An infographic of a virus moving forward to impact our economy represented by a declining bar chart & masked people running.

How is the new norm of pandemic life impacting the media landscape?

We’re now a month into quarantine. Four weeks of complete uncertainty, taking each day one at a time to ensure we make the best decisions for our clients. To say things have changed, would be an understatement. Nearly 24% of respondents have paused all advertisements for the end of Q1 and most of Q2. This is our new reality. This is life during a pandemic, turning the world and the advertising industry upside-down.

COVID-19 has uprooted everyone from normal daily routines and dramatically shifted consumer behavior. Hours of consumer research and all of the demographic personas have now become outdated. Everything, from the way our audiences occupy their time to how they shop for products, has completely changed. Over 50% of shoppers have been stocking up on household essentials and putting non-essential items on the back burner. Almost 9 out of 10 consumers have changed the way they purchase items. 21% said they are now shopping for groceries online and 48% have ordered takeaway from restaurants in the past two weeks. 

While consumers’ behaviors are changing, so are their media habits. Unemployment rates have risen to an all-time high with more than 7 million Americans filing for unemployment over the past few weeks – and expected to rise. This will be a defining moment as people shift their focus and settle into their new realities. Without work to focus on, consumers will be hunting for new ways to occupy their time – spending more time with media at a time when advertisers are pulling back the media spend.

Online traffic has begun to skyrocket as millions of Americans try to stay connected to the world outside of quarantine. Adults on average are spending 2-3 more hours on social media. Overall, social media has seen an average increase in usage by 25% across all platforms with TikTok leading the way with a 27% increase. YouTube has also seen total watch time increase tenfold with gaming and home workout viewership on the rise. Even though all eyeballs are glued to the screen, digital ad spend is down 33%. In normal times, advertisers would double down with increased spend when consumers are gobbling content. The decline in digital ad spend is a sign of the pain brands are feeling with decreased sales resulting in cancelations across the media landscape.

TV is without a doubt seeing a major increase as viewership continues to climb and surprisingly radio has seen the same amount of listeners or more. According to Nielsen, adults 18-49 have seen a gain of 20% and adults 25-54 have seen an 18% gain. Overall, TV viewership is up by 49% – with news networks, NFL offseason coverage, and teen networks leading the pack. TV ad spend has already seen a major decline although viewership is up. This is mainly caused by the cancelation of all major sporting events and the 2020 Olympics being postponed to 2021. Advertisers are now canceling inventory, renegotiating sponsorships and reallocating media dollars. Unfortunately, the shelter-in-place restrictions have not benefited some traditional media like outdoor advertising (OOH) with increased exposure. Following quarantine orders and a 70% decline in outdoor traffic, 10% of advertisers have canceled outdoor inventory and 20% have paused it altogether.

So, what happens when a pandemic suddenly changes the norm of consumer behavior? For those who depend on advertising to support their brands and agencies who support brands with media strategy, it changes almost everything. Marketers must redefine target audiences as behaviors shift and adjust to the new norm. Budgets need to be reallocated as media habits continue to change. We must always be one step – or perhaps six feet – ahead, as we rethink our strategies in the time of crisis and have a recovery plan for brands when things get back to “normal”.

The real question is how long will it take to get back to normal. According to scientists, it takes up to 60 days to form new habits and even longer to break them. Will our new media consumption and buying habits stick? There’s no doubt that things will be different for the foreseeable future, but how advertisers respond to the changes will be the key to success. 

 Dailon Smith – Strategy Storyteller