"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Mario Diez, CEO at Peer39.
Programmatic spending has slouched as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and with more than half of global brands planning to freeze ad spend for the next six months, a rebound is likely still far off, even as some states begin the process of reopening.
But if this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that there is no easy return to normal. Couple that with the range of protests against police brutality across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and some of us have been wondering what the new normal might even look like.
Programmatic media buying is no exception, as things can’t – and won’t – be the same as they were before the crisis hit. The lessons of this moment will alter programmatic buying from here on out, forcing brands and agencies to think differently and adopt a new playbook for buying inventory that requires a more thoughtful approach.
As the pandemic plays out, contingency planning, creative messaging and regional sentiments will take on outsize importance in the post-COVID-19 landscape.
1. Contingency planning
The unfortunate truth of this unprecedented moment is that uncertainty permeates every component of our lives. Even now, as local governments take steps to ensure that they are reopening slowly and cautiously, the unpredictability of COVID-19 means that stay-at-home orders could be implemented again, as long as the virus remains a threat.
Brands and agencies were largely caught off guard and had to learn on the fly. Unfortunately, there’s a high likelihood that brands and agencies will have to fall back on that experience as the year goes on. Every media buy now must be executed with a clear backup plan in place, whether that plan involves shifts in creative, targeting or having another campaign on standby.
For example, even if more businesses open up and consumer spending grows throughout the summer, a spike in infections, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths, remains a possibility. Brands don’t want to push tone-deaf messaging, nor do they want to go dark. Brands will need to have alternative creative on hand, either shifting to less sales-y versions of the current campaign or developing new, hopeful messaging they can keep on standby (rather than reverting to the creative they are using now, which might feel stale months from now). For targeting, brands may go back to pursuing audiences during a programmatic “reopening,” but should have a fallback targeting plan, one that is possibly more restrictive.
Brands and agencies should take what they’ve learned over the past few months to formulate their contingency plans so that they can shift gears quickly in the event that something goes awry.
2. Creative messaging
Creative messaging may never be more important than it is right now, and that will continue into the future as Americans and the rest of the world deal with the aftermath of this crisis. Brands need to ensure that their creative is respectful and not tone-deaf. Images of parties, people embracing or large gatherings may not be appropriate for some time.
Over the past two months, brands have taken the critical step of considering whether campaigns they had in market or about to launch were appropriate. Many that are running branding campaigns right now have adopted positive messages of togetherness, while others are running ads with messages about fundraising.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19-related content, even in content verticals outside of news, dynamic creative may play an even more important role. There is a big difference between a story that updates the worldwide infection numbers and recipes that mention the downtime that comes with staying at home right now. There are also different attitudes out there, as small pockets of consumers push for reopening while others are exercising greater caution. The ability to adjust a message based on the consumer seeing it is going to be important as states reopen at their own pace.
3. Regional or geographic sentiment
As some states ease their restrictions on gatherings and which kinds of businesses can open, it creates a clear need for differentiating one area from another. Regional sentiment toward opening up matters more than ever.
In New York State, for example, Rochester and the Finger Lakes regions are in Phase 1 of reopening, while New York City and nearby counties are not. Residents living within these areas will have different access to businesses and, as a result, their purchasing behaviors and attitudes will differ as well.
There is no clear or consistent timeline for the entire country to reopen, so this staged plan of action is the new normal through the summer, at least. When brands begin to ramp up spend, they would be wise to layer in geographic data to their ad buys to make sure that they can understand the regional sentiment of adjusting back to normal, sometimes even serving different messages to different counties in the same state. This is especially important when deploying a national campaign where large brands would benefit from building an informed and dynamic creative decision tree for their DCO efforts.
The timing of a programmatic turnaround is still anyone’s guess as we deal with the emotional and financial consequences of this pandemic, but at the very least, advertisers can take what they’ve learned and adopt future planning strategies that consider the new normal, for however long that lasts.