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Did COVID-19 Change Digital Media Buying and Planning Forever?


Throughout the course of advertising history, we’ve seen many major events that changed the industry forevermore. Take for example, the introduction of radio broadcasting, the first time ads could be something other than print; World War II and the creation of the Ward Advertising Council — now the Ad Council — responsible for landmark campaigns such as Rosie the Riveter, Smokey Bear and “Loose Lips Sink Ships”; the invention of VCRs and fast-forwarding through commercials in 1971, prompting the creation of in-program product placements; the Internet (can’t forget that one). And now, the COVID-19 pandemic.


In 2020, the onset of the pandemic prompted the ad industry to change in many lasting ways. We’ve all seen for ourselves how brands adopted digital-first strategies faster than they otherwise would have, but the changes go even further than that. The digital media buying and planning process has changed in response to consumer behaviors. As we look to the future, many of these changes are likely to remain.


Planning Deeper Media Mixes With an Omnichannel Approach


As consumer behaviors change, it’s up to brands to interact with them in whichever way they find most convenient. When everyone was stuck at home last year, their preferences changed and they began to engage with even more platforms, whether they be social media, streaming services, podcasts, linear TV, radio, eCommerce sites and more. In order for brands to seamlessly connect with their audience, it’s become increasingly necessary to plan deeper media mixes, including elements of traditional media (TV, radio, print, etc.) with a strong digital media presence.


The world of marketing and advertising moves so fast these days — something consumers are both the perpetrators and victims of. During the pandemic, we’ve all grown accustomed to watching TV while scrolling through social media or listening to a podcast while checking email, but this also makes it much harder for brands to find us, get our attention and give us the right information when we need it. That’s why it’s so important to create a consistent, omnichannel experience, so that moving forward you can find and engage with your audience wherever they feel most comfortable while keeping interactions consistent.


Navigating Streaming’s Fragmentation


One area that really blew up during the pandemic is streaming. As soon as lockdowns began and companies everywhere sent employees to work from home, people started watching a lot more TV, and CTV/OTT platforms launched to meet that need. Now you can’t throw an Emmy Award without hitting a new streaming platform. You have the old stalwarts: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Roku. And, you have the new kids on the block: Disney+, HBOMax, Paramount+. With so many new options, the way people watch TV is more decentralized than ever.


How does this affect digital media buying and planning? Well, quite frankly, in order to buy inventory, buyers have to figure out who they even need to talk to. Gone are the days of working directly with a few national television networks. Today, you could be talking to the makers of smart TVs and CTV devices such as LG, Roku or Vizio, you could be talking to OTT providers like Hulu or Peacock, or maybe you’re actually reaching out to content creators themselves on Twitch or YouTube to do some kind of product integration or sponsorship.


Shortening Buying Cycles


As a result of digital transformation during the pandemic along with changing consumer behaviors, the consumer journey has become shorter and simpler. In the past, advertisers might have had to spend significant amounts of time planning awareness campaigns, but today’s highly informed audience looks at brands much differently, bulldozing their own way through the awareness, interest and consideration phases.


Initially, prospective buyers may first interact with a brand via an ad, but then they’re more likely than past consumers to do their own research, ask for recommendations and read reviews. This means the amount of time spent nurturing people through the consumer journey is much shorter. To keep up with increasingly condensed journeys, media planners and buyers must be able to present customers with more relevant content suited to their interests or concerns, and that’s where the use of advanced advertising insights and customer behavior metrics should come into play. When you do your own homework on your audience, you can help them do their homework on you, speeding up the buying cycle for everyone.


Digital Media Planning and Buying Agencies are More Important Than Ever


The ways that COVID-19 have permanently changed the behaviors of consumers, marketers and brands alike are numerous and yet to be fully understood. What we do know is that advertising is a much more complicated space than it was even a decade ago. That’s why digital media planning and buying agencies are getting a second look. Different ad ecosystems all have different signals and not all of them talk to each other, meaning there’s no single metric or marketing tactic you can solely rely on. You need to find the right tools and expertise to navigate an increasingly complex industry, and agencies have it.


The Ward Group has filled our ranks with talented media planners and buyers with expertise in a range of different areas, from traditional media like TV or radio to digital channels such as Facebook or YouTube. A global pandemic may have shaken up and fragmented the media industry, but our media stewards won’t let you get lost in the commotion. We’ll treat your brand and your budget as if they’re our own as we help you adapt to the evolving media landscape. Contact us today to meet your new team of media specialists.