With the Coronavirus pandemic upending almost every facet of daily life, and likely sending the country into an economic recession, it’s hard to imagine any industry outside of the makers of toilet paper and hand soap could see an uptick in business.
But with an increase in people being home and watching unprecedented levels of television, it brings up an interesting quandary for political advertisers.
Do you increase your ad buy because you know you’ll have a captive audience? Or do you hold off, for fear of looking like you’re capitalizing on the situation?
It’s a debate many media agencies are currently having. The answer is, really, it depends. While it might seem smart to take advantage of rising viewership – one MediaPost estimate predicts a 60-percent rise in TV viewing in the coming weeks — there’s concern about being seen as politicizing the crisis.
Viewers are tuning in to their local news for information – do you really want to be there with your bio ad?
Whatever a campaign decides, a good message in tune with current circumstances is going to be key. And with events and rallies being canceled, paid media is going to be your best bet to reach large numbers of voters in a short amount of time.
But even if consumers are home and watching more TV than usual, there’s no guarantee they’re watching live, ad-insertable TV. Sure, the cable news networks are seeing a huge increase in ratings – CNN is up 156 percent in primetime viewers compared to this time last year.
But what about entertainment programming? With live sports all but canceled, networks that rely heavily on their coverage of MLB games or March Madness, are sure to see a ratings decline. And with many primetime shows forced to shut down production before wrapping their seasons, broadcast networks are already starting to replace new episodes with reruns.
Even live-viewing staples such as late-night talk shows have halted production, due to fear of spreading the virus on set. And daytime soap operas, which typically air new episodes every weekday, year-round, have also shut down production and will run out of new episodes as soon as a month from now.
This does present an opportunity for streaming advertisers, but that’s a lot of advertisers vying for a still-limited supply of ad inventory. So while you may see an increase in Hulu or Roku advertising, campaigns don’t have any options when it comes to non-ad supported services like Netflix, Disney+ and AmazonPrime.
Another thing to consider is the campaign’s choice of medium. TV viewership is up considerably, while radio listenership may not experience the same uptick. The overwhelming majority of radio listening happens inside the car, so as fewer people commute to work, we can expect to see ratings decline, particularly during drive times.
When buying radio you may need to shift your buy to midday time slots, to capture more of the at-home listener. Other types of advertising likely to suffer losses would include out of home, billboards and movie theater ads, that will go unseen with more people staying home.
There’s no easy answer for political advertisers. Weighing the pros of increased television viewership with the cons of not wanting to be seen as taking advantage of a crisis. The best strategy for advertisers is to think about the campaign’s messaging, budget and the outlets identified on the media plan as the most efficient way to reach their audience.
Taking all of those factors into consideration, as well as looking down the economic and social effects we are sure to see for months after this crisis is over, will help each campaign determine the best ad strategy for them during these unprecedented times.
Casey Bessette and Michele Certo are senior media buyers at Sage Media Planning & Placement, Inc., a Democratic media planning and research firm.