What a difference a year makes!

March 15, 2021
Man walking a tightrope over the COVID-19 virus.

This month, we are one of many reflecting on what a difference the last year has made not only in our lives but also our business. It is important to note that, while we have survived entirely unforeseeable circumstances, not every impact of 2020 was negative.  In fact, this has been an opportunity for consumers and business alike to reinvent and reinvest, and for the advertising industry to rethink entrenched assumptions and practices.

In the early days of COVID, though overall media consumption increased, budgets were quickly reallocated or permanently reduced.  The doomsday predictions rolled out, but ultimately eMarketer  reported a 4.1% decline in US total ad spend.  Granted, that still covers a roughly $9B dollar loss, but it is an improved view from June 2020 when expected decreases were closer to 7%.

It is significant to recognize that reductions weren’t just a matter of saving money.  Rather, brands had to rapidly evaluate whether they had a product or message that was still relevant in the initial shut-down period.  Conversations of brand safety now included how to appropriately control for COVID-content adjacency.  Publishers and advertisers quickly needed to separate lifestyle content, like banana bread recipes and at-home workout routines, from daily pandemic updates. (see the IAB perspective released mid-year on this topic)  Some categories saw immense organic growth, while others needed to now balance driving demand with the effects of supply chain disruptions and COVID restrictions. Everyone needed to take a step back and view themselves from the eyes of a consumer.

Here are just a few of the bigger 2020 shifts we believe are here to stay

  • Streaming and CTV (connected TV) will see increasing investment and growth
  • Local media re-emerged as a trusted, non-partisan resource and news overall has gained younger and more diverse viewership
  • Digital audio, specifically podcasting, can no longer be ignored
  • Increases in online shopping heightened the pre-2020 need for a seamless omni-channel customer experience
    • According Bazaarvoice, 62% of US shoppers say they do more online shopping now than pre-COVID. In its annual CMO Survey, Deloitte found 75% of respondents invested in site optimizations and 65% in actual digital media and search over the year.  The rapid growth of ecommerce, combined with increasing privacy regulations, the lasting need for contactless payments, mobile-responsive sites, and superior in-store interactions will forever change retail.

Again, these are just a few notable impacts.  To list them all could quickly turn this post into a novel.  As we all continue to pivot and assess, at the heart of the matter is remembering that consumers are paying attention, and that we cannot lose sight of empathy and intelligence as we decide where we spend and what we say as we press forward in 2021.  If you have any doubt, I invite you to revisit this poem, tweeted by one such potential customer last year “First lines of emails I’ve received while quarantining”.

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