Pandemic-Driven Sea Changes Make Advanced TV's Targeting Even More Valuable

Like the rest of a world now in chaos, marketers are going to have to reassess and rethink pretty much everything they do during and after the first wave of this pandemic crisis. (Yes, horrifying as this is to contemplate, we’ve all read that pandemic experts believe that this is likely to become as seasonal as the “common” flu.)

We know a few things for certain.

One is that consumption patterns for both products and media have been completely disrupted by sheltering at home, and will continue to be transformed by what looks to be the start of a severe recession.

Another is that ad spending — already being slashed to reflect the reality that very little outside of food, home staples (sanitizers, toilet paper) and alcohol is being purchased during home confinement — will continue to be restricted as long as businesses are reeling and many consumers are struggling to meet even the basic needs of life.

Of course, given the unprecedented nature of this crisis, the unknowns far outnumber the knowns at this point.



But looking at immediate practicalities, with basically all sports and live events on hold, many brands are scrambling to reallocate ad dollars in order to achieve their reach objectives.

For this purpose, and to ensure that every available dollar now and during the tough days ahead does its job, platforms that can offer targeting via addressability and dynamic ad insertion stand to benefit — assuming they can deliver sufficient scale and real accountability.  

“Advertisers will need to make up for those canceled impressions and missing reach from sports in areas where the inventory is available — different networks and dayparts and addressable and OTT strategies,” LiveRamp’s head of buy side, Christine Grammier, recently observed in Ad Age.

Grammier advises implementing a cross-screen, household-based measurement solution “that provides a timely view across how your video impressions are delivering reach and driving business outcomes,” and gathering all consumer data — especially on recent weeks’ patterns of TV and OTT consumption — to stay on top of the shifting landscape.

Importantly, she stresses that precision is more critical when budgets are smaller, and that “all media budgets will need to be more accountable for business growth.”

She also points out that an increase in available inventory is likely to enable rate negotiation, and “agile collaboration from the sell side, utilizing all their assets, is required to help brands, and the industry, through this time.”

Her insights bring a couple of recent developments to mind.

One is the increasing availability of near-real-time attribution for OTT/CTV campaigns. Two services offering such capabilities were announced just last month.   

Meredith Corp.’s MNI Targeted Media launched an optimization platform said to provide near-real-time conversion indicators, including foot traffic, site visits, online checkouts and app installs, plus return-on-ad spend (ROAS) metrics and cost-per-action (CPA) tracking.

That was quickly followed by’s announcement of its own new near-real-time attribution feature.

Given that this crisis will undoubtedly accelerate CPG brands’ already aggressive push into direct-to-consumer, and also push other categories further in that direction, it seems likely that these kinds of performance-oriented capabilities will be in demand by an increasingly broad array of products and services. (Which, we can hope, will not mean that companies will entirely forego the during-crisis investmens in branding campaigns that have been shown to pay off in growth when normalcy returns.)

The other thought that comes to mind is that precision is also a virtue in decisions being made about buying and placing ads adjacent to content covering or relating to the coronavirus.

While this is an issue that seems most injurious to news sites and what few newspapers are left, it affects all media to one degree or another, and it’s a deadly serious problem.

Grammier’s observation that brands will need the help of the “sell side” to get through this period has a flip side: Media, and news media in particular, desperately need brands’ help to survive this.

Putting that aside for the moment, indiscriminate blacklisting of all coronavirus-related content under the banner of “brand safety” isn’t good for brands, either — they’re missing opportunities to connect with unusually high volumes of unusually engaged consumers.

That point was underscored earlier this week by Connatix chief revenue officer Jenn Chen, in reporting on the steep decline in video ad spend on premium news sites.

It’s also one made by none other than Magna — which sent a memo to clients stressing that coronavirus coverage is “the new normal,” and that trying to avoid advertising around news content is a mistake. “It's important to lean in now and navigate the challenges rather than avoid the issue,” the agency wrote.

Obviously, such content blackouts are also disastrous for legitimate news media seeking to inform and advise consumers during a time of crisis.

Consumers aren’t children, and I find it hard to believe that many of them would develop a sudden aversion to a brand because it happened to appear near a useful article about what’s happening in the real world, and our real lives.

That goes for all quality media, not just news media. They wouldn’t be worth much if they weren’t publishing some kind of content about this historic crisis — and their trustworthy coverage is precisely what’s driving site traffic and news viewing to nearly unprecedented levels.

The truth is that if advertisers fail to support quality media offering important, accurate information now, their choice of platforms for reaching consumers safely may be limited indeed within a few months from now.

Is there really any excuse for the broad-brush approach, when there are ample contextual and other tools for being more discriminating on various platforms, including CTV/OTT?

Alternately, if some brands consciously choose to spend their ad dollars on media that mislead consumers about the realities of this pandemic, how, exactly, does that fit with the supposedly all-important concern about “brand safety”? Seems that consumers are far less likely to develop a grudge against a brand for advertising in real-world content than for supporting media that endanger them by conveying false information. 

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