How Marketers Should Pivot Based on New Long-Term Media Habits

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Kathy Grey
Latest posts by Kathy Grey (see all)

The predictable spike in Americans’ media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many brands to consider short-term adjustments to their media plans in order to align with new consumer viewership patterns. But as this unprecedented crisis unfolds, marketers need to be giving equal consideration to the less-predictable effects that COVID-19 will have on media habits for the long haul and the impact these shifts will have on their brands’ growth.

A recent VAB study into how COVID-19 is affecting consumers and media behavior yielded some unique insights that can help guide brands as they look to reposition themselves both during and after the pandemic. While TV continues to take center stage as the most relevant platform to consumers during the pandemic, the added time being spent consuming content right now is fundamentally altering how people relate to new and emerging media features, technologies and platforms. Their explorations and learnings will have notable implications for go-forward strategic planning among advertisers.

Consumers’ new habits offer opportunities for marketers to engage with consumers in new and unexpected ways, but the recency of these shifts mean the new best practices have yet to be written. Marketers need to approach the new media landscape as a test-and-learn environment. Here are the implications to consider based on the recent study findings.

The Evolving TV Lifeline

An impressive 84 percent of respondents over the age of 18 say they now have more time to watch, listen and read media. Despite the continued proliferation of devices, TV remains the center of homes during the pandemic, with 83 percent of respondents agreeing “they can’t imagine not having a television right now.” That includes more elusive younger viewers, with a full three-quarters of Gen Z and Millennials agreeing that TV is must-have right now. Even sports fans are maintaining their TV viewing levels despite mass live sports cancellations, with the majority turning to movies and news in place of their usual live game tune-ins and related content.

Marketers would be wise to seize this opportunity to connect with viewers in both live and streaming environments. As they do, they’ll need to factor in the new patterns of engagement that are emerging. Looking for fresh premium video content to supplement their live viewing, many consumers have added both ad-supported and subscription services to their mix since the onset of the pandemic. Four out of 10 consumers (37 percent) are now watching a free streaming service, such as Pluto TV, Roku or Tubi. Meanwhile, 36 percent have expanded their media choices by adding a new streaming service to their viewing options.

This new shift gives marketers the opportunity to tap into emerging agile technologies, such as addressable TV, to reach their customers. The maturation of what was previously a nascent advertising platform is going to be greatly accelerated thanks to this sudden influx of viewership, and advertisers should be lining up to be the first to capitalize on new formats, new audiences and new messaging capabilities.

Exploring New Media Options

Beyond new platforms, many Americans are also looking for ways to deepen their media experience by actively exploring new media devices and technology. In fact, nearly seven out of 10 consumers say they are more open to trying new media (66 percent), while over half (54 percent) have learned how to use more features on their smart TVs or TV-related devices and platforms. This exploration is even more common among Hispanic and African-American respondents, at 63 percent and 66 percent respectively.

This new knowledge and comfort with an expanded array of devices and platforms will have long-term effects on media behaviors as we move out of the COVID-19 crisis. The use of new features on smart TVs and internet-connected devices (e.g., Google Chromecast) will continue at a higher rate than in pre-COVID days, with many of these new behaviors yielding unique new audience insights and messaging opportunities that brands need to accommodate within their strategic planning.

The Tech That Connects Us

Beyond new content consumption habits, social distancing is also motivating people to use social media and new telecommunications services to stay connected with friends and family. Our survey found that eight out of 10 American adults are using their mobile phones more frequently, with eight out of 10 respondents also saying social media is essential to staying in touch with friends and family (78 and 76 percent respectively). Importantly, half of the respondents (51 percent) have tried a new service (e.g. Zoom, Skype, etc.) for the first time to communicate with friends or family during the crisis.

These rapid shifts break down the preconceived notion that people are comfortable with what they know and that brands should market to them the same ways they always have. Young millennials and boomers alike are embracing TV and the new technology through which we view TV. Brands need to follow their eyeballs and reach them where they are—not where they think they are, or where they were three months ago.

In a typical media environment, consumer behavior changes quite slowly, with the adoption of new features, platforms and behaviors taking years to reach critical mass. The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated several previously slow-and-steady migrations to certain streaming platforms, interactive device features and online communication tools. For marketers, reflecting these sea changes within future media plans will prove invaluable as society shifts into its “new normal” following the global pandemic. Even as the pandemic has reaffirmed that TV is a central part of consumer life—and how we truly enjoy spending our time—understanding and reflecting new behaviors will open new opportunities for brands looking to connect with the right message, using the right tone and in the right place.


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