Insight: “ASEAN sei-katsu-sha coping with COVID-19 by keeping upbeat” by Yuko Ito, MD of HILL ASEAN

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The spread of COVID-19 has had a variety of effects on the attitudes and behavior of sei-katsu-sha (people that live lives that include behaviors and feelings rooted in latent desires and values toward products, purchasing and every aspect of their lifestyles) around the world in just a few months. What aspects of sei-katsu-sha’s attitudes and behaviors have changed, and how? Similar changes are occurring throughout the world, but we do see certain features of sei-katsu-sha’s attitudes and responses varying by country. In this report, Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living ASEAN (HILL ASEAN) Managing Director Yuko Ito discusses these characteristics based on data from quantitative and qualitative research conducted in six ASEAN countries.


Over 90 percent feel that COVID-19 has affected them

First, let’s look at the degree of impact COVID-19 has had on people’s lives. The overall score for Changed significantly + Changed somewhat was 94%. In addition, around 90% agreed with the statement COVID-19 is the event that has impacted my life most.

Certain disasters and events have significantly impacted attitudes, lifestyles and socioeconomic activities: 9.11 and the global financial crisis worldwide, and the Great Hanshin Earthquake (1995), Great East Japan Earthquake (2011) and other natural disasters in Japan. In ASEAN, the equivalent major event is said to be the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s, but for the younger generations and others who have no recollection of those times, the current coronavirus crisis is their first “unprecedented event.”

Impact of COVID-19

When we asked about specific items that changed, Work ranked No. 1, at over 70%, due to measures such as lockdowns, working from home/teleworking, the shuttering of shops and the like in ASEAN countries. Work was followed by Lifestyle and Shopping, both of which scored around 60 percent.

Top five aspects of life impacted by COVID-19

While these changes are occurring, ASEAN sei-katsu-sha and companies are getting through this difficult situation with their unique positivity and cheerfulness. For instance, in Vietnam, the National Institute of Occupational & Environmental Health’s “Handwashing song” video became a massive hit and was copied by celebrities and influencers across social media. In Thailand, COVID-19 prevention songs and dances by the Bangkok Mass Transit System and shopping center staff spread the message to sei-katsu-sha. We have to take our hats off to them for their ability to rapidly circulate through song and dance messages that would be hard to swallow if in the form of serious and strict warnings.

In addition, unique social distancing measures have emerged. On elevators, tape is used to indicate where to stand and people stand facing the walls. Plus, toothpicks are taped to the elevator walls in great number, with a sign advising not to push the buttons directly, but to use a toothpick. This could readily be implemented elsewhere, too.

Meanwhile, ASEAN sei-katsu-sha haven’t forgotten Insta-worthiness, even as life changes. They don’t stint on themselves even when wearing their masks. In the Philippines, we discovered social media posts of “expensive-looking” homemade masks sporting ribbons from a brand store and, in Thailand, we saw posts of masks coordinated with outfits and videos teaching how to do makeup that emphasizes the eyes, which are not covered by masks.

Increased money and time being spent on staying at home

We asked respondents about the items they were spending more and less money and time on during the coronavirus crisis.

Top 5 items ASEAN sei-katsu-sha are spending more and less money and time on due to COVID-19

Since the survey was conducted smack in the middle of the “under COVID-19” period, expenses on goods for staying at home and hygiene- and prevention-related categories increased.

By country, some scores showed national characteristics, such as spending on instant food increasing more in Thailand compared to other countries, and higher spending on supplements and nutrition in Indonesia.

Also, in time, time spent at home increased across the board. The increase in Eating at home in ASEAN, where eating out has been the norm, represents a massive change in food culture. Additionally, it became clear that the world’s highest users of smartphones (source: We Are Social and Hootsuite, 2019), smartphone-happy ASEAN people are using their devices even more to while away the hours spent at home.

Conversely, in items respondents are spending less time on, things done outside the home fill the top 5, with Travel and Outdoor leisure down across the board. Such items will gradually return to normal starting from those that people are able to do locally, and will likely be mentioned as things they would like to do once the COVID-19 situation improves. The same trend can be seen in Japan, as well.

Despite opportunities to eat out decreasing, a trend toward turning the coronavirus into an opportunity can also be seen. In takeout and delivery menus, we have seen such trends as, in Vietnam, coronavirus-shaped hamburgers and pink sweets using dragon fruit that could not be exported and, in Thailand, children’s cakes wearing masks.

Having fun while staying home

Despite economic damage and health worries, 83 percent of respondents said they refrain from going out and enjoy pastimes they can do at home. As much as 81 percent of respondents in ASEAN overall are feeling stress from the COVID-19 crisis.

Degree of stress due to COVID-19

The top way of relieving stress was Spending time with my family (54%). Many in ASEAN live with their families or with extended family, and it seems many are deepening ties with family members or re-realizing the importance of family during the COVID-19 crisis.

Top 5 ways ASEAN sei-katsu-sha handle stress

Ways of spending time with the family we see among ASEAN sei-katsu-sha are Having fun with the family and Sharing tips. Things they previously relied on external services to do or did by themselves, they now have a go at doing with their families. If that goes well, they might share it on social media to help improve the quality of everyone else’s time at home. Such positive activities can be seen here and there. Cake shops selling decorate-it-yourself cake kits for families to enjoy in Thailand, parents and children enjoying yoga challenges together in Singapore, and timetables parents devise for their children in Vietnam. Activities like these, in particular, made a splash on social media.

As we’ve outlined, the way ASEAN sei-katsu-sha work and eat has changed significantly due to COVID-19, and familial relationships seem to be deepening. Moreover, the further increase in reliance on smartphones could be related to changes in shopping and information gathering behavior, as well as the content of services used via smartphone.

Today, restrictions are being lifted gradually in Vietnam and Thailand and many things appear to have returned to normal. As the joy of release is starting to be felt in ASEAN, we will conduct regular analysis of positive lifestyle changes in the leadup to a post–COVID-19 world and sei-katsu-sha’s attitudes etc. toward their new normal.


About the Author

Yuko Ito joined Hakuhodo in 2003. As a marketing planner, she has handled clients in such wide-ranging categories as toiletries, personal care, cosmetics, cars, beverages, food, medical supplies, education and apparel. In addition to communication design based on insights discovered through studying sei-katsu-sha deeply, she has worked variously on product development, moderating workshops and many jobs using data management platforms. She was appointed to Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living ASEAN (Bangkok, Thailand) in April 2018. Besides sei-katsu-sha research, she is involved in client service at offices throughout ASEAN and in developing local staff through training. She has been in her current role since April 2020.

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