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Navigating the challenges of digital advertising during a global pandemic

3 minute read | May 2020

Our global media ecosystem has encountered an unprecedented and serious threat: marketers have pulled back on ad spend due to both the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to dissociate from wall-to-wall coverage of death and infection. And in addition, COVID-19 ads have been constant. However, with COVID-19 here to stay for at least the medium term, making use of highly engaged online audiences has never been more critical to reverse shrinking margins. 

All over the world, people have flocked online as a key news source to understand the latest updates on the COVID-19 global health pandemic. For media sellers, this means audiences are growing, and for ad buyers, reaching their desired and highly engaged audience has never been easier. 

Australians, Italians, Japanese, Thais, and Americans 18 and older have all taken to their digital devices to be informed, despite being at different stages in the pandemic – Italy lockdown measures began early March, for Australia they began mid March, for Thailand and the U.S. they began end of March and Japan was early April. In March, news saw large increases in time spent when compared with last year, particularly on their mobile devices. 

Opportunity lies in the hands of online publishers to commercialise this upsurge in news and overall media consumption habits. Nielsen survey data featured in The World Economic Forum’s white paper Understanding Value in Media: Perspectives from Consumers and Industry reports that on average 16% of people across China, Germany, India, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S. currently pay for news content; however, 53% indicate that they will be willing to pay for it in the future. The time is now to get proactive about retaining new subscribers who have engaged with your news content throughout the pandemic. Consider skinny bundles as retention tools to combat consumer fatigue and serve up support during a difficult financial time. 

Unfortunately, over the COVID-19 period, CPM rates dramatically dropped around the world. This has provided an opportunity for many small to medium advertisers to buy impressions at a lower price point. Some brand managers have viewed advertising right now as too risky for their image, whereas others have capitalised on a cost effective opportunity to reach large audiences. 

Global digital ad impressions on mobile (+32%) and over-the-top (+182%) devices increased significantly in first-quarter 2020 versus first-quarter 2019 and computer impressions saw a -9% decrease. The pandemic amplified these trends that had already been seen over the past few years. At cheaper CPM rates now is the time for marketers to reconsider allocating a small portion of their budgets to ad formats they have not yet tried and tested. 

Buying and selling digital ads in a global pandemic is challenging. At this stage of the pandemic the best decision for marketers is to act on short to medium term timelines and constantly reevaluate opportunity and risks whilst making use of the record low CPM rates. 

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