Despite the pandemic-fueled headwinds that resulted in marketers slashing budgets, U.S. digital ad revenue still managed to increase more than 12% in 2020 to $140 billion, according to a new report commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and conducted by consulting firm PwC.
With the pandemic keeping audiences at home and on screens for most of the day, the industry benefited from a surge in the number of digitally-connected consumers during lockdowns, according to the report.
“The second half of 2020 made up for the rather abrupt drop in advertising revenue experienced toward the end of the second quarter,” Susan Hogan, senior VP, research and analytics, IAB, said in a statement. “We not only had a rebound, we also had double-digit growth. The Q4 holiday season sales, typical use-it-or-lose-it year-end spending of media budgets, and revenue from political advertising all helped to offset the early COVID-19-induced decline.”
The surge in consumer adoption of connect TV, e-commerce shopping and at-home deliveries created the need for digital media to continue growing, she added.
In fact, the fourth quarter of the year saw the highest revenue on record for digital advertising in more than 20 years, which was buoyed in part by advertising leading up to the election.
Digital video grew by 20.6% to $26.2 billion, while social media ad revenues reached $41.5 billion, up 16.3%.
Programmatic ad revenues increased 24.9% year-over-year to $14.2 billion, but it remains to be seen how the end of third-party cookies and other privacy changes will impact this figure moving forward.
“The deprecation of third-party cookies and identifiers leave many to wonder if this level of growth is sustainable,” Hogan said. “There is some concern that programmatic delivery could be negatively impacted once third-party tracking is blocked.”
TV Shows Write COVID Vaccine Clarity into Script
As doctors, nurses and health professionals race against COVID-19 vaccination skepticism, some Hollywood producers, writers and showrunners are betting that inputting vaccines into television storylines can help curb widespread misinformation.
Shows across TV networks began integrating COVID-19 into scripts, including questions about social distancing and masking, as the pandemic spread across the U.S. last March. Now, as vaccination efforts ramp up nationwide, shows like “This Is Us” — which featured a recurring character receive two doses of a vaccine in an episode last month — are integrating vaccines into episodes and audiences can expect to see more vaccination plot points, says Kate Folb, director of the Hollywood, Health and Society program at the University of Southern California.
Folb is a member of a growing network of entertainment industry experts working closely with writers and showrunners to accurately depict health and medical information and use entertainment to fight the misinformation campaigns and nationwide skepticism fueled by social media.
Using the entertainment industry to relay public health information is not a new phenomenon. Major networks including ABC, CBS and NBC in the 1980s are credited with raising awareness toward a nationwide designated driver campaign by inputting posters and references into shows like “Cheers” and “L.A. Law,” according to CNBC.
Writers, health professionals and advocates are grappling with how to tell vaccine stories that cater to a range of opinions, concerns and viewpoints, all while maintaining both viewers and ratings.
According to a February study from Pew Research Center, 19% of adults had already received at least one dose of a vaccine, while another 50% said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated.
While polling indicates growing trust toward getting vaccinated, there’s no single reason why people are still hesitant, and in addition to race, other factors that result in higher levels of skepticism include politics (GOP affiliation), religion (white evangelicals) and geography (rural Americans). Seventy-two percent of respondents to the Pew study cited concerns about side effects; 67% expressed worry centered around the fast development and testing of the vaccines; while another 61% noted a lack of knowledge of how they work.
Ongoing studies suggest that what audiences see on television informs their knowledge and attitudes, making it an effective platform to disseminate and relay public health information.
An early 2000s study from KFF, for example, found that integrating storylines related to emergency contraception and human papillomavirus on the hit show “ER” drastically increased awareness. The proportion of viewers who said they knew about HPV nearly doubled in the week after the episode aired, while those who could correctly define HPV and its link to cervical cancer tripled.
Major television networks during the 1980s are also credited with joining a nationwide Harvard School of Public Health designated driver campaign aimed at curbing drunk driving.
According to a recent survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, appealing to concerns about protecting loved ones could motivate some Covid-19 skeptics. The study, which interviewed 1,074 people nationwide about their attitudes toward the pandemic, found that those who see social distancing as a violation of their rights and freedoms responded more positively when it put a loved one at risk.
Exercised Mic: How Does Peleton’s Safety Concerns Impact Brand?
Peloton has fallen under scrutiny from both consumers and regulators following accident claims and warnings of the brand’s treadmill product by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Crisis experts say the fitness company’s response of publicly refuting the warning could be damaging to the brand.
Recently, the CPSC issued a warning to consumers about the “danger” of using Peloton’s Tread+ exercise machine, a $4,200 product involved in 39 accidents including the death of a child. The commission, which has been investigating the product since Peloton released news of the child’s death last month, urges consumers with children or pets at home to stop using the treadmill.
In response, New York-based Peloton issued astatement refuting the safety agency’s claims, calling them “inaccurate and misleading” and noting that there is “no reason to stop using the Tread+, as long as all warnings and safety instructions are followed.” Peloton also said it is open to working with the CPSC and suggested ways its customers say they keep children safe during home workouts, such as scheduling workouts during naps or at night when children are sleeping; using a baby gate; or having a spouse or partner watch children in another room.
While Peloton was already popular before the pandemic, its sales rose even more as exercise-hungry consumers turned to bikes and treadmills to get them through COVID lockdowns and other restrictions. To continue the momentum, at a time when recently reopened gyms are trying to lure back members, Peloton last week debuted an Olympics-themed campaign starring several well-known athletes including Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix.
Yet this recent treadmill controversy could give the popular brand a flat tire.
Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!