Just as we thought we were through the worst of Covid’s clutches, Omicron reared its ugly head and brand activations came to a screeching halt. Or did they?


For two agonising years brands struggled to remain in the hearts and minds of consumers in a largely contactless world. Traditional promotional marketing techniques required more consideration in the hard-lockdown environment where touch was taboo.

Shopping malls, the playground paradise for experiential marketers, took an enormous hit during the worst of the pandemic. Covid-related business failures, retrenchments and furloughs subdued discretionary spending and, according to research conducted by McKinsey & Company in late 2020, some 79% of South Africans re-evaluated past loyalties changing stores, brands, and the way they shop. 

The lockdown caused the most pain for mega-shopping malls says Keillen Ndlovu, head of listed property funds at Stanlib, as shoppers opted for the quick in-and-out shopping experience offered by small neighbourhood shops and community malls. 

But you can’t keep a good thing down. In 2018 a report entitled The Future of Shopping Centres by Michael Brown and Matt Lubelczyk (AT Kearney) stated: “The future of retail real estate is as robust as the industry’s imagination and its ability to connect buyers to their individual and collective values and aspirations.” The statement is as relevant today as it was pre-Covid and applies to individual brands as much as it does to retail spaces. 

The very things that make malls special – the value they offer as places to see things, do things, be together enjoying a day out, eyeballing potential purchases and shopping for gifts have seen shoppers return to our shopping centres, all the while following recommended safety protocols. And the boldest brands have followed suit. 

“Where the consumer goes to shop, the brands have followed,” says Lauren Durant, CEO of Tradeway Promotions. “Brave brands have not held back, and we have ideated and helped them deliver their unique messaging in-store and in-mall this December as they have experimented in the activations space and successfully adjusted to Covid protocols. 

“From beverage to beauty, and cellular to skincare, brands have capitalised on consumers’ festive mindset and are out there creating opportunities to connect.”