What a chaotic digital media panorama means for advertisers as 2020 ends

30 second summary:

  • Between elections, a pandemic, protests against racial injustice and an unusual Christmas season, brands face major challenges communicating their messages.
  • Media buyers have competed with a lot of noise. It has forced them to get creative and draw on the store of knowledge about consumers to create original, eye-catching, engaging, and attention-grabbing content that will draw eyeballs.
  • Adam Ortman, Director of Innovation and Technology at Generator Media + Analytics, advises advertisers who aren’t sure how to deal with the chaos by the end of 2020.

Social media companies have hoped and worked for the past four years to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election when Russian activists used Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to further divide an already polarized American electorate. Tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg said their companies had worked hard to keep outside actors from influencing election results this year, which was welcome news in most circles. Given President Trump’s refusal to accept the election result, Zuckerberg and his colleagues would have to use the contingency plans in place in case users tried to use their platforms to delegitimize the election results. Beyond the inherent chaos of the elections, marketers also had to respond to ongoing protests against racial injustices in 2020 as they grappled with life and work during a pandemic. Oh, and then came the holiday season. The next few months will be crucial for brands trying to rebound after two straight quarters of stagnant consumer demand in a chaotic digital media landscape.

At least one thing is clear: the environment for buying ads is unique. How should you approach this chaotic time of year?

Expect obstacles

There is always a tsunami of ad purchases in the months and weeks leading up to an election, and that was certainly true this year. However, in almost every other way there were some significant differences.

This election saw more ad spend than before, and much of that spend was spent on digital purposes – Facebook, to be precise. However, with Twitter completely banning political advertising and Google restricting ad targeting, Facebook became the de facto digital battleground for campaign teams. Political spending on the platform has never been so high, accounting for around 3% of total revenue on Facebook’s Q3 balance sheet.

However, the social media giant has imposed new restrictions on the ads to address public concerns about the election process. Facebook required that all ads that focus on social or political issues be shown before October 27th to give advertisers ample time to ensure the accuracy and visibility of all campaign messages. In the last week before the election, advertisers could adjust bids, budgets, and targeting related to live campaigns, but could not start new campaigns.

Media buyers have competed with a lot of noise. It has forced them to get creative and draw on the store of knowledge about consumers to create original, eye-catching, engaging, and attention-grabbing content that will draw eyeballs.

Slow down

The chaos of the presidential election wasn’t even the only factor affecting marketers. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the media space (and life in general). As consumers have been forced to spend more time indoors and in front of their devices, advertisers have increased spending on digital advertising to reach them. Unsurprisingly, the increased demand for digital ad space has made it the most expensive to send messages to audiences.

The media landscape will continue to change rapidly in the coming weeks, so advertisers need to be careful – especially if the social climate continues to change. While you don’t want to make massive ad purchases just now, when the holiday season begins, be sure to run your ads early to get a head start on the approval process (all ads shown on Facebook go through a thorough review process).

Note that vacation spending is expected to start earlier this year. Be strategic in creating and timing your campaign, and make sure your budget, campaigns, and motives are ready and approved when consumers are prepared and in the market.

Minimize risk

According to a September poll by Phrasee, about 71% of seasoned marketers plan to spend more time reviewing the language they use in ads. Most respondents say the pandemic has increased the importance of brand messages. Your messages should always be created for your audience.

Due to unprecedented circumstances in almost all areas of life, the audience is faced with increased uncertainty and fear. Remember and avoid content that is construed as politically, racially or culturally charged. What if your brand has a personality that aligns with aggressive, provocative advertising? Step lightly and avoid anything that might cast a negative light on your brand. Now is not the best time for everyone else to take risks.

The purchase of media has only gained strategic importance in recent years. A messy point in history won’t change that, but it could create new pressure. Understand the contexts of the election, pandemic, social unrest, and holiday season as you strategize your media purchases for the immediate future to protect your interests and get your message across well.

Adam Ortman is director of innovation and technology at Generator Media + Analytics, a fully integrated media agency.

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