve the company's own image.

"Especially in times of crisis, it is important for consumers that brands show consistency offer orientation, show the way and provide security," says Tatjana Damgaard, Managing Director of [m]SCIENCE,

"As a brand, ignoring the topic of the Ukraine war completely is not a good idea: many respondents have, for example, actively researched which companies continue to produce in or for Russia, and no longer support them. Brands that have explicitly and credibly spoken out against the war, on the other hand, receive recognition and are preferred. In today's supportive communication, authenticity, compassion and minimalism are more than ever the need of the hour."

Read more from Atticus Journal Volume 27

Tatjana Damgaard, Johanna Krämer, Anja Irlenbusch, Patrick Lindner, Lisa Gauss and Nele Boquoi

[m]SCIENCE, GroupM

published on

06 December 2022


Communications The Atticus Journal

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