A media perspective

“9/11 changed everything.”


This line was said often in the days and months that followed the September 11th­­ attacks. It was used so often, in fact, that it lost its intended meaning and ended up becoming a cliché.

“COVID-19 changed everything.”

This line has already proved to be true, and though it’s impossible to tell whether it will become a cliché, at this point it is not an overstatement. We have upended our lives in terms of how we work and play. We have brought second monitors home from work. We have morphed dining rooms into offices. We have invented virtual happy hour. We’re using apps that only our kids used previously (i.e., Houseparty) to remain socially connected yet distanced. We will continue to find new ways of doing everything. Indeed, COVID-19 has changed everything.

Likewise, our media consumption habits have changed (at least for now), and therefore, media placement considerations should follow suit.

With live sports out of the picture – including the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics – some networks are airing classics in place of now-canceled games. However, this is not sustainable. As a Celtics fan, I might pause when I see a replay of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Lakers, for example, but I wouldn’t call it appointment viewing. And it’s not reasonable to think I would be as engaged and attentive as I would be with a live game.

Rather than watching sports reruns, many of us have further migrated to Advanced TV options like Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming services. Unfortunately for advertisers, these are commercial-free environments; however, video-on-demand usage is likely to increase, and commercials on those platforms usually can’t be skipped.

Our commuting patterns have completely changed, thus upending the out-of-home advertising market. What was an opportunity for brands to reach consumers en masse is now (temporarily) a questionable choice. Until our commutes are no longer limited to the space between our beds and our dining room tables, the expectation is that this sector of our industry will suffer the most.

Cross-device display, on the other hand, is poised to weather the storm. But the way in which we approach this is likely to get an update. For example, healthcare brands may take on a contextual strategy that places their messaging in direct proximity to COVID-19 reporting – or avoid it, based on the message being pushed. This contrasts with the audience and behavioral targeting many healthcare brands often employ.

Similarly, SEM is likely to persevere as consumers search for everything from home goods (toilet paper) to recipes (uses for leftover ramen sauce) to healthcare tips (in-home remedies to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office). The implementation of negative keywords is also likely to be used more broadly than before. For example, Corona beer doesn’t want to show up when you search coronavirus. In this example, using a negative keyword strategy will save Corona (the beer) from being served as a result when one is searching for corona (the virus).

As consumers are focusing more on necessities than wants, brands should take a slightly different look at key performance indicators, since the acquisition funnel is likely to get longer. Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) should shift to longer lifetime value-based metrics. When the world returns to normal, consumers will be most loyal to the brands, products and services that got them through the pandemic. That should be the end-game focus, at least temporarily.

The reality is that we will return to normal at some point. Our daily routines will eventually start to resemble our old lives. The interesting part will be to see whether our altered media consumption habits shift back as well. Then we can determine whether the statement “COVID-19 changed everything” will stand as a truth or as a cliché.

Keren Cole is a 20+ year media veteran who has been focused on cultivating conversations, building brand context, and ultimately helping clients connect with consumers through holistic campaigns that combine traditional and emerging media to drive response and awareness.

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