Pandemic Programmatic: Advertising During COVID-19

Kyle Minerley

COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every sector of the economy, and many brands are experiencing what amounts to pandemic marketing paralysis. They’re waiting for the dust to settle, for things to calm down, before they start advertising again.

It’s an understandable impulse but not a great idea. The truth is that now is the time to be proactive about growing your brand and capturing potential customers’ attention.

Maintaining brand awareness during a shutdown

Hardest hit by the pandemic are businesses such as restaurants and theaters, which aren’t able to operate or stuck at reduced capacity due to stay-at-home orders. Traditional paid search strategy won’t be effective now— no one is searching for “movie theaters near me” if they can’t go to a movie theater. However, there is still tremendous potential to build brand awareness with programmatic display.

While people are staying at home, they are consuming more digital content. Programmatic display advertising aligns brand messaging with the digital content potential customers already consume, building brand awareness and loyalty. For businesses that are pivoting—for instance, restaurants that adapted to takeout or delivery — this is an opportunity to let potential customers know about the pivot.

Programmatic also has powerful targeting options for businesses that need to find new replacements for old forms of outreach. A business that historically depended on events – farmers’ markets, or trade shows, for example, – can actually target past attendees through historical location data or leverage first-party data to find people who attended and then build a lookalike audience.

The goal for businesses affected by the pandemic is to figure out what they need to say and who needs to hear it, then leverage programmatic to deliver the message.

Brand equity potential for businesses that are still open

The shifts in demand produced by COVID-19 have been helpful for some businesses, and there, too, programmatic is an opportunity to capitalize. Companies that are already bringing in new business need to make a mindset shift to building brand awareness and equity. Because programmatic is so heavily based on impressions, there’s a real opportunity to reach new audiences in this shifting digital environment.

Because some advertisers have gone dark, the competition for available inventory may be less intense, and because people are consuming so much more digital content, there’s more potential to reach them.

Again, the key is to take deliberate action. Consumers’ schedules, content consumption, and mindsets have been radically changed by the pandemic. Companies that are doing well still need to revisit their target audience personas, update their messaging, and make adjustments to stay ahead of the trends.

Brand safety and messaging amid COVID-19

Compared with other advertising platforms such as paid search and social media, programmatic is a more open exchange that gives brands freedom to fine-tune messaging. This is particularly true now as Google and the major social networks are heavily scrutinizing or even shutting down advertisements that mention (or allude to) the pandemic. As a rule, programmatic is more flexible.

With that flexibility, though, comes risk. In an environment that’s filled with misinformation and even fearmongering, brands that use programmatic need to exercise caution to avoid being associated with controversial content. Targeted use of brand safety tools such as blacklists and whitelists is key in this environment.

Programmatic represents an opportunity to meet consumers where they are. Advertisers who adjust their messaging, proactively address customers’ fears and concerns, and align targeting with changing consumer behavior will benefit long after the acute phase of the pandemic is behind us. If that sounds like something your business should be doing (and it should!), contact us today to get started.

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