Meeting People Where They Are: COVID-19 & Media Consumption

Written byFIG Team
November 3, 2020

Seven months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that most of humanity has been united by one thing: our lives have changed — in most cases significantly. 

One of the many realms of daily life that has changed drastically is how media is being consumed, and brand advertising has had to pivot to mirror that. Around the beginning of the pandemic — a particularly sensitive, scary moment — brands learned the importance of connecting authentically to people without being crass or shamelessly profiting from a difficult time. Some did it better than others. Those brands that viewed this uncharted territory in media as a response, rather than an opportunity, have generally been much more successful. They marketed their products in a way that’s not just trying to make a quick buck from a tragic situation. The takeaway was (and still is) to acknowledge that this is a tough time, and be specific and realistic — rather than breathlessly hyperbolic — about what your product can offer.

Like so many other things in life, new media consumption trends will not soon go back to the way they were pre-pandemic: A recent Oxford Business Group article has affirmed — unsurprisingly — that the coronavirus pandemic gave rise to a major surge in online media consumption.

Since then, online traffic has only grown. Digital advertising revenue has also seen notable growth: US digital advertising sales will be up 6% in 2020, according to trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau. And subscription-based streaming services are becoming increasingly popular (in late May, HBO introduced its HBO Max streaming service, and NBC followed in mid-July with Peacock). These flexible platforms have become part of the new normal, whether for work or play, news or entertainment. 

Social media has also become a lifeline during the pandemic. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, 70% of consumers worldwide are spending more time on their smartphones, with 44% spending more time on social media specifically. And while it still offers the pop-culture memes and dog videos as always (both of which we definitely consider essential for a happy life), social media has also served a more serious need during the pandemic: as a place to explore difficult topics, from isolation and mental health to learning how to stay safe. It’s been a way for people to come together while being apart, and discussions have been frank, open, and in many cases, raw. In one example, cited by Wunderman Thompson, weekly mentions of job losses, layoffs, and unemployment were more than five times higher in March than in January.

Topics once considered taboo are now being openly shared on social media. Just one of these many participatory digital experiences, the Social Distance Project (which took shape on Instagram), showed this serious side of social media, publishing anonymous submissions documenting the challenges of daily life in lockdown. In doing so, this project perfectly captured the zeitgeist and created authentic human connections at a time when they were sorely needed. 

In all of the above trends, the common denominators are convenience and authenticity. Both streaming and social media aim to meet people where they are, both physically and emotionally, and give them an opportunity to consume and share content when and how they want. So not only is it important to advertise on these platforms, but it’s more important than ever to connect in an organic way to people, no matter whether you’re addressing a demonstrated consumer need or just serving a lighthearted moment. 

Media trends have shifted as the pandemic has gone on, but one thing remains the same as it was back in the spring: Creating authentic connections, rather than empty sales pitches, is essential to successfully navigating a continued media consumption boom — building your brand equity at a pivotal time. And that’s where the team at FIG can assist. We’re here to help you craft an authentic story — and a nimble, hyper-responsive media plan — that truly meets people where they are, and creates customer loyalty and trust that will continue long after we make it past our current challenges together.

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