In the first of a series covering the effect of the ongoing outbreak of the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus upon the advertising industry, ExchangeWire speaks to a variety of technology vendors and industry associations for their insight into how the sector can successfully adapt during such unprecedented times.

Maintain salience through considerate branding activity

We are beginning to see the effects of these uncertain times and enforced changes on consumer behaviours. There has been caution from many brands about the best course of action for the short term whilst others have acted on the opportunity to support the big changes to consumer need states.

As more time is spent indoors, we expect to see people spending more time online actively engaging with news and video content and an increased demand for some categories like DIY or consumer tech products. Whilst a lot of categories may see a fall in immediate demand, we expect many to try and maintain salience at this time by running considerate, non-pushy branding activity.

Providers such as Nano Interactive are in a great position to support brands by supplementing traditional search tactics and reaching individuals with impactful advertising targeted to their live search intent signals. This means brands can reach both “in-market” users with call to action messaging and also, importantly, continue to build awareness with broader category searchers, for example Philadelphia who recently targeted “fitness and health” enthusiasts to build consideration for their healthier products.

Niall Moody, trading director, Nano Interactive UK

Survival and client results should be top priorities

The economy is grinding to a halt and it’s clear businesses large and small will find it hard, with digital advertising being no exception. Startups could face existential challenges and it’s important to remember the vital role play they play in the ecosystem; driving innovation, offering highly skilled UK jobs and, most importantly, providing real value to their clients and partners. Small businesses should have 2 priorities (aside from the health and safety of employees and family of course). They should be laser focused on how to survive the disruption – “rocket ship” growth can wait until the lockdowns stop and the economy restarts. And, more than ever, they should ensure their products and services deliver outstanding results for their clients. Never has the mutually beneficial bond between advertisers, agencies and suppliers been more apparent; everyone at Picnic will be working harder than ever to deliver efficient, impactful campaigns for our customers.

Matthew Goldhill, CEO, Picnic

The ad industry will need to guide brands

With a huge shift in consumer behaviour, the increase in online traffic was inevitable, with attention turning to digital news, gaming and streaming. Advertising in key sectors like travel, tourism and luxury is paused, and sporting and live events are cancelled, so we’re increasingly seeing athletes and artists turn to live platforms to bring people together and entertain. As such, advertisers with a strong message for consumers may look to shift budgets from live events and OOH, so they can continue to access these now ‘displaced’ audiences.

On some publisher news sites there has been an issue with advertiser block-lists around coronavirus-related content, meaning brands have missed out on reaching audiences and publishers have lost ad-revenues. As we progress, this is likely to be relaxed, but must be managed sensitively for brand safety and consumer best interest.

The ad industry will also need to guide brands on careful creative and public demand; the needs and interests of a community in self-isolation will be very different to that of a community feeling the first taste of Spring 2020, which many campaigns would have been planned around.

Fran Cowan, VP Marketing, International Advertising Association (IAA) UK

A period of radical change

Many adtech and martech companies and platforms exist on narrow margins, so need the volume and diversity of their client base, including SMEs, to thrive. To support the industry ecosystem, new, flexible payment terms are going to be required whilst endemic issues, such as brand safety, will need to be addressed, as the surge in readership and news attention has not translated into increased publisher revenues. With these companies’ unique position, between message and end user, there is the opportunity to be altruistic and serve society by bringing socially-important, public service announcements to the people who need them.

However, it is apparent that this crisis will impact ad spend: with entire industry segments halting and retooling production lines for basic goods to combat the crisis comes a major lag in the ability of ad spend to recover. That being said, the impact will differ across the advertising world: structural shifts in how businesses operate will upend how people work and collaborate and accelerate trends in digital transformation. Companies will be forced to be more radical, throw off legacy structures and position themselves in a much leaner manner. This will inevitably, eventually, lead to more ad budgets moving into the digital domain. Those companies who navigate the recession, