Pandemic-Driven Changes In Media Consumption Push Consumers To Digital Options

What a difference a year makes. The pandemic pushed consumers’ digital media consumption up 30 percent over the past year. WARC, an international marketing intelligence service, expects this shift to have a lasting impact on consumer habits.

“The media disruption from COVID-19 was rapid and severe, but the data suggest that brands were largely able to adapt to the immediate shifts in consumer behavior,” says Robert Clapp, senior analyst, WARC Data, and author of the research. “The clear correlation between changes in user activity and advertising spend shows how digital media has benefitted. The main takeaway for brands has been a greater focus on agility, innovation and effectiveness, a trend that is likely to perpetuate digital media’s rapid growth in 2021 and beyond.”

WARC notes that nearly $1 trillion more was spent at online retailers last year, per the Mastercard Economics Institute, and brands are investing more in ecommerce advertising, which grew far ahead of the wider online ad market last year. This trend is set to continue even as in-person shopping picks back up in 2021 and major players like Amazon become more attractive—data from Earnest Research show 59 percent of new COVID-19 Amazon customers were still buying with the company at the end of 2020, the highest retention rate in American retail.

The growing popularity of “buy online for pickup in store,” which has seen more than a quarter of adults in the U.S. (26 percent), Mexico (28 percent) and India (33 percent) using the service more, indicates flexibility and convenience will be a key consumer strategy in the future.

Among social media platforms, TikTok was the social winner of 2020. WARC reports that user activity doubled and brands are upping their investment. Driven by entertaining content, TikTok is now the social app with the highest level of user activity, having overtaken Facebook for the top spot in Canada (TikTok users spend 17 hours a month on the app), France (17 hours), the UK (20 hours) and the U.S. (22 hours), per App Annie. WARC’s own survey of more than 1,000 marketers found that 44 percent of brands expect to increase spend on TikTok this year, ahead of Facebook’s 39 percent.

WARC also reports that advertising in linear TV—traditional broadcast or cable TV in which programming follows an established schedule—fell an estimated $34 billion last year as YouTube, social video and brand integrations lured ad budgets away. Online video now accounts for a quarter (26 percent) of the global video ad market. Digital platforms like YouTube are becoming more popular, with audiences now watching over 20 hours of mobile content each month, according to App Annie. More than a quarter (27 percent) of YouTube consumption is via connected TV devices, which now pose a direct challenge to linear TV activity.

Audiences are less concerned with these distinctions, though, and care more about quality content than the delivery platform—one in five (20 percent) consumers globally see no difference between YouTube and linear TV consumption, per AudienceProject research. This rises even higher in the U.S. and the UK, to 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Gaming and esports audiences also grew rapidly last year, with streaming platform Twitch approaching three million monthly viewers worldwide. And brands are tapping into sponsorships, mobile creative and celebrity collaborations as viewership expand. WARC has found that audiences are also more receptive to advertising in exchange for in-game benefits, and gamers are seven percent more likely to buy from brands they have seen advertised, according to GWI. This rises to 15 percent in Japan, 10 percent in China and nine percent in India.

Esports sponsorship is expected to grow 11.6 percent this year and top $600 million for the first time, per Newzoo forecasts. The creative opportunities for brands extend beyond this, ranging from celebrity collaborations and partnerships. However, a third (35 percent) of marketers say gaming is not an area of higher focus in 2021, which WARC suggests could be a potential missed opportunity for some.

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