Weekly Digital Marketing Coronavirus Update

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

We are now midway through the fourth week of ‘lockdown’ in the UK and consumer behaviour is beginning to stabilise, with less fluctuations in buying behaviour and opinion. Brands too are moving out of ‘shock’ and conversation is, quite rightly, switching to the best tactics to utilise when marketing in an economic downturn. As a result, over the coming weeks we’ll be producing a summary of the current situation and opinion pieces on what to do next.

If you would like more sector-specific information using social listening, our proprietary search insights tool or bespoke research, or would like help planning what to do next, please contact us via results@icrossing.co.uk or through your account manager.

Macro trends: Consumer impact

We are settling into ‘restricted life’ and a new normal is being set. Gone is the panic buying of early March and ‘regular’ shopping is coming back. In the week prior to lockdown, supermarket sales were up 44% compared to the same week last year, while last week they were 2.4% down, indicating some are still working through stockpiled items. (Source: Nielsen Homescan via BBC).

Although people are undoubtedly still highly concerned about health and personal finances, some positivity is returning; with 72% saying they feel more positive about the NHS, 33% about their local community and 17% about the UK and the way people have reacted. (Source: JL Partners Polling for The Times, 9th April)

Digital and media impact

Google search data shows some of the key terms that indicated initial panic and shock (Coronavirus and Stock market Crash) have declined over the past few weeks.

Trending terms now reflect restricted living such as ‘are taxis still running’, ‘how to shop safely’ and ‘how to claim 80 percent of wages’. However, the biggest ‘how to’ searches over the past week were all ‘how to cook/roast/carve lamb’ as people celebrated Easter, although all these terms were slightly below last year’s Easter levels.

Using our proprietary search tool iXInsight, tracking search trends across Hearst UK properties, we also see a somewhat comforting return to normal, with highest week-on-week increases on terms such as ‘Justin Bieber’, (Strictly stars) ‘Gorka and Gemma dance workout’ and ‘Davina McCall exercises’.

According to ComScore, traffic has increased to news sites (+54%), social media (+39%) and entertainment (+14%). And leading GIF platform GIPHY says that it's seen a 33% increase in usage over the past month. (Source: Social Media Today).

Ad spend and brand impact

Whilst consumer attitudes normalise and coping strategies take over, brands continue to face a much tougher environment. With stores and warehouses shut or access restricted and demand down, March saw a 50% rise in firms going bust. (Source: London Gazette via thisismoney).

A second Marketing Week survey into how advertisers are responding saw the vast majority of marketers (86%) delaying or reviewing marketing campaigns, up from 55% just three weeks ago, as the industry reels from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Some 49% say they are delaying campaigns, with 38% reviewing them. Just 14% say campaigns are going ahead as planned.

There is a challenge in which tactics to employ. The traditional theory is that by maintaining spend in a downturn, a brand will increase share of voice and therefore market share. However this downturn is unique in nature due to the Government implemented restriction of movement leading to supply and demand problems. Indeed, 69% of brands say they have seen a drop in demand, up from 39% three weeks ago and 44% of larger firms say they have supply chain issues. (Source: Marketing Week survey, above).

For those continuing to stay in market, tone is crucial and although different rules apply to different categories, messaging is reflective of consumer mood; for example there has been a 27% decrease in Facebook and Instagram ads depicting human interaction (Source: Pattern89). Consumers also indicate they want a more positive tone in advertising, with 35% saying they want advertising to make them feel happier and 18% looking for advertisers to provide messages around how brands are supporting staff and customers. (Source: Unruly study 8th April).


We recommend that all clients take stock of their situation, even if spend has already been paused. We’re all in the hands of the Government (and its group of scientific advisors) as to when restricted living ends, but urge clients to make plans now to tackle the landscape they’re likely to find when it does.

We’ll be publishing pieces to help you plan for recovery in the coming weeks. The most valuable thing you can do from today is focus on analysing your digital data to understand how COVID-19 is impacting your category and consumers. Get in touch for advice and support on how.

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