Marketing in the upside down: time to go offline in the COVID-19 summer

In the marketing world, 2020 has been a year of upside downs. For marketers around the globe, the onset of COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns has left a number of questions in the air, namely to do with media consumption and strategy. Should one prudently dial back ad spend? As consumer behaviour shifts, what media channels are worth focusing on? And will the COVID-19 summer result in increased reach for offline channels like radio and OOH – and a continued revival of TV?

This summer has rendered marketing a black box filled with uncertainties – but it’s unwrappable, if you look in the right places. Hold tight for our deep dive, covering the bases of how you can optimise with far stricter budgets than in the pre COVID-19 era and how you can regain control through tracking and measurement –  even for ATL! One thing is for sure: These crazy times offer a whole host of opportunities for brands (with some brands already taking the initiative!). And if you prefer said deep dive in living, breathing video format over a 30-minute lunch: Our COO, the insightful Hillevi Lausten, and our evergreen marketing specialist Eric Vissers hosted an OMR Masterclass on this topic, which you can watch here.

The impact of corona on the consumer

Let’s first look back to March 2020 – and how everybody felt when the world changed so abruptly. There’s no doubt that corona led to big psychological effects on both consumers and advertisers, influencing many to cut their spends and marketing costs to the bare minimum. Some went ‘dark’ entirely.

But first a bit of psychology, as at the end of the day we are all human. Have you heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a hierarchical model that aims to show how humans’ behavioural motivations change due to their situation – a model that’s especially relevant in a crisis situation like COVID-19. There’s no doubt that the financial and emotional effects of corona led to many entering Fight or Flight mode, focusing on the bottom two stages of Maslow’s hierarchy: physiological needs and safety needs. Everything above, from relationships to feelings of accomplishment and meeting your potential, went on the back burner. COVID-19 has been all about staying mentally sane, healthy and staying above water financially. 

This also relates to marketers, many of whom decided to cut their spend and focus on merely digital (i.e. the perceived more ‘controllable’) channels – a reflex that helps enforce the global economic crisis even more. But going dark can also weaken consumer ‘bonding’ metrics – as was seen in the 2008 financial crisis and following recession, when marketers dropped their spending considerably. These metrics are crucial for the recovery of your brand in the future, with a Kantar/BrandZ analysis of brands following the 2008 economic crisis finding out that strong brands recover nine times faster than the S&P 500 standard

We understand the reflex to save when times are tough but this can ultimately do more harm than good in the long run. So if you can avoid it, we wouldn’t recommend going dark entirely – especially as countries from Germany to Australia now open up again and various economies show inaugural signs of increased activity.

Predicting behaviour: Where are the consumers as we enter this strange summer? 

So if going dark is not the answer – what’s the best (and most cost effective) way to reach your consumers in this weird time? Where are consumers right now and how has their behaviour shifted? This is crucial to work out before you finetune your strategy for the summer.

First and foremost, after the hard-hitting experience of COVID-19, the relaxed restrictions will lead (and are leading) to people wanting to spend more time outside with friends. In Europe for example, the loosening of the lockdown has seen Germans looking forward to going out again. With an increase in staycations due to restricted foreign travel – according to a Havas Media report, 50% of Germans are planning a staycation this summer, while 75% of Germans have put visiting family and friends top of their wish list. It’s clear that local travel experiences, rather than the far-flung trips of before, would be the way forward for this summer.

Expect some other trends from the lockdown era to continue. Thanks to the various #SupportYourLocal campaigns (including with Yoco in South Africa!), 81% of consumers will look at buying responsible, sustainable, and local products after COVID-19. Expect the focus on health, wellness and creative projects (Banana bread! Painting! Inline skating!) to continue. And if you’re a new brand, now could be your time: according to our DBT data, one third of German consumers have tried new products or services since lockdown began, and we expect that to continue.

