Weekly Digital Marketing Coronavirus Update

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

The UK is now mid-way through the second week of lockdown measures and, due to the speed of change, we’re constantly receiving new pieces of data that enable us to gauge the opinion of both the consumer and market. We’re now able to create bespoke reports to provide more relevant category and client information using social listening, our proprietary search insights tool and opinion tracking. Please contact us to find out how these could help shape your digital response and recovery plan at results@icrossing.co.uk or through your account manager.

Macro Trends: Consumer Impact

Nielsen has identified six key consumer behaviour levels that tie directly to concerns around the COVID-19 outbreak. As of Monday 23rd March, the UK moved into phase 5 (Restricted Living), meaning that with movement restricted, consumer buying behaviour is focused on stock availability and prices. People are reverting to buying what are deemed essential products, which is subjective; France and New Zealand have shown 39% and 41% respective increases in the sale of cosmetics over the past few weeks, Italy and the UK a decline. (Source: IRI POS data ending March 15th)

As a result of the return to more basic needs, people are primarily concerned with health and finance. Some 88% say they are worried about the health of their family (up from 74% a week ago), exceeding the number worried about their own health (77%), and (88%) are worried or very worried about the health of their wider community.

That concern for society is also visible when people think about economic impact. More are concerned about the jobs and incomes of the wider community (84%) than the jobs and incomes of their family (74%) or their own jobs (52%). Concern about the economy is growing, with 84% concerned this week, compared to 74% a week ago. (Source: Covid-19 tracker, JL Partners for ITV)

Our proprietary Search Insight tool, that reviews real-time Google search trends based on Hearst sites, has shown changing consumer trends over the past seven days: confusion over Ibuprofen and COVID-19 meant a 300%+ rise in terms like ‘does day nurse contain ibuprofen’ and ‘is lemsip anti-inflammatory’. There was a 1700% rise in ‘alternate Sunday dinner ideas’ as more people stayed in to eat. And it seems some of us are looking to lighten the mood; apparent in a 957% rise in ‘coronavirus jokes’ and 180% rise in ‘coronavirus memes’ searches. Latest Google Trends data corroborates the focus on immediate needs, with March trends showing significant increases in queries for short-term jobs, financial relief, food information (i.e. ‘can you freeze’) and home learning, now schools have closed.

Digital impact

Conversation in social media is moving to new topics, including mental health and stock shortages in retail, as well as advice and support on travel plans or deferring payments or services. (Source: Brandwatch Covid19 report).  Social conversation also gives insight into the potential ‘infodemic’ occurring, with people confined to their homes searching for, and overloaded with, information. March traffic to news sites in the UK was up 51% on the month before (Source: ComScore data).

Ad spend and client impact

Although more brands have been impacted since the lockdown, we still see areas of stability and even growth from brands who are finding new customers coming to their category or increased sales through ecommerce.

In our first update we used data from China to help forecast. Now, with some areas of China emerging from lockdown, we can review how the ad market has fared. eMarketer downgraded its adspend forecast for China from +10.5% to +8.4%. While the slowest growth rate since 2011, this does still show growth, with brands moving budget out of TV and Out of Home (both down 5% on forecast) and into digital (up 6%).


Brands are moving to a more open and empathic stance, supporting consumers and the health service through on-site messaging but mainly via social platforms. As well as several brands moving into the production of hand sanitiser or surgical masks, The Guardian is giving free ad space to the NHS, while Deliveroo and Pizza Hut are offering NHS workers free meals.

Yet the downturn continues to negatively impact the market; Airbnb and Purple Bricks announced they were pulling all adspend and worse news for Brighthouse, the rent-to-own company, and restaurant Carluccios as they both entered administration.


Our five-point action plan of recommendations remains in place (monitor data, explore potential wins, review audience behaviour, focus on current customers and plan for the future).

As marketers become more familiar with the current landscape there are also more examples of brands finding a way to effectively engage with their audiences. Burger King France has shown how to create a Whopper at home; Nike and Coca-Cola, among others, have joined in a public service ‘stay home’ message; and with bars shut, Jack Daniels used user-generated content in an online only campaign called ‘With Love, Jack’.

Even travel brands have navigated a path; Switzerland’s tourist board gave users on social media an inspirational slice of Swiss vistas from afar, using hashtags like #neverstopdreaming. And United Airlines has offered those who had flights booked the chance to change their plans, without incurring fees.

There are still many ways to connect with consumers at this time and numerous studies, (including Biel and King, Advertising during a Recession, 1999) have shown it’s more effective to continue ad spend during a recession rather than cut budgets.

This economic downturn is unique in modern memory in that it’s being driven by a pandemic, and as a result people are more concerned about health and finances. In these early stages of understanding the mood of the nation, brands offering re-assurance and empathy are well received, driving positive social comments and engagement.

Our recommendation is to focus on human-centric communications; people want simple and honest messaging from brands so they can focus on more important things.

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