COVID-19 Update on Digital Insights and Advertising Trends

Shot of a couple watching tv while their kids are busy using digital tablets at home

How long will the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ultimately last? Three more months? Six? Nine? Longer? And when it’s over, what will daily life, the workplace and commerce look like? Rather than trying to predict when the crisis will end and what life will look like after COVID-19, smart marketers are focusing on the future and on how consumer habits and behaviors are flexing now. To make it easier to keep a pulse on the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape without all the legwork, we’ve scoured our own resources and pulled together this COVID-19 update on digital insights and advertising trends just for you.

Streaming Media Holds Strong.

Streaming services have been the clear winner throughout the pandemic with over half of consumers in a recent GlobalWebIndex survey saying they’ve been watching more streaming content during this time. Multiple other studies back up this finding and identify this trend as one that’s here to stay. Survey data from Luth Research in late May found that over 60% of consumers will continue or increase their number of subscriptions to streaming services once the pandemic ends and life gets more back to normal. Resonate also supports that finding. According to their data, 62% of consumers state they’re increasing their consumption of streaming TV, and 40% are increasing their consumption of streaming music.

Want to better understand how to be where your audience watches? Check out our advanced TV guide or stat pack to learn about the latest trends and just how to transform your TV strategy. Or find out what advanced TV is and the advanced TV questions to ask yourself before you buy.

Major streaming services are reaping the benefits of this uptake. Netflix added 15 million subscribers within roughly four months, and Disney Plus, which launched in November 2019, already has 54 million subscribers, putting it far above its original expected trajectory. Uncertain about their financial futures after COVID-19, consumers are also turning to ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) services as well, such as the Roku Channel, Crackle and YouTube. An April study by Integral Ad Science found 44% of consumers added a free streaming service due to the COVID-19 situation – meaning plenty of new ways for advertisers to continue to reach their ideal customers throughout the pandemic.

Online Grocery and Food Delivery Continue.

Services that were beginning to scratch the surface of adoption at the beginning of the year rapidly accelerated at the start of the crisis as stay-at-home orders were put in place and people were afraid to leave their homes. Digital and contactless services like online grocery ordering, food delivery, curbside pickup and drive-throughs provided consumers with safer options.

These services are expected to be adopted for the long term now that consumers have become comfortable with the ease and convenience they offer. In fact, the same Luth Research survey found that about four in 10 consumers were planning to continue or increase their use of online grocery shopping and meal ordering throughout the pandemic.

Ecommerce Remains King.

All product categories have experienced massive growth in ecommerce as consumers continue to do most of their shopping from the safety and comfort of their homes. Most categories have seen more than 10% growth in their online customer base during the pandemic.

Businesses that had no online presence before the pandemic had to move extremely fast to establish one, or risk going out of business. A July survey from GlobalWebIndex found that 50% of people expect to shop online more frequently after the outbreak is over – making that investment in an ecommerce platform worth it for long-term success.

Social Media and Messaging Level Out.

In the early days of the pandemic, social media stood out as a winner, and younger consumers are still dedicating a large amount of time to the medium. Twenty percent of consumers still intend to carry on with using social media services and messaging apps after the pandemic is over.

However, eMarketer data from June suggests that even though up to 51% of U.S. consumers were using social media at higher rates during the pandemic, the research firm believes consumers will eventually get back to their normal routines of school, work and social activities, allowing the social media trends we’re seeing now to moderate.

Social justice issues too added their own complexity to social media. By late May, the focus on social issues across the country resulted in campaign performance declines across all categories as people collectively paused their social media usage during Memorial Day weekend and the national protests. Social media advertising also began to experience hurdles as platforms put in place additional procedures for monitoring and flagging controversial topics. Pandemic-aside, July brought an entirely new crop of issues and changes for social media with the #StopHateForProfit Facebook ad boycott. Advertisers used that time to shift media from social platforms to other (safer) channels. Even though Facebook felt minimal pain from the last major advertiser boycott (remember Cambridge Analytica?), some experts believe this boycott will be different and have bigger, more lasting effects if Facebook doesn’t implement structural change. Curious how to reduce your reliance on Facebook, read Jay Friedman’s recent Ad Age byline or save your seat for our upcoming webinar on the topic.

Online Education and Remote Work Take Hold.

Are online education and remote work here to stay? Students and working adults seem to hope so. According to GlobalWebIndex, six in 10 Gen Zs and Millennials express a strong interest in enrolling in online learning programs, and over 40% of consumers would like to continue working from home.

Many companies across the globe are starting to realize remote work’s benefits like lower overhead costs and bigger talent pools (benefits we’ve realized at Goodway for over 12 years), and some high-profile businesses such as Twitter have already announced they’re going to let it continue. It doesn’t stop there. Other major industries like healthcare and fitness are experiencing big shifts in their operating models with telehealth and virtual fitness products and services expected to stick around.

The world is changing, and with it, the programmatic ecosystem too. That’s why in early March, our analytics and insights team began compiling programmatic trend data based on what they were witnessing in the programmatic ecosystem. Here are the latest advertising trends they noted:

Win Rates and Average Bid Prices Rebound.

When the pandemic really started to take hold in the U.S., advertisers panicked and either went dark or significantly decreased their ad spending as they figured out how to navigate the uncertainty of a global pandemic. This caused competition within ad auctions to decrease dramatically, allowing advertisers to win more impressions.

Win rates increased 54% from early March to mid-April. By May, as the dust started to settle, competition began steadily rising even though win rates remained strong, and advertisers recognized the need to be present for their consumers. And by June, win rates started to increase in conjunction with average bid prices after a consistent months-long downward trend.

CPMs Remain Low.

As other metrics oscillate with the lockdown measures, reopenings and case counts, CPMs have remained below 2019 levels since mid-March. In April, while CPMs stayed low, CPCs were slowly creeping up, indicating that users were seeing more ads but were being more selective about where they chose to engage. When states began to reopen in June, CPMs inched up — a trend that’s now reversing alongside a resurgence in COVID cases. This means there are still opportunities for advertisers to take advantage of lower CPMs to further their reach and spend efficacy in the digital space.

Mobile and Ecommerce Increase.

Beginning in April, mobile saw an uptick in performance as a result of increased focus on the medium. People have been heavily reliant on their smartphones as a means of entertainment and communication, even more so during the pandemic, and advertisers have enjoyed the benefit of increased conversion rates on mobile devices.

Regarding ecommerce, Amazon has been a clear winner in the space, as both a marketplace and as an advertising platform. Brands that have jumped on ecommerce and leaned into their online capabilities witnessed performance increases by the month of June.

TV and Video Become More Popular.

As consumers drastically increased their streaming media and online video consumption, advertisers followed the eyeballs and hopped on the connected TV (CTV) bandwagon to reach those users. Connected TV offers multiple benefits – targeting, reach and flexibility to name a few — and the channel is finally getting its day in the spotlight (albeit not in the best circumstances). CTV and video advertising not only benefited from consumers’ increased streaming consumption in lockdown but also from the #StopHateForProfit campaign as advertisers reallocate their social media spend to less divisive channels.

Want to go beyond this COVID-19 update on digital insights and advertising trends? To see how COVID-19 is impacting marketers and for actionable steps to take now, download our recently released marketer’s guide to COVID-19 and our extensive COVID-19 vertical research and resources. Or if we can help you find innovative ways to engage your customers and prospects and further your business during this critical time, contact us today.