Advertising During These “Interesting Times”

Sir Austen Chamberlain once said, “May you live in interesting times.” For years, it was mistaken as a celebratory toast, but after some research, historians discovered that it was meant as a threat or curse.

These are certainly interesting times.

The entire world we live in is changing rapidly because of the COVID-19 Crisis, but also with regard to advertising, media, and marketing strategies. To help you, our clients, we have been conducting research and gathering historical information to help put things in perspective with regard to not just surviving, but thriving and setting ourselves up for success in the post-COVID-19 world.

It’s natural during times like these that the first instinct might be to cut advertising budgets, but as you will see, this is, with rare exceptions, the wrong direction during any type of economic distress. As the old saying goes, “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.”

To be better prepared, we wanted to look at a few different areas of advertising and marketing, particularly the areas of Media (Television, Social Media, and Search Marketing specifically, for this report), E-Commerce, and Messaging Strategies. We also provide some data on the current levels of Consumer Confidence and wrap up with a few recommendations and case studies. 

SOURCES: The information below comes from a variety of sources, including Ace Metrix, Ad Age, AdWeek, Business Insider, ComScore, The Drum, eMarketer, Forbes, GlobalWebIndex, Google, Inscape, Kantar, MediaPost, MediaRadar, Nielsen, Samba TV, Search Engine Land, SpotX, Time TV and Within.co. Thank you also to Martin Thomas for contributing his research and perspective.


ADVERTISING MEDIA


SEARCH MARKETING

There have been wild click behavior swings across multiple sectors including grocers, productivity tools, restaurants and hotels. Here is some relevant Click Growth Rate Data from March 10-March 21:

  • Large grocery retailer client: +433% YoY
  • Bulk grocery retailer client: +58% YoY
  • Large goods retailer client: +50.9% YoY
  • Online messaging and productivity tool client: +149% YoY
  • Hotel client: -43.3% YoY
  • Theme park client: -55% YoY
  • Chain restaurant client: -29% YoY

Search behavior is a reflection of users’ priorities. It’s clear that people are now more focused on the essentials and hunkering down for the long haul, as opposed to leisure activities such as traveling or dining out.

Interest Over Time: Big Box Retailers, showing increased search behavior behind the keyword “Costco” over the past few weeks.

We’re already seeing a massive increase in alcohol sales and delivery, which, despite the times, is not essential.

Impact: While essentials are the priority right now after the initial shock of being isolated at home wears off, we believe that consumers who can begin to shop for items that they need but aren’t necessarily considered essentials, such as OTC products, will increase.

Social Media

People are spending more time on social now than ever. While anecdotally, key social players like Facebook are citing huge spikes in engagement, they’ve yet to share formal reporting on the upsurge and consumer shifts. 

If you do plan to keep social campaigns running during this unstable time, here are some suggestions from MediaPost:

  • Proceed with caution, and be conscious of how your message might be received.
  • Take stock of your social creative by conducting an audit. Avoid anything that might be misconstrued as tone-deaf or inappropriate (for example, “it’s your lucky day!”)
  • Avoid being opportunistic. For example, avoid creative featuring high-demand products that are quick to run out of stock.
  • Some retailers have been making not-so-subtle hints to quarantine/working from home when plugging products. Be careful with this strategy.
  • Don’t use calls-to-action that encourage visiting a business location, going to your doctor, etc. to adhere to social distancing policies.
  • Consider putting your paid dollars behind content focused on education, social good, or the human connection.

Impact: Our paid social media campaigns are continuing for most clients with various levels of success, but we suggest reviewing and sharing some of the above insights.

Video Ad Inventory (digital)

Some video publishers have seen an average of a 16% increase in video ad inventory across their global marketplace. While the retail and travel categories saw big drops in ad spending during March 11-17 versus the previous week, the beauty, technology and computing, careers, hobbies and interests, and sports categories saw notable growth.

