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COVID-19 market insight: how has paid media been affected?

Updated: Jun 10



Coronavirus has hit us all hard, both in the digital and physical world, and in our personal and professional lives. In light of this, businesses are rethinking their paid media strategy to adapt to the new normal.


Due to government instructions, individuals are now spending more time at home and indoors which has caused a notable shift in consumer behaviour. This change in mindset, consumption and lifestyle means brands must react and adapt.


In this blog, we will share insight and analysis from us and Quantcast, one of our display vendors on the market impact so far, and how you can adapt your paid media strategy.


the impact so far


Following the pandemic and government restrictions, we have seen dramatic changes to various industries which has been reflected in search and online behaviour.

Here’s a summary of what we found:


online traffic

Online traffic has seen an average increase of 23 percent across different age cohorts:

  • Gen Z (1995-2015) + 18%: This younger audience has the lowest increase in time spent online. They are particularly active on social media, following celebrities and influencers during the shutdown. They are also actively searching for information on cancelled events such as Glastonbury

  • Gen Y (1980-1994) + 24%: This audience seems to be especially interested in accessing news sites for updates, articles on working from home and a broader range of event cancellations.

  • Gen X (1965-1975) + 24%: On the whole, this group is concerned with the impact of working from home including childcare and finance. We’ve also seen a desire to help the wider society.

  • Boomers (1944-1964) + 22%: This audience is concerned about the impact on finance and pensions. They are also searching for terms around controlling spread, economic impact and how to stay healthy.

  • Each group is using social media more to stay connected: More people are on their phones, looking for engaging content to keep them entertained. With a 27% increase in Gen Z, 30% increase in Gen Y, 29% increase in Gen X and 15% increase in Boomers, brands should look at the power of social to engage their audience.


what are people researching online?


A variety of topics have spiked due to the current circumstances such as wellbeing, news and entertainment.

  • Local and global news +43%: This includes news sites, updates and TV listings from publications such as The Times, Sky News and Finance 101. Traditional media has also seen a drop in advertising of 39 percent as a result of this shift.

  • Video games +29%: It seems many are moving online to socialise over gaming platforms such as Xbox and PS4. There has been an increase in interest around games and equipment with websites such as Games Radar, PS4 storage, and Real Sport 101 being accessed more frequently.

  • Fitness and exercise +55%: This topic is particularly of interest to those aged 18 – 39 and they are mainly searching for home workouts and exercise equipment. They are also consuming more content from fitness sites and blogs such as Cyclist, Well and Good and Coach Mag.

  • Health and wellness +47%: Home workouts appear again as well as people search how to boost their immune systems. Sources such as BBC Good Food, Live Strong and Working Mums have been particularly popular.

  • Family and parenting +44%: The interest in this topic is mainly linked to financial impact and how to cope with childcare now and in the future. Publications such as Mums Net, The Telegraph and Mirror are being accessed to consume content on topics like this.

In the current climate, search behaviour is changing frequently so staying up to date on market and local conditions is more important than ever before. Google’s Search Trends tool can help you better understand the context of local markets and your customers’ mindset and they have a specific page dedicated to Coronavirus search trends.


how have advertisers been reacting?


Advertisers have, expectedly, been working fast to ease disruption to their paid media spending. As this uncertainty is the new norm for the foreseeable, businesses must look at new ways to maintain connections, secure brand visibility, retain customers and build trust with their audience.


  • 63 percent of advertisers have already changed the messages they are promoting, increasing mission-based marketing by 42 percent and cause-related marketing by 41 percent.

  • As the world has been forced indoors, many advertisers have chosen to cut their advertising spend, moving away from channels such as out of home (OOH) and place-based media including airports and public spaces. Instead, they are revaluating their media mix and shifting budgets to digital channels for better reach, detailed reporting and to ensure they are engaging with customers where they are interacting the most.

  • Publishers are also comprehending the short-term pain of block lists on their content as advertisers add terms associated with coronavirus to their keyword block lists.

  • With more people staying at home, tuning into the news and streaming programming, TV advertising has seen an uplift. More than a third of advertisers have adjusted their in-market tactics and have increased audience targeting by 38 percent.


To help you in staying reactive in the current climate, we’ve collated our top tips for adapting your advertising strategy:


our top tips for adapting your paid media strategy


consider the channels your audience are most active on

As consumer behaviour has drastically changed, it’s important to do some digging on whether their channels of engagement have changed too.

For instance, Facebook has seen an increase of 50 percent in their messaging channel, while voice and video calling have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp. Snapchat has also seen an increase in usage following the virus outbreak, reporting a rise of 47 percent, while streaming is also up by 12 percent.

When sharing content and posting on social media, note that key platforms have put restrictions in place to protect people from consuming and spreading misinformation. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google have created measures surrounding the virus. It’s important to brush up on these updated rules and regulations, not doing so could put your business at risk of a negative brand image.

