Insights and recommendations on how brands can face the COVID-19 crisis through programmatic levers

Insights and recommendations on how brands can face the COVID-19 crisis through programmatic levers

COVID-19 is strongly impacting global markets. In the digital advertising sector, some advertising budgets have been cut, postponed or reallocated. This is why brands are currently reviewing their digital strategies for Q2 and Q3 in order to:

  • Protect their sustainability
  • Adapt their messaging to short-term consumer needs
  • Take into account new media consumption behaviors
  • Ensure Brand-safety is maintained 

To help you face the COVID-19 crisis and to adapt your strategy, we have 5 recommendations for marketing efforts during COVID-19. 

  • Maintain a global digital presence
  • Avoid relying on short-term performance
  • Adapt strategy and messaging to better meet new consumer needs
  • Find safe places to deliver
  • Prepare to attract new audiences

1. Maintain overall digital presence

Since February, countries have progressively adopted quarantine measures that have led to an explosion of online traffic. According to several analyses, we observe that traffic growth has been huge on websites and apps (+45% recorded at Smart). The lockdown has pushed consumers to spend more time online, which in turn offered brands more opportunity to spread their messages.

At Smart, we’ve compared the second half of March vs the first half, of the month for Spain, France and Italy. As mentioned earlier, we’ve noticed an increase in traffic across different channels focused in Spain, France and Italy since the introduction of the lockdown measures:

  • Mobile web +50% in mobile web traffic
  • Mobile in-app +60% in-app 
  • +83% on CTV/Set-up box +83%

Even during a crisis, brands can continue to engage with their audiences. But many of them are reluctant to maintain their online advertising when the economic and emotional context is impacted negatively. Recent studies have shown that consumers do not expect brands to stop being visible and the IAS reported that, when seeing an ad in a COVID-19 related content, 78% of respondents had their sentiment toward the brand unchanged.

2. Avoid reliance on short-term performance

Clearly, we are currently going through an exceptional crisis. This is a dive into the unknown, and concerns over the situation can drive brands to make tough decisions such as completely stopping their campaigns. But we know from previous crises that this can damage their long-term marketing efforts. 

Performance objectives are often preferred in order to try to maintain a specific ROI. However, we’ve learned from previous crises that branding could, in fact, be the solution to keep consumers engaged during difficult times. In the COVID-19 context, when purchases are very limited, branding helps advertisers to work on their long-term image. To make them relevant, branding campaign should convey a different message than usual, based on brands’ true values or customers’ current concerns in order to convey positive feelings, as IKEA did with this campaign:

Here are some recommendations on how you can enhance your branding campaigns through programmatic:

  • Leveraging branding formats such as Video and Rich Media formats (e.g. Sublime skin latest co-branded format with Brut)
  • Unlocking Branding KPIs, through high completion rate targeting, available through PMPs at Smart 

Using Programmatic Guaranteed      

3. Adapt strategy and messaging to better meet new consumer needs

Since the lockdown started in several countries, consumers’ needs are evolving daily in direct relation to the news, as highlighted by the latest Google search trends. Brands have no choice but to be flexible in terms of communication. They need to adapt their message quickly but also find the proper platform to deliver it. 

In these uncertain times, the flexibility of programmatic buying can help brands adjust their strategy in real-time. The IAB recently revealed in this study that “more than a third (35%) of advertisers are adjusting their in-market tactics and are increasing”: 

  • Audience targeting: +38%
  • OTT/CTV device targeting: +35% 

4. Find safe places to deliver

In such a situation, the placement of your ads should be checked to ensure the relevance of your message. In order to maintain consumer trust in your brand, you should avoid appearing in an environment where false information is disseminated. For this, we suggest relying on traditional media.

According to a recent study from IAS, 90% of the interviewed consumers “prefer premium news and publishing sites when consuming coronavirus content online”.

You can also use semantic contextual targeting to target or exclude certain segments.

Indeed, AI-based algorithms are now able to categorize one webpage with accuracy by understanding its true meaning. By going further than keyword targeting, semantic is a more accurate solution to help you avoid displaying ads in a non-relevant content.

During the COVID-19 crisis, it can prove highly valuable to define the specific context you wish to be associated with. For leisure goods, for example, a semantic environment around food and recipe can be a safe place to deliver your message.

What about News websites?

Of course, traffic on News websites has significantly increased. During the lockdown in the EU, Comscore reported between +53% and +63% traffic increase on those sites. It is therefore essential for brands to seize this opportunity without being afraid of being associated with sensitive content.

In such a context of increased traffic, the 4As’ do not block all news publishers by default and better ensure brand-safety suitability using other criteria. 

Of course, not all News websites are valuable, and it seems clear that premium content is always a more efficient way to engage users, as underscored in the IAS study: “Consumers are 41% more likely to engage with ads next to coronavirus content if seen on premium and recognizable news sources”.

In this previous article, learn about the types of advertisers who are adapting to the crisis and maintaining their investments.

5. Get ready to engage new audiences

The crisis will have some positive effects on consumption habits. Indeed, all age groups had to adapt to digital tools and reassess their shopping habits with the closure of physical stores. Miss Fresh, an online retailer in China, claims it has seen a 237% increase in users aged 40 and older since the outbreak began*. (Accenture)

Our recommendation is to adjust your targeting plan in order to speak to your new consumers. For that, advertisers can open their plan with unmatched cookie targeting or new data segments.

The Smart team is here to help.

Let us know if we can help as you cope with this crisis and prepare for recovery.

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