Overall, audiences are more captive right now and are spending more time on media, leading to marketers reviewing their media mix to account for increased levels of media consumption and audience engagement.

Impact: With the right message, this could be a good opportunity to capture new viewers.

Television (I bet you didn’t know we do TV – we do!)

Spending

Current predictions from most sources are that TV ad spending in 2020 will be negatively impacted unless things change quickly and the virus is contained early.

Impact: We’re already seeing deals and fire sales by several networks, which could create an opportunity to continue branding ads for fewer dollars than normal.

Viewership

Early on, daytime TV viewing has increased; viewing data shows that sports fans are spending more time streaming, with news networks seeing the biggest viewership bumps, and overall TV ratings grew in early March. Forward-looking research reports respondents are saying much TV viewing will come from dramas (78%) and comedies (76%), while only 19% are asking for news content.

There has been a predictable surge in video and traditional television watching as a result of children and adults alike needing to stay home to slow the virus’s spread, which represents one clear avenue of opportunity for marketers.

A recent report by Nielsen’s projected that staying home could lead to a nearly 60% increase in the amount of content watched, on top of already historically high media consumption levels; this study has been widely referenced, with few media strategies denying the potential.

Impact: This is a key time for your brand, as many of its older target audience members are already big consumers of the news; with viewership increase, we could reach more people at a lower CPM as well as capture additional viewers outside our traditional demo as more people tune into news programming. The key difference would be having a message that is appropriate for the current environment.

CONTENT

Virtually all new TV shows/episodes on network, cable syndication, OTT, and premium digital video platforms have been postponed, delayed or are temporarily on hiatus; whereas daily TV news and business shows are still producing and airing new content, leading to an increase in viewing levels for that type of content.

Currently, TV advertisers are still buying ads, because there are still fewer big, ad-supported media alternatives to big, legacy TV shows; however, in this case, it means massive numbers of reruns across all TV platforms for the coming months, in addition to live TV news content.

Additionally, the cancelation and postponement of sporting events have left TV networks and marketers scrambling as they figure out how to adapt to an unprecedented situation, with a potential for TV sports coverage to see viewership declines ranging from 9% to 25%.

Impact: While live news programming is important, many will still continue seeing out “feel good” story-based programming and instructional content on networks on which your brand typically advertisers, such as Lifetime, Cooking Channel, etc.

Using TV to Drive Web Visits & Ecommerce

Per a study from Google, 66% of Smartphone Users Look Up Something They Saw in a TV Commercial…

Impact: Maintaining a TV presence can help to increase online/eCommerce sales, rather than relying on digital advertising alone to accomplish eCommerce sales goals.


ECOMMERCE INSIGHTS


spending

Ecommerce ad spending in the United States jumped from $4.8 million the week of February 17th to $9.6 million the week of March 9th, including spending across digital media, including websites like YouTube, Snapchat, and podcasts, as well as national TV and print media.

shopping behavior

Only one-quarter of US and UK consumers agree that they are shopping more often online (including groceries and other goods), with Millennials (39%) being the age group most likely to shop more online right now. Online shopping behavior hasn’t changed as much as we might think.

Despite the near-immediate economic impact resulting from the pandemic, a third of respondents reported no change in their online shopping behavior.

website visits

Top retail site (Amazon, Target, and Walmart) visits increased by 74 million from February 17th to March 9th

OMNICHANNEL
OMNICHANNEL
ESSENTIALS
ESSENTIALS

Impact: While there is an opportunity to help drive some eCommerce sales, eCommerce does represent a much smaller portion of sales across nearly every category, and the eCommerce channel is becoming much more crowded, showing a drop in conversion rates despite increased digital spending.


CONSUMER CONFIDENCE


Despite everything happening right now, consumers in most countries are optimistic that things will return to normal within the next couple of months:

  • About 87% of the consumers participating in the survey from China, the first country to experience this crisis, have their sights set on June
  • U.S. consumers are a little less optimistic at 65%
  • Italy, which has the highest death rate today, is more optimistic at 70%, per IPSOS Mori
  • While these numbers will continue to change as the news on additional confirmed cases increases, the overall sentiment is that consumers are still optimistic that their lives can return to normal soon.