Due to these new measures, the ad review process has been slowed down exceptionally. If you need to make any changes to your ads, we recommend:

  • Duplicate your ad before making any adjustments.

  • Keep your original ad running while you wait for the review of your new ad and, once this has been approved, pause the original ad.

  • Look out for any active ads that have a volume of zero impressions as this could mean your ad has not been approved.

review your strategy


The strategy and campaigns you had in place will likely need modifying to some extent. First and foremost, you need to review the impact the pandemic is having on your business and industry, and whether you can still service consumers safely. This will help inform how you need to adapt your advertising strategy.

If your target audience aren’t spending or you’re unable to fulfil orders, swap your advertising efforts to top of the funnel activities. Use this time to really get to know your audience so, when restrictions are lifted, you will have a bank of data to fuel your remarketing campaigns.

If the majority of your industry is scaling back on ad spend, this is all the more reason for you not to. Not only will you have less competition, but you will also benefit from reduced advertising costs giving you increased visibility at a fraction of the cost. As no one knows how long this situation will continue, it’s advisable to create a short-term, mid-term and long-term advertising plan.


getting your messaging right


Adjusting your messaging to remain useful, appropriate and impactful is extremely important to show consumers how your business can still add value to their lives.

  • Highlight products and services most relevant to the new normal: How can your brand support people who are social distancing, working from home or home schooling? Even if your audience aren’t in the conversion stage of their purchasing journey, it’s worthwhile building brand awareness and maintaining connections with them through your paid ads.

  • Rethink the messaging in line with current events: Your ad copy should be written from the perspective of the audience consuming it. Avoid mentioning monetary factors and instead, focus on the value your business can bring to people right now.

  • Review and adjust your tone of voice: Show empathy to your audience through your ads and messaging. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to show your brand’s support. Customers appreciate brands who acknowledge challenges and use their human element to connect.

use Smart Bidding

Consumer behaviour is constantly changing as people continue adapting to the ‘new normal’. Use this opportunity to utilise as much of Google’s machine learning features as possible to get the most from your PPC campaigns.

Smart Bidding in particular has taken the PPC world by storm. These automated bid strategies in Google Ads use machine learning to maximise conversions. Considering historical search behaviour and contextual circumstances, Google predicts the likelihood of a conversion. This contextual data includes location, time of day, device and the ad’s historical performance. It then increases your bids when a conversion looks more likely.

There are five different Smart Bidding strategies for a specific conversion goal:

  • Target ROAS: Optimise bids to achieve your target ROA.

  • Maximise conversions: Optimise bids to maximise your conversions.

  • Target impression share: Set bids to show your ad at the top of the page as often as possible.

  • Enhanced CPC: Optimise your CPC to maximise conversions.

  • Target CPA: Optimise bids to maintain your target CPA, or the amount you pay for each conversion.

don’t forget to exclude keywords


With many advertising platforms putting restrictions and bans on coronavirus advertising, it’s important to exclude related keywords such as “covid”, “virus” and “pandemic”.

For some industries who have been affected by government restrictions or the changes in search behaviour, ads are being incorrectly triggered. For instance, certain B2B businesses who deliver supplies to schools are having their ads triggered by parents who are searching for home school supplies following the school closures.

Keeping up to date with how customer behaviour is evolving will inform whether you need to add more keywords to your keyword exclude list to avoid wasting your budget.

consider barriers to conversion

With the world being forced online, your digital presence is now one of your most valuable assets. As online traffic has seen an increase of 23 percent, it’s imperative to ensure your website is optimised by considering the user journey and removing any barriers to conversion.

Attracting traffic to your website takes time and effort. Make sure you’re getting the most out of these users. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) can help you optimise your website and campaign, driving a 223 percent average ROI. Taking your business goals and defining KPIs for each campaign, data-driven optimisation strategies can be created, tailored to your specific audience.

CRO allows iterative improvements based on what you learn about your users. Conducting this research helps create an understanding of your customers’ pain points and what they really want from your brand. Improvements can be uncovered to remove these barriers and increase conversions. With CRO’s iterative approach, you can begin to unlock the conversion potential within your website.

if you can, harness Google Shopping

Google has reported that consumers may be browsing more but converting less. Industries, such as travel brands and retailers supplying non-essential products, are being impacted more than others. While industries supplying essential goods, entertainment and loungewear are experiencing an increase in sales.

With more people shopping online than ever before, Google Shopping has just become an even more effective tool within your PPC strategy. This platform allows users to search for a product in Google with results instantly displayed with pictures, price and information readily available for a fast purchase decision. Such features will help you to communicate what goods can be delivered and whether there will be any disruptions to the delivery of your products.

