Media Response in a Pandemic

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Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has forced companies of all sizes and across industries to evaluate current advertising strategies while remaining nimble enough to pivot on a daily basis. In this time of uncertainty, a strong media response is paramount to ensure your brand is not harmed.

After the initial shock of a new reality settles, here are some important considerations to make while making and adjusting current and future plans:

In Traditional Media

Simply put, self-quarantining will impact consumers daily routines:


Where are people frequenting in a time when they are trying to avoid large crowds? Traffic is down throughout much of the country, so premium placements on large billboards on a daily commute might not make sense for the foreseeable future. On the flip side, places like grocery stores and major retailers are still heavily trafficked if there’s a relevant message to serve.

Broadcast TV & Cable

Television advertising is incredibly fluid in a time like this: consumption is up as people are tuning into the latest developments around the world, which typically results in increased rates. However, many advertisers are pulling out of larger broadcast and cable buys, creating a struggle between supply and demand that makes rate trends impossible to pinpoint on any given week.


If the message is centered around driving action, is that an action someone at home can take? By its nature, audio is a difficult channel to encourage action through, and general trepidation to leave home except for necessities presents another layer of difficulty.

What should I do?

Evaluate the entirety of your traditional media plan:

  • Do you need to run out of home media for the time being? If so, evaluate where people will be concentrated to make the most of the buy.
  • Given the lack of live television content (programs from live sports to the Bachelor have been shut down), does broadcast or cable TV align with your current strategy, or can you achieve similar results in Connected TV or OTT platforms?
  • People may not be commuting but internet radio presents an opportunity to target users in their home on smart speakers and other smart devices.

In Digital Media

People are spending significantly more time at home and on the internet, and digital media presents an opportunity to capitalize on this movement, so long as you are cognizant about one key factor: brand safety.

While searching for pertinent information about COVID-19, users don’t want to be inundated with irrelevant advertising. Similarly – with the exception of few, specific brands – aligning your brand with information about the ongoing crisis can have a huge negative impact or result in poor ad performance. Want to avoid both? Here are steps you can take:


There are several brand safety companies you should partner with and layer custom data segments on to your campaigns. Partners like DoubleVerify, Grapeshot, and Peer39 are able to create specific segments and keyword lists to ensure you are avoiding all virus related content.

Paid Search

Make it a priority to add any and all relevant negative keywords to active campaigns to avoid showing up during virus-related searches. Monitor search query reports often to ensure you are catching every possible variation of searches and negating them.

Paid Social

Even with big companies banding together to fight the spread of misinformation, approach paid social as you would organic social and consider if ads are relevant and necessary given the risks of content control. Make sure to use block categories appropriately and keep your brand as brand-safe as possible.

Some Positives for You

Controlling the fallout from a crisis is hard, if not impossible. Keep in mind that there are opportunities for you, as a brand, to capitalize on:


As streaming increases while people are home more frequently, OTT/CTV can provide an opportunity to add incremental reach to your digital media or broadcast buys; keep in mind that driving action that involves leaving the home becomes a concern, so triple-check relevancy before planning or going through with planned buys.

Thought Leadership

In a time in which people are looking for relevant information, there is no better time to demonstrate thought leadership by providing tips and advice. Specifically, the opportunity for Healthcare advertisers to provide information in their areas of expertise has never been greater as available news changes daily.
Take for example Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program providing advice on talking to your child about COVID-19: highly relevant content delivered to their audience in a time filled with school cancellations and self-quarantining.


With a general aversion for public places – especially crowded ones such as big box and retail stores – people are turning to ecommerce for their shopping needs, from groceries to toilet paper. Per eMarketer, sales of CPGs have surged over the past two weeks as people stock up on necessities and avoid environments that increase exposure.

The CPG space is competitive, but if you have a product that is both relevant and useful for people in this time, make sure you are communicating that value appropriately.


It is impossible to predict human reaction to a pandemic; the best you can do is act with the information in front of you to position your brand in a way that does not harm its reputation by serving inappropriate advertising.

Going dark completely or in certain tactics in a period of crisis is sometimes the only and most logical option for your brand, but that decision should be made having weighed the impact of both remaining in the market and exiting.

Keep in mind that these tips should not be the only factors considered when determining your media strategy. The ultimate question your brand has to be able to answer right now is, whether you need to be in the market at such a critical time.

The only thing worse than showing an ad where it shouldn’t be is showing one that is irrelevant, insensitive, or inconsiderate given the gravity of the situation.

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