How Digital Media Is Shifting During COVID-19

5 min read

Woman using mobile device

By now, we’ve learned plenty of lessons from the COVID-19 drill. We know how to try to keep ourselves and our families safe. We know how to keep our kids entertained at home. We know how to make a mean sourdough.

What we might not know though, is how to adapt our marketing campaigns. There’s no marketing equivalent of a public health official to give us direction on how to optimize our campaigns, reach our audiences, and grow our businesses, all while being sensitive to the real hardships this crisis has brought to so many people.

We’re all continuously adjusting our habits while we adapt to the new normal, and digital marketing is no different. Event marketing and outdoor advertising have taken a massive hit since people have been mostly confined to their homes. But while we’ve all been home, we’ve spent a lot more time on our phones and in front of our TVs.

Change by the Numbers

Streaming television has seen the largest increase since March. According to Comscore, not only have the hours of streaming TV increased by 24%, the number of households using OTT streaming devices has also increased by 11%. So people aren’t just watching more TV, they went out and bought devices to help them access new and different TV. Linear (traditional broadcast) TV, however, doesn’t show the same growth as streaming. In fact, most signs point to a downtrend for linear, with ad spend down 20% in Q1, and the loss of sports resulting in viewership declines ranging from 9% to 25%.

Household streaming growth chart

(Source: Comscore)

While digital media consumption–everything from streaming TV to websites and apps–has generally increased across every viewing device, those increases are higher for larger screens. A study conducted by the New York Times revealed that app usage for services like Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook is fairly stagnant, whereas website usage on computers has increased significantly. Turns out we don’t really love looking at our phones when we have bigger screens handy.

Graphs about website and app usage
(Source: The New York Times)

And digital content consumption has increased across nearly all ages. Digital media—previously driven by younger demographics—has seen the largest growth by those 45+ in the last few months.

This increase in viewership and TV usage means an increase in inventory (and eyeballs) for advertisers. But at the same time as people started watching more TV, advertisers started holding or cancelling their campaigns. As many as 64% of advertisers put a campaign on hold, according to MiQ, and 50% cancelled a campaign altogether. This combination of increased viewership and decreased advertising means lower CPMs for those who are still in the game.

Some Hit Harder Than Others

Obviously, some industries and businesses have felt the impacts of the new coronavirus significantly more than others. If you’re running a restaurant or brick and mortar store, you’re feeling most of the pain—right now, you might not have anything to sell, let alone the budget for advertising. But others, such as digital media, e-commerce, and grocery stores, have seen a huge surge in traffic and spending. In Q1 2020, mobile spending on groceries more than doubled that of 2019, and surpassed apparel spending for the first time ever. Newspaper readership has increased significantly, too, particularly for local and large media organizations.

And it may seem counterintuitive, but healthcare has taken a big financial hit from coronavirus. While hospitals shifted their care and messaging to focus on COVID patients and prevention, they missed out on nearly two months worth of elective procedures and routine visits, which is what financially sustains the industry. Our own healthcare clients have been continuously and admirably adapting to these changes, using marketing budgets for crucial public health communications, and in turn, looking to marketing to help them rebound in the coming months, as we shift into a new normal.

So What?

Now that we’ve looked at a lot of numbers and graphs, what do we do with this information? How can we use data to adapt as smartly in our marketing endeavors as we have in public health? While it may not be life and death, business success does translate to the livelihoods of millions of people, so marketers feel a big responsibility to help their companies and communities recover from the last few months and adapt to the changes yet to come. Looking ahead, here are a few key takeaways to consider:

1. Embrace the change.

There’s no back to normal. Buckle up, pay attention to the shifts in behavior, and adapt to them. Businesses that can adapt to their audience’s needs—both in terms of services and communication—will come out on top.

2. Meet people where they are.

This has always been a guiding principle for marketing and advertising, but it’s even more important now. If your target audience is watching more OTT TV, use the video assets you’ve been using on Facebook and YouTube to launch a Hulu campaign. There are a lot of ways to repurpose content to fit new platforms.

3. Don’t assume older audiences aren’t online.

They are. And in ever increasing numbers. Social media and streaming services aren’t just for reaching younger demos anymore; they’re for everyone.

4. Keep calm, and carry on.

We’ve seen a massive disruption in the last few months—to our lives, our businesses, and our campaigns. But if you’ve done the work to foster loyal audiences and a strong, healthy business leading up to 2020, you’ll have people looking to you for guidance on what’s to come. If you’re still in business, digital advertising is more affordable than ever, and it’s reaching more people than ever, so now’s the time to buy into digital media to help your business not only survive, but thrive.