Digital advertising had an apocalyptic Q2 as many brands withdrew their advertising in the face of COVID-19. The truth is, most brand marketers did not really know what to say and decided it was better to withdraw their ad spend while they rethought their strategies for 2020.

COVID, and the loss of jobs that followed it, changed just about everything. It led to a ton of new research on how consumers were thinking and feeling. Even brands who thought they knew their customers had to check their previous assumptions at the door. That was good. Understanding whether COVID-weary consumers would even tolerate specific ads and their messaging was critical. Fortunately, because everybody was working from home, participation in research was better than usual.

Q3 Marks a Big Turnaround

During the spring, Adobe Advertising Cloud commissioned a survey of over 1,000 global consumers and 500 brand marketers to examine current views towards advertising. There’s amazing good news out of this survey that made advertisers stop wringing their hands. Consumers may be facing job loss and uncertainty, but they’re perhaps more willing than before to look at ads. They need guidance.

    • Almost 90% of survey respondents actively want ads targeted to them – as long as they are relevant and useful.
    •  Gen Z can still be a luxury brand target demographic: Of all generations, Gen Z has expressed the most desire for continued luxury advertising engagement as over 40% of Gen Z want luxury or non-essential brand advertising directed to them – this, despite Gen Z being the generation most negatively affected by economic challenges due to COVID-19.
    • Increased spending among millennial men and full-time employed: More than half of millennial men are shopping and spending more online than they did prior to the pandemic. And almost half (48%) of all consumers still in full-time employment are doing the same. Brands targeting these population segments can succeed.
    • It’s time to stop the ‘we’re with you’ ads: Brand marketers believed that consumers wanted ads that showcased how brands are engaging with communities and how they are ‘helping’ people. But the reality is that brand marketers are almost 20% more likely to believe this than everyday consumers. It’s time to stop the COVID-19 ads celebrating community and focus instead on everyday essentials and things that take American minds away from the crisis.
    • Visual mediums see vast increases: Connected TV and video are seeing increases in ad dollar spend – an average of 32% more according to brand marketers.
    • More product please: Two-thirds of Americans are turning to trusted, premium content more than pre-pandemic. Yet, ad prices are dropping significantly. Brands targeting older or more traditional viewers will do well to advertise on news sites that may feature negative, COVID-related information as these populations will be least likely to associate a brand with negative messaging.
    • New brands please: If a brand answers a need, then 56% of consumers will be receptive to it – even if they were unfamiliar with the brand name prior to COVID.

We Can Stop Focusing on These Uncertain Times

So we can stop with all those ads saying “we’re all in this together,” or “in these uncertain times.” Those worked during March and April, giving those brands that continued to advertise with appropriate messaging an advantage.

However, by May and June, as lockdowns eased, a Morning Consult study indicated that consumers were tired of somber messages. In fact, as time went on and the only topic of conversation in the media was coronavirus, consumers began to find those kinds of ads triggering. Yes, they still want to know how brands can help them avoid or treat coronavirus, but they are also interested in “normal” products and services. The graphic below shows which ads are most likely to provoke a consumer purchase.

A graph showing the top ad types promoting the consumer purchase in digital advertising

Source: Morning Consult

During the height of the “first wave,” consumers seemed to care a lot about the purpose and values shown by corporations. But as soon as the lockdown lifted,” consumers downgraded the importance of showing sensitivity and empathy toward people like them, possibly due to the recent inundation of empathy in advertising, with the share of adults indicating this is an important driver of choice dropping from 46 percent to 40 percent between March and May. Consumers also find it less important that companies they support contribute to society, similarly dropping from 46 percent to 40 percent.”

In other words, with certain exceptions, consumers have reverted to type, and advertising for products and services is welcome again. We may be shopping online, but we’re definitely shopping. Almost every DTC brand grew, hampered only by supply chain issues and 3PL delays.

Looking Ahead to Q4

The early signs are pointing to a very busy Q4 with the digital advertising market overwhelmed with spending for the election and holidays. Many consumers are still locked down due to COVID and online shopping has accelerated years ahead of where we expected to be in 2020. Estimates are that the industry will end the year up 2.4% (YOY). Considering the impact felt during Q2 and Q3, achieving this low annual growth is directly driven by the massive Q4 advertiser spend. 

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