Impact: This may be an opportunity for your brand to include some confident messaging in their marketing about being there in support of its consumers.


MESSAGING STRATEGIES


When it comes to mentioning coronavirus in ads, two-fifths (42%) of consumers say it is appropriate, with another 44% share saying it’s appropriate depending on the message and/or the brand.

Forty-three percent of respondents surveyed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (The 4As) say they want messages that are “reassuring from the brands I know and trust,” while 56% are “pleased to hear brands taking action like making donations of goods and services.”

Overall, 40% of respondents want to know what brands are doing in response to the pandemic. On the flip side, 15% said they “do not want to hear from brands at this time.”

Brands that advertise messages related to cleaning in their ads are of great importance to consumers, with those 25-34 years old at 45%, followed by 35- to-49-year-olds (44%); 50- to-64-year-olds (48%) and those 65 and older (52%).

Consumers also want to hear from brands that are offering paid time off to employees who are unable to work — with 18- to-24-year-olds at 63%, followed by 25- to-34-year-olds at 61%, 35- to-49-year-olds at 56%, 50- to-64-year-olds at 49%, and those 65 and older at 41%.

Impact: Your brand could create a corporate social responsibility ad message to give consumers a reassuring and positive message during this time, which in the short term could help with the overall level of anxiety, and long term could help gain lifelong brand advocates.


RECOMMENDATIONS


These are interesting times, indeed, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. We’ll continue to monitor the situation for you and report on what we learn.

In the meantime, consider these key strategies:

  • Refine your messaging to focus on corporate social responsibility and/or more tactical sales-oriented coupons/price discounts
  • Include authentic messaging about how your brand understands the current economic pressures of its loyal supporters
  • Don’t give up. Your brand should continue its advertising presence in order to strongly position itself for success following the COVID-19 crisis

Sir Austen Chamberlain once said, “May you live in interesting times.” For years, it was mistaken as a celebratory toast, but after some research, historians discovered that it was meant as a threat or curse.

These are certainly interesting times.

The entire world we live in is changing rapidly because of the COVID-19 Crisis, but also with regard to advertising, media, and marketing strategies. To help you, our clients, we have been conducting research and gathering historical information to help put things in perspective with regard to not just surviving, but thriving and setting ourselves up for success in the post-COVID-19 world.

It’s natural during times like these that the first instinct might be to cut advertising budgets, but as you will see, this is, with rare exceptions, the wrong direction during any type of economic distress. As the old saying goes, “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.”

To be better prepared, we wanted to look at a few different areas of advertising and marketing, particularly the areas of Media (Television, Social Media, and Search Marketing specifically, for this report), E-Commerce, and Messaging Strategies. We also provide some data on the current levels of Consumer Confidence and wrap up with a few recommendations and case studies. 

SOURCES: The information below comes from a variety of sources, including Ace Metrix, Ad Age, AdWeek, Business Insider, ComScore, The Drum, eMarketer, Forbes, GlobalWebIndex, Google, Inscape, Kantar, MediaPost, MediaRadar, Nielsen, Samba TV, Search Engine Land, SpotX, Time TV and Within.co. Thank you also to Martin Thomas for contributing his research and perspective.


ADVERTISING MEDIA


SEARCH MARKETING

There have been wild click behavior swings across multiple sectors including grocers, productivity tools, restaurants and hotels. Here is some relevant Click Growth Rate Data from March 10-March 21:

  • Large grocery retailer client: +433% YoY
  • Bulk grocery retailer client: +58% YoY
  • Large goods retailer client: +50.9% YoY
  • Online messaging and productivity tool client: +149% YoY
  • Hotel client: -43.3% YoY
  • Theme park client: -55% YoY
  • Chain restaurant client: -29% YoY

Search behavior is a reflection of users’ priorities. It’s clear that people are now more focused on the essentials and hunkering down for the long haul, as opposed to leisure activities such as traveling or dining out.