However, remember this: Things may be shifting out of the house, but people are still interested in knowing what’s going on. In a recent Statista survey, at least 50 percent of respondents in most countries said that they were consuming more news coverage since the outbreak. Keep this in mind when fashioning your ad or tailoring your campaign.

Stay bright, avoid darkness: your strategy this summer should include offline

„We know that the summer is going to be difficult. But we should also be aware that this summer is different.” Hillevi Lausten at our OMR masterclass

Now you know where the consumer’s heads are at, it’s time to move to the next step. And we know summer can be tricky for marketers in a normal year. But here’s our big advice for you this summer: meet your consumers where they are right now.

Of course, online is a constant. We predict online traffic will stabilise with the lockdown lifting and the summer starting. After all, news sites had the strongest increase since COVID-19, but this has stalled lately as many countries slowly open up from lockdown. In addition to this, keep me in mind that your share of voice goes down when you only focus on digital channels. So online might not be the land of milk and honey, but where is?

We believe it’s time to go back to the roots – which means it’s time to talk offline. As elucidated earlier, TV saw a huge spike in March and April as corona hit, with a Deloitte survey in Germany showing that 44% of Germans are currently consuming more linear television, particularly news. And while we’ve seen a post-lockdown dip, TV viewership is still up year on year. As you can see from the graph below, even June in Germany was up 14% in year on year viewing figures, with contacts and GRP each increasing 11%. We’ve seen some brands experiment with TV during this period to great results, namely Berlin-based gaming publisher Wooga who managed to scale into the US and Canada over the last months.

TV is a great offline marketing tool in times of corona

So while TV usually follows a seasonal swing – with most of the prestige projects usually screened in spring, autumn and winter, ratings go down in summer – and while we can expect a dip this year, remember that this summer is a new beast. Watch this space!

Two offline channels that are less affected by seasonal trends are OOH and radio – and they are both well-set to withstand the challenges of the COVID-19 summer. Reports from the UK have shown that some radio stations have seen a 30% uptick in audience figures during the pandemic. Furthermore, as our DBT stats show, radio has proven resilient year on year in Germany too. Seasonally stable and pandemic stable, radio has always been a great option.

Radio a great offline marketing tool during corona

And why OOH? As we laid out earlier, with the increase in staycations and outdoor time, out-of-home will generate more consumer contacts than before. We’re talking billboards near tourist attractions, from zoos to theme parks, as well as in residential areas on the way to the supermarket, near lakes and on highways. And as people are still unlikely to travel far: Keep it local!

How to measure your offline potential

Traditionally offline is more difficult to measure and optimise, but guess what? We found a way to do it properly – and without any black-box algorithms. A sprinkle of data and a slice of probability magic later and you’ve got the algorithm that gets the job done. Here’s how it works in a nutshell.

Our in-house tracking and optimisation technology that we call DC Analytics measures offline campaigns with an algorithm to estimate the impact of a regional offline campaign – whether it’s OOH, radio or cinema (which is now back in Germany!). The impact can be any type of KPI, but it’s usually website visits.

Our own DC Analytics can help you to track and optimise your offline marketing

Our algorithm tries to find the ‘counterfactual’ or baseline traffic, namely what would have happened if the campaign hadn’t taken place. In layman’s terms: Comparing one region where the campaign is taking place with multiple other comparable regions where it isn’t. It’s this black line on a graph which shows us how well your offline campaign did – and helps us to understand impact and thus use this knowledge to optimise iteratively. 

We’ve established the dangers with going completely silent – and the media potential for this summer. So now all is done and dusted and your summer strategy needs some quick fine-tuning, what are our main takeaways?

Our COVID summer guide in a bulletproof nutshell:

  • Be aware of the shifted psychological mindset of consumers (& add value)
  • Understand your target group and their main needs
  • More people staying ‘home’ = new opportunities with increased reach
  • Meet consumers where they are!
  • ATL is a real option (and measurable!)

Remember: Marketing is not a cost, it’s an investment. Fancy a turn of the offline wheel? Get in contact with us at

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