Shock And Pause: Mass Media Consumption During a Pandemic

The one thing we can count on during the COVID-19 pandemic is that everything is constantly changing. With the uncertain tension between stay-at-home orders and re-opening the economy, advertisers are scared — for very valid reasons. Most brands don’t want to be featured alongside the grim reality of pandemic news coverage, and others can’t justify running advertising when sales are down. In fact, one-third of media buyers and large brands have paused their ad spending. While this may be advantageous in the short-term, advertisers should pay attention to consumer spending and have a plan for choosing the appropriate time to start getting their message out there.

“Brands that “go dark” on television for six months will suffer from a long-term drop off on several key metrics.” — Kantar

Of those advertisers still out there, national brands make up the majority of the advertisements currently running on broadcast TV. They have done an excellent job of adapting their message to the moment.

Fortunately, consumers respond positively. In fact, a recent WARC study found that four-fifths (82%) of consumers approve of brands running COVID-related advertising.


If your brand fits into the active category and you are not getting your product or service out there, you are getting left behind. If you fit into the cut back category, consider that the brands that are currently active are winning share-of-voice right now. Some of the savviest brands in the quiet category have not been completely silent because this is the moment to say something to a captive, at-home audience. Their messaging has been adjusted, and ongoing advertising is cut back, but they are not silent.

What’s not being tracked are public service announcements and non-profit ads. Many of us have seen some of the CDC and AdCouncil’s PSAs with enviable placements. If you are a non-profit or public service, this might be a good time to increase awareness. The key is being relevant and providing value.


TV is classically known as the reach medium. It still is today. People are turning to local news broadcasts with surprising growth from younger audiences and live viewing is increasing despite no live sports. Working from home has pulled in more daytime audiences, so incorporating some daytime programming could be a way to slightly reduce CPP without generating what could normally be a huge waste. As the offshoot to broadcast TV, www.streaming services have seen remarkable growth: Netflix gained 16 million subscribers in Q1, and viewing on Hulu is up 48% compared to the same time last year.

Radio listening continues strong. The percentage of people listening to the radio outside of their home has not evaporated, even into the fourth week of March¹, well after the federal declaration of a national emergency on March 13th and during the same week that 21 states adopted stay-at-home orders. Essential workers and first responders have continued listening because their commutes likely have not changed (or possibly increased if a delivery driver). Average listeners likely still tune into radio as they head out to the grocery store, and in-home engagement increased 10 minutes in the fourth week of March². Streaming news radio has gained incredible share³, and our friends over at Townsquare Media tell us that online listening is up about 8% from the beginning of the year through early April with the majority of growth happening on station mobile apps. Market differences are important, but as a medium, radio still achieves deep reach. Local news updates and on-air personalities help make radio a timely and trusted medium for consumers⁴.


One of the biggest challenges of working in advertising in the modern era is fighting to reach consumers in the highly fractured media landscape. The digital age has opened up possibilities to target incredibly niche audiences driven by their interests and behaviors. But it has made reaching wide audiences very difficult and expensive.

Broadcast TV and radio are still the best way to get the reach needed to have an impact. For example, in the Boise DMA, there are 261,140 homes viewing TV. In Idaho Falls there are 101,030 homes, and in Twin Falls 55,050 households are viewing TV.

With most retailers going silent with their usual flash sales and deals, this might be the moment to be seen and heard in a new light. With mass media — even at the local or regional level — it is a rare opportunity to connect with an audience that is more alert, attentive, and aware than usual.

¹ | Share of out-of-home radio listening only dropped 9 percentage points from week 3 to week 4 of March. Source: Nielsen, April 14, 2020, Audio Client Update Webinar. March 2020 PPM, 45 Market Total, M-F 6a-7p, Persons 18+, AQH Persons by Location
² | Minutes spent listening per day in-home went from 0:48 in March week 3 to 0:58 in March week 4. Source: Nielsen, April 14, 2020, Audio Client Update Webinar. March 2020 PPM, 45 Market Total, M-F 6a-7p, Persons 18+, Daily TSL by Location in Minutes
³ | Listening to encoded news station streams for the 18–34 demographic saw a 161% increase in March 2020 compared to February. 25–54 saw a 112% increase. Source: Nielsen, April 14, 2020, Audio Client Update Webinar. March 2020 PPM, 45 Market Total, M-F 6a-7p, Persons 18+, Daily TSL by Location in Minutes
⁴ |

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