Google Shopping has the ability to unlock growth and outperform generic search through increased impressions, clicks and conversions. However, effective feed management is required to enhance campaign success. As Google’s algorithm continues to advance, it becomes more reliant on data making feed management all the more important. The more you can optimise your feed, the better. Here are some quick tips to help you do this:

  • Optimise your product titles and descriptions with relevant keywords and details

  • Use high quality product photos

  • Organise your product feed content in line with Google’s guidelines

  • Promote your positive reviews

  • Take advantage of your website categories for more granular targeting

  • Highlight promotions

focus on local advertising

With the majority of people confined to their homes, now is a great opportunity to focus on Google’s local advertising capabilities. Especially if you’ve changed your business operations to adapt to the new climate, for instance restaurants delivering food through Deliveroo.

  • target users based on location: Google AdWords allows advertisers to target people within a postcode radius. If your business is still operating, use your data to determine the location of your customers and target them with local products and services.

  • increase bids for mobile: It’s inevitable that people will be spending even more time on their mobiles for entertainment, research and online shopping. Now there is an even bigger reason to get your campaigns optimised for mobile. It may be worthwhile allocating more of your advertising budget to mobile and using these campaigns to target local customers.

  • location specific ad copy: Write ad copy linked directly to geographical areas to encourage people to contact your business. If you’re operating but not supplying essential goods, it is still important to keep your brand at the forefront of their mind for when we return to normality.

  • local shopping inventory ads: These showcase your products and store information to nearby shoppers. When shoppers click the ad, they arrive on a Google-hosted page for your store called the local storefront. This storefront displays in-store availability, store hours, directions, product details and more. A useful function for essential stores that are having to adjust their opening times.

  • local catalogue ads: These help shoppers discover what is being sold in a store prior to visiting, highlighting product information and pricing. This interactive, highly visual feature uses feed data from Local Inventory Ads before targeting viewers through Display Ads.

go beyond the search engine

Although PPC is likely to play an important role in your strategy, it’s important to consider other forms of advertising to help your brand stay relevant and ahead of the competition.

  • video: Did you know, video ads are the preferred social media content consumers like to see? YouTube is, of course, a great platform for video but social media channels have adapted to accommodate video too. Ephemeral video content and live broadcast features are now available on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Video ads on mobile are also seeing significant growth. By condensing lengthy information into an easy to digest format, content can be readily consumed. Today’s consumers engage well with authenticity meaning behind-the-scenes and live content are the preferred and cheaper option for many. Make this relevant to the situation today by sharing video content on how your business is adapting to the virus or by focussing your efforts to more brand awareness led campaigns.

  • sky adsmart: It’s likely we’ll be watching TV even more while stuck at home. With an increase in viewers, this could be the time to consider advertising your brand on TV. Many brands see TV advertising as out of reach due to the mass appeal and high costs. Sky AdSmart is a revolutionary service, offering brands the opportunity to target specific audiences during live TV breaks at a fraction of the cost. With AdSmart, you only incur a cost if your ad is viewed for at least 75 percent of its duration. Combining the power and reputation of TV advertising with digital, Sky AdSmart allows businesses to restrict its audience advertising at a granular level.

  • digital audio: The rise of podcasts and online streaming has created a new channel for advertisers to reach their audience. Whether it’s playlists, audio books, radio or podcasts, businesses can target their audience based on demographics and interests to deliver relevant content. As audio grows in popularity, there are different formats of advertising that you may choose depending on budget, target audience and the product you want to promote.

  • amazon ads: As Amazon continues innovating rapidly, industry experts are questioning whether it could eventually overtake Google. Similar to Google Shopping, Amazon’s shopping experience allows customers to read reviews, ask questions and view photos all in one place. It’s an easy way to promote your products by displaying ads in popular areas including the first page of search results or product detail pages. Advertisers can place bids on keywords or products and if the ad is relevant and the bid wins, it will be displayed to shoppers. However, Amazon has unexpectedly experienced an increase in demand on essentials such as household staples and medical supplies. As such, they are prioritising these high-demand products. This could affect you as a retailer selling on Amazon as you may see a drastic change in the cost of search terms and the number of impressions. If you operate in the industries Amazon is focusing on, you will likely see a significantly increased CPC with more traffic coming through. For other non-essential eCommerce businesses, the CPCs will drop due to the fact you will no longer be competing with Amazon.

During this uncertain time, brands need to retain a strong brand presence, turning their efforts to top of the funnel advertising. For brands who aren’t adjusting their strategy, pausing campaigns will only make it harder for you to recover later after you’ve lost momentum. It is possible to acknowledge the crisis through your paid media advertising by taking a softer approach to selling. Be flexible, creative, and patient with our evolving environment. Now is the perfect time to build up your brand presence so you can reap the rewards when purchasing habits pick back up.


Unsure how you should be adapting your paid media strategy during the current climate? Book in for one of our complimentary digital drop-in sessions and we will be more than happy to support you.

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