Between the news overload, nonstop social media debates and overwhelming political commentary, most people would not associate election night in America with relaxation. But this year, CNN viewers may have noticed that Calm, an app focused on meditation and mindfulness, had its fair share of screentime during the network’s most anticipated night of the year.
According to Katie Shill, Calm’s director of marketing, advertising on election night was a major risk.
“We debated the pros and cons of showing up that night,” Shill said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the enemy that your brand is up against?’ The enemy that we are up against is anxiety and stress, and we knew that the election was a universally stressful moment.”
Since last March, consumers have been challenged to protect themselves against Covid-19 while also battling a more silent pandemic that doesn’t always make national headlines: compromised mental health. And while the new year traditionally calls for a fresh set of goals, consumers can’t focus on growth before catering to their own basic needs.
The beginning of the year is typically a lucrative period for health and wellness brands, but the start of 2021 has altered this dynamic. Marketers shared that their biggest obstacles for finding success in Q1 include lack of customer motivation, a heightened tendency to fall back into old routines and the prioritization of mental wellbeing over physical fitness, according to data from Iterable.
This change in mindset explains Calm’s growth in the past year: The app saw a 36% increase in downloads from January to April, and reached 100 million downloads and 4 million paid subscribers in 2020.
“During this New Year’s period, everyone is pushing you to buy new things to feel transformation, but we’ve taken a unique approach that almost feels countercultural,” Shill said. “We have tools that can help you, but you have the power to make the change that you want to see yourself.”
Competing meditation app Headspace was also strategic about its brand placement this year, partnering with dating app Hinge on a campaign that tackled first-date jitters and offering a free yearlong subscription for the unemployed.
According to director of consumer marketing Sarah Neal Simpson, Headspace’s brand purpose has been reaffirmed throughout the pandemic, as “it has never felt more important for people to take care of their minds.”
Headspace also saw widespread success in 2020. The app’s downloads doubled when the pandemic hit in mid-March, and inbound requests from companies seeking support for employee mental health increased by more than 500%, according to Simpson.
“In the past, our consumers mainly came to Headspace for tackling stress, which was demonstrated through our content usage,” Simpson said. “Now, we are seeing people come to Headspace not just to tackle stress but to help them get a better night of sleep or stay focused at work.”
After an uncertain year, marketers are prepared to expect the unexpected, with 30% planning to launch a new product or service that matches the needs of consumers throughout the pandemic, according to Iterable. Headspace and Calm have exhibited this flexibility in their recent marketing efforts, finding new ways to reach consumers who may not typically meditate and encouraging them to incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines.
“If 2020 has taught us anything as marketers, it’s that you need to be ready to roll up your sleeves and throw your plan out the window,” Shill said. “We need to be nimble and ready to react to what is happening in our culture.”