Interest Over Time: Big Box Retailers, showing increased search behavior behind the keyword “Costco” over the past few weeks.

We’re already seeing a massive increase in alcohol sales and delivery, which, despite the times, is not essential.

Impact: While essentials are the priority right now after the initial shock of being isolated at home wears off, we believe that consumers who can begin to shop for items that they need but aren’t necessarily considered essentials, such as OTC products, will increase.

Social Media

People are spending more time on social now than ever. While anecdotally, key social players like Facebook are citing huge spikes in engagement, they’ve yet to share formal reporting on the upsurge and consumer shifts. 

If you do plan to keep social campaigns running during this unstable time, here are some suggestions from MediaPost:

  • Proceed with caution, and be conscious of how your message might be received.
  • Take stock of your social creative by conducting an audit. Avoid anything that might be misconstrued as tone-deaf or inappropriate (for example, “it’s your lucky day!”)
  • Avoid being opportunistic. For example, avoid creative featuring high-demand products that are quick to run out of stock.
  • Some retailers have been making not-so-subtle hints to quarantine/working from home when plugging products. Be careful with this strategy.
  • Don’t use calls-to-action that encourage visiting a business location, going to your doctor, etc. to adhere to social distancing policies.
  • Consider putting your paid dollars behind content focused on education, social good, or the human connection.

Impact: Our paid social media campaigns are continuing for most clients with various levels of success, but we suggest reviewing and sharing some of the above insights.

Video Ad Inventory (digital)

Some video publishers have seen an average of a 16% increase in video ad inventory across their global marketplace. While the retail and travel categories saw big drops in ad spending during March 11-17 versus the previous week, the beauty, technology and computing, careers, hobbies and interests, and sports categories saw notable growth.

Overall, audiences are more captive right now and are spending more time on media, leading to marketers reviewing their media mix to account for increased levels of media consumption and audience engagement.

Impact: With the right message, this could be a good opportunity to capture new viewers.

Television (I bet you didn’t know we do TV – we do!)

Spending

Current predictions from most sources are that TV ad spending in 2020 will be negatively impacted unless things change quickly and the virus is contained early.

Impact: We’re already seeing deals and fire sales by several networks, which could create an opportunity to continue branding ads for fewer dollars than normal.

Viewership

Early on, daytime TV viewing has increased; viewing data shows that sports fans are spending more time streaming, with news networks seeing the biggest viewership bumps, and overall TV ratings grew in early March. Forward-looking research reports respondents are saying much TV viewing will come from dramas (78%) and comedies (76%), while only 19% are asking for news content.

There has been a predictable surge in video and traditional television watching as a result of children and adults alike needing to stay home to slow the virus’s spread, which represents one clear avenue of opportunity for marketers.

A recent report by Nielsen’s projected that staying home could lead to a nearly 60% increase in the amount of content watched, on top of already historically high media consumption levels; this study has been widely referenced, with few media strategies denying the potential.

Impact: This is a key time for your brand, as many of its older target audience members are already big consumers of the news; with viewership increase, we could reach more people at a lower CPM as well as capture additional viewers outside our traditional demo as more people tune into news programming. The key difference would be having a message that is appropriate for the current environment.

CONTENT

Virtually all new TV shows/episodes on network, cable syndication, OTT, and premium digital video platforms have been postponed, delayed or are temporarily on hiatus; whereas daily TV news and business shows are still producing and airing new content, leading to an increase in viewing levels for that type of content.

Currently, TV advertisers are still buying ads, because there are still fewer big, ad-supported media alternatives to big, legacy TV shows; however, in this case, it means massive numbers of reruns across all TV platforms for the coming months, in addition to live TV news content.

Additionally, the cancelation and postponement of sporting events have left TV networks and marketers scrambling as they figure out how to adapt to an unprecedented situation, with a potential for TV sports coverage to see viewership declines ranging from 9% to 25%.

