1. How are advertisers reacting to COVID-19?
“In this period, we know that consumers focus on basic needs and expect brands to supply and deliver them reliably. Consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising, but it must not be exploitative or insensitive,” Joseph Kiwanuka, Senior Manager, Cross-Cultural Connections, at UM tells Portada. A CPG brand marketer in the Portada network says that since the start of the coronavirus crisis, “marketing practices have remained consistent, one insight consistently being practiced is empathy. Messaging reinforces reassurance and value,” he adds.
2. How are brand marketers adjusting marketing expenditures?
Some corporations are freezing or postponing their plans (e.g. Turbotax as the tax deadline has been postponed to July 15). UM’s Kiwanuka notes that, “some of our clients are being tasked with pausing media campaigns and/or turning back media dollars to their corporations to help alleviate the impact to sales. Many matters regarding media budgets are still up in the air and it is still unclear as to the direction that media budgeting for the rest of the year will go. We are taking things a day at a time.”
Many matters regarding media budgets are still up in the air and it is still unclear as to the direction that media budgeting for the rest of the year will go.
3. How are different ad-categories being impacted?
The impact on business and marketing activity will vary across industries, depending on how much demand and investment will be delayed as opposed to destroyed during this crisis. MAGNA, a centralized IPG Mediabrands resource that develops intelligence, expects the impact to be severe for the travel, restaurant, and the theatrical movie industry, significant for retail (check out Macy’s announcement to furlough 130,000 employees), finance and automotive, moderate for packaged food, drinks, personal care, insurance and pharma, and potentially positive for e-commerce and home entertainment. While the overall impact of the coronavirus on advertising will undoubtedly be negative (more details below), some sectors are actually starting to profit from the increased demand of families for home entertainment. “We are in a unique position during this crisis since we are the market leader in providing families online education at home. Day to day efforts include accelerating campaigns/creative to be in market sooner and even revising some original copy to align with current events,” a brand marketer in the online education sector tells Portada.
We’re in a unique position during this crisis since we’re the market leader in providing families online education at home. Day to day efforts include accelerating campaigns/creative to be in market sooner.
4. Advertiser COVID-19 Reaction
MAGNA released its revised March 2020 Ad Forecast last Friday and expects all-media full year ad sales to decrease by -2.8% this year as the spending cut from most industry verticals will be mitigated by the incremental political spend ($4.9 billion, up +26% vs 2016), and a V-shaped rebound in the second half (Magna). It remains to be seen if this forecast is realistic, as there is a significant downside risk (see question 7 below).
5. Which media types will be particularly hard hit?
Linear ad sales will suffer the most. MAGNA released its revised March 2020 Ad Forecast last Friday and it expects media suppliers’ total linear (National and Local TV, Radio, Print and OOH) ad sales to decline by -12% (-20% in the first half, -2.5% in the second half). The decline forecasted by MAGNA would be larger were it not for the political advertising revenues (2020 elections) to be obtained by linear TV, radio and print outlets later this year. Media vendors’ linear ad sales will shrink by -12% (incl. political) this year compared to approx. -4% per year in recent years. The decrease in advertising sales will reach -13% for national TV, -12% for OOH, -25% for print and -14% for radio. The outlook will be slightly more positive for broadcasters and publishers when including digital ad sales. Local TV’s non-political ad sales will also decline massively but political spending (almost US $5 billion, +26% vs 2016) will stabilize full year revenues (+1%).
The sharp decline in ad dollars is not necessarily a reflection of lower linear media usage in the last few weeks. In fact, the opposite is true: for instance in the multicultural space, Spanish-language news viewing increased as much as 50 percent last week among Hispanic adults 18-34 compared to the week prior and 123 percent versus last year. Hispanics over the age of 50 are already heavy news consumers, but their viewing has increased as well (29 and 46 percent, respectively). In addition, for the week of 3/16 -3/22 linear TV usage had as much as 182 percent increase among Asian American teens, compared to the same day the prior week.
The other major loser is experiential marketing as mass gatherings are out of the picture in the next few months. One brand marketer interviewed by Portada who wanted to remain anonymous told us that “investment is mantained in all channels except experiential.”
Investment is mantained in all channels except experiential.
6. Digital Advertising: More Resilient
At this stage, the total market decline anticipated (-3% or -$6.2bn vs 2019) remains less severe than the decline experienced in 2008-2009 (-20% or -$33bn vs 2007), mostly because of the weight and resilience of digital advertising today. Magna expects digital advertising to be more resilient at +4% (-2% in the first half, +10% in the second half). Digital media ad sales will grow by +4% this year and re-accelerate to +7% next year. Search will slow down to +4.5% growth while social and digital video (including Connected TV) will continue to grow by high-single digits.
It has to be said that at least in the short term digital advertising, see above -2% in the first half of 2020, will be negatively impacted. Third party revenue generating platforms have begun altering their payment processes. Altice-owned Teads and ad tech company GumGum Inc have sought changes to their payment arrangements with publishers, with Teads invoking force majeure on contractual arrangements and GumGum proposing extended payment terms.
Search will slow down to +4.5% while social and digital video (including Connected TV) will continue to grow by high-single digits.
