Key points:

• COVID-19 has skewed the media landscape, but the trend to digital was already evident.

• Kristina Alexiou, at MyAdbox Canada says understanding the new media mix eliminates time wasted developing creative options for less popular media.

• Ad spend is showing signs of returning and the shift of focus back to brand is reflected in the surge of marketing budgets to record highs.

• Andrew Baker, MyAdbox CEO, says the window of opportunity to capture market share is still there, but time is running out.

2020 is the year things changed for everyone in marketing and advertising. COVID-19 has accentuated and skewed much of this change, but trends were already emerging well before the pandemic hit. The media landscape has experienced vast upheaval and will continue to reshape with the exponential growth of new media forms – particularly online.

While the shift from traditional media to digital has been happening for a number of years, the pace has picked up over the last twelve months – as evidenced by empirical data emerging from the MyAdbox platform. “The numbers tell the story,” said Kristina Alexiou, at MyAdbox Canada.

“Brands create all types of assets for their franchisees to use, but the metrics don’t lie. Digital and social media have been increasingly more popular in recent months.”

Alexiou said the analytics tools from within the MyAdbox platform enables her clients to assess which types of creative assets are being downloaded and used most often in the field. “Knowing quickly which assets franchisees are using helps my clients adjust their creative spending at the front end, and they avoid producing expensive ads for media outcomes that are declining,” said Alexiou.

In Canada, the shift to greater usage of digital and social media assets has been swift. In 2019, 14% of the assets were for print campaigns. In 2020, that number has plunged to just 5%.  

“In 2020, social media assets are leading the way with 37% of all campaign assets, followed by digital banners at 32% and digital videos at 13%,” said Alexiou. “Combined, those three categories make up 82% of all campaign assets, while last year those three categories represented only 67% of usage.” It’s a trend Alexiou expects to continue as marketers use more advanced marketing tools like programmatic advertising and personalization at the core of their campaigns.

Not surprisingly, the swing to digital is similar in Australia. “The shift to social media was apparent long before we turned into 2020,” said Andrew Dawson, MyAdbox Head of Client Services, “but it’s clearly accelerated of late.” Dawson shares a particularly contrasting picture of the landscape just two years ago. “Press made up 25% of all content generated in the MyAdbox platform back in 2018 but it’s backed off to just 5% in 2020. As expected, Social media content surged from 20% in 2018 to 44% of platform content today.” The numbers, Dawson believes, tell a story of behavioural change – “To understand what is driving this trend is to recognize the decisions people are now prepared to make when buying. We’ve always known that digital media and the serving of social content is easily tailored to the audience and is consequently an effective form of spend. But much of this content was focused on brand awareness.”

“What we’re seeing now is that customers are increasingly prepared to complete the path through the purchase funnel on big ticket items like new cars – without leaving their lounge room.”

Dawson believes this completely redefines the way companies are advertising to consumers.

It’s totally changed how and when we reach them and what we say.”

While it’s true that some media formats are in a coma awaiting the re-emergence of consumers, the same can be said for certain industries (think airlines, hospitality, retail and tourism) which have been turned almost upside down.  

Dawson believes it’s obvious that consumer behaviour has changed in a very short period of time due to COVID and that ad spend has adjusted accordingly. Advertisers aren’t going to invest in media with a diminished audience” he said,

“…so it makes perfect sense that when we’re all in lockup at home, out-of-home and cinema marketing got switched off overnight.”

Of course, we can’t forget that these drops are a result of an unforeseen event – whereas the trend away from print isn’t… that began several years ago.

The extent to which the shift has been exacerbated by the pandemic is hard to measure. “Obviously with people working from home, marketers have chased their eyeballs in media that is relevant to where they’re at mentally and physically right now,” said Dawson. “The darling is digital advertising, largely because it’s favourable for direct response content – and with brands being more cautious and focusing on activity that drives sales, measurable results are high on priority.”

The drive to digital in Australia is evident in the results for the first half of 2020, where Facebook and Google had better than expected results. Despite experiencing some downturn they were doing better than other media during the pandemic.

While the overwhelming data shows that global ad spend is down, the tide appears to be turning. SMI (Standard Media Index) numbers show a 28.4% fall in national marketer advertising spend in July compared to a 35.7% drop in June and a record 40.4% in May.  Early data for August shows the swing continuing, with advertisers spending more than for the whole of July, with the strongest advertising demand seen in television, down so far at 11.2%. By contrast there’s been a jump in streaming content – with almost 34% of people saying they’re consuming up to 9 hours additional content a week – although once again, this is no doubt the result of a pandemic spike.

It’s early days, but the COVID-19 ‘ad spend ice age’ may be thawing. At a time when marketing budgets as a percentage of company revenues and spend have risen to record highs as brands look to keep customers and build brand value, 2021 looks very likely to be the year of the ‘big rebound.’  While some marketers will wait for the tide to turn, others will capitalize on the chance to make ground on competitors. ”The old marketing adage holds true,” said Andrew Baker, MyAdbox CEO,

“in tough times, keep advertising to win market share.”

But the window, Baker says, is beginning to close. “Before we know it, 2021 will be here and the unique opportunity marketers have right now to win market share will begin to disappear as the world get busy again.” Baker still sees tremendous opportunity over the remainder of this year to ratchet up advertising and jump ahead of competitors. “This is a unique time that we will look back on as a defining period for those marketers prepared to be aggressive while their competitors lie in hibernation.”