Impact: While live news programming is important, many will still continue seeing out “feel good” story-based programming and instructional content on networks on which your brand typically advertisers, such as Lifetime, Cooking Channel, etc.

Using TV to Drive Web Visits & Ecommerce

Per a study from Google, 66% of Smartphone Users Look Up Something They Saw in a TV Commercial…

Impact: Maintaining a TV presence can help to increase online/eCommerce sales, rather than relying on digital advertising alone to accomplish eCommerce sales goals.


ECOMMERCE INSIGHTS


spending

Ecommerce ad spending in the United States jumped from $4.8 million the week of February 17th to $9.6 million the week of March 9th, including spending across digital media, including websites like YouTube, Snapchat, and podcasts, as well as national TV and print media.

shopping behavior

Only one-quarter of US and UK consumers agree that they are shopping more often online (including groceries and other goods), with Millennials (39%) being the age group most likely to shop more online right now. Online shopping behavior hasn’t changed as much as we might think.

Despite the near-immediate economic impact resulting from the pandemic, a third of respondents reported no change in their online shopping behavior.

website visits

Top retail site (Amazon, Target, and Walmart) visits increased by 74 million from February 17th to March 9th

OMNICHANNEL
OMNICHANNEL
ESSENTIALS
ESSENTIALS

Impact: While there is an opportunity to help drive some eCommerce sales, eCommerce does represent a much smaller portion of sales across nearly every category, and the eCommerce channel is becoming much more crowded, showing a drop in conversion rates despite increased digital spending.


CONSUMER CONFIDENCE


Despite everything happening right now, consumers in most countries are optimistic that things will return to normal within the next couple of months:

  • About 87% of the consumers participating in the survey from China, the first country to experience this crisis, have their sights set on June
  • U.S. consumers are a little less optimistic at 65%
  • Italy, which has the highest death rate today, is more optimistic at 70%, per IPSOS Mori
  • While these numbers will continue to change as the news on additional confirmed cases increases, the overall sentiment is that consumers are still optimistic that their lives can return to normal soon.

Impact: This may be an opportunity for your brand to include some confident messaging in their marketing about being there in support of its consumers.


MESSAGING STRATEGIES


When it comes to mentioning coronavirus in ads, two-fifths (42%) of consumers say it is appropriate, with another 44% share saying it’s appropriate depending on the message and/or the brand.

Forty-three percent of respondents surveyed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (The 4As) say they want messages that are “reassuring from the brands I know and trust,” while 56% are “pleased to hear brands taking action like making donations of goods and services.”

Overall, 40% of respondents want to know what brands are doing in response to the pandemic. On the flip side, 15% said they “do not want to hear from brands at this time.”

Brands that advertise messages related to cleaning in their ads are of great importance to consumers, with those 25-34 years old at 45%, followed by 35- to-49-year-olds (44%); 50- to-64-year-olds (48%) and those 65 and older (52%).

Consumers also want to hear from brands that are offering paid time off to employees who are unable to work — with 18- to-24-year-olds at 63%, followed by 25- to-34-year-olds at 61%, 35- to-49-year-olds at 56%, 50- to-64-year-olds at 49%, and those 65 and older at 41%.

Impact: Your brand could create a corporate social responsibility ad message to give consumers a reassuring and positive message during this time, which in the short term could help with the overall level of anxiety, and long term could help gain lifelong brand advocates.


RECOMMENDATIONS


These are interesting times, indeed, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. We’ll continue to monitor the situation for you and report on what we learn.

In the meantime, consider these key strategies:

  • Refine your messaging to focus on corporate social responsibility and/or more tactical sales-oriented coupons/price discounts
  • Include authentic messaging about how your brand understands the current economic pressures of its loyal supporters
  • Don’t give up. Your brand should continue its advertising presence in order to strongly position itself for success following the COVID-19 crisis