7. Is the advertising forecast realistic? “V” vs “U” shaped recovery
According to Magna, “at this stage, both the macro-economic outlook and the corresponding advertising forecast present a high degree of uncertainty and significant downside risk for 2020. The key question is how long the social distancing imposed demand shutdown will be. The U.S. economy has never been through a period like this in modern economic times. Right now, governments are substantially repressing economic demand through social distancing rules.
Right now, governments are substantially repressing economic demand through social distancing rules. The key question is how long the social distancing imposed demand shutdown will be.
While in Europe substantial efforts are being made to make sure that companies don’t go bust and employees don’t lose their jobs, that is not true for the U.S. despite the recently signed U.S. 2 trillion fiscal plan. This will become even more of an issue should the shutdown be expanded beyond April 30. Should the social shutdown be expanded to the late spring and summer, the economic and advertising recovery will be U shaped rather than V shaped. Therefore, the 2020 decline in advertising will be larger than the one in the Magna forecast.
Once the virus is under control the economy needs to be available to hit the ground running and that means that most employees need to remain employed to keep processes and know-how at their companies.
Another caveat poised by analysts is about the quality of the data regarding economic activity (and advertising demand). Most economic data is based on surveys. Are consumers and businesses going to be filling out surveys in this environment? Will data be reflecting accurate information or meaningless noise?
Short term it will likely have an impact and it may also accelerate trends that are already under way. How will the coronavirus impact marketing? Four things to take into account.
1. Short term: Uncertainty and Risk Aversion…
The coronavirus may soon be contained and ultimately not have a major impact on economic activity levels, similarly to the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak. In the short term, however, things are likely going to get worse before they stabilize. That’s because virus outbreaks, by definition, initially have a very high growth rate of positive cases. Uncertainty rules. “I think the reason we were not specific was just because I think at the moment, it’s really just unknowable,” WPP CEO Mark Read, said during the company’s earnings call last Thursday February 27, when asked about the business impact of coronavirus on WPP’s China business. “It’s more unknowable today than probably it was Friday, if we had this meeting Friday of last week, we may [have] given you a different answer then we give you today.” As COVID 19 cases grow outside of China, the uncertainty is also increasing in the rest of the World, including the rest of Asia, North America and Europe (the main marketing hubs).
Not surprisingly, all major agency holding stocks have taken hits along with the broader market last week. With WPP’s shares falling 15%; IPG is down 5%; Omnicom is down nearly 4%; Dentsu Aegis fell 2.5%; and Publicis Groupe down 5.6%. In the real economy, global tourism and retail have been hit particularly hard, as Chinese tourists provide a major source of income for many markets.
2. Coronavirus Impact on Marketing: More emphasis on Virtual – Digital Marketing
In the short term companies are starting to restrict travel and encouraging remote work (e.g. Amazon told its employees to avoid all non essential travel for now including within the U.S.) Facebook, on its part, last week cancelled a global marketing conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Activations and sponsorships at live events may be impacted negatively as marketing, including event marketing will become more virtual. This is not good news in a year where analysts were expecting to see an uptick in media investments from marketers eager to capitalize on events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The virus may also accelerate a trend that was happening anyway. Executive meetings and virtual events over hangouts will increase. For an example check out Portada’s Council System of brand marketers, which conducts 12 brand decision maker virtual workshops a year.
3. Driver for E-Commerce…
In parts of China, major retailers like Starbucks, Uniqlo, Nike and Apple have temporarily shuttered their stores, while small and medium-size retailers are being hit particularly hard as foot traffic dwindles. This may happen in the U.S. in areas that have been particularly negatively affected by the outbreak. Reduced in-store activity will be a driver for increased e-commerce activity and e-commerce marketing. The big caveat here is if the outbreak creates serious supply chain issues (at producers, shipping and overall logistics e.g. Apple and Microsoft warning of supply chain problems last week), therefore limiting the amount of goods that can be purchased by online buyers.
…particularly Online Grocery…
Housebound consumers in China are turning to online groceries for their daily food supply. According to French retailer Carrefour, vegetable deliveries increased by 600% year over year during the Lunar New Year period. Chinese online retailer JD.com reported that its online grocery sales grew 215% year over year to 15,000 tons during a 10-day period between late January and early February. Concerns about food delivery due to possible food contamination have spurred recent innovation in contactless pickup and delivery services by companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. McDonald’s has implemented contactless pickup and delivery of Big Macs, fries and other menu items across China as the outbreak has unfolded. Customers order remotely – on mobile phones or by computers in store – and employees seal the meals in bags and put them in a special spot for pickup without human contact, McDonald’s says on its website.
4. Coronavirus Impact on Marketing: Boost to At-Home Entertainment, Video Streaming and Gaming
If employees are forced to stay at home more, it will also impact how consumers spend their leisure time as they may have to avoid public gathering spaces, like movie theatres, concerts and gyms, leaving more time for them to binge on home entertainment and video services. Advertising revenues of companies that heavily bet on video content and advertising ,e.g. Roku, Youtube, Netflix and others should benefit from a public that’s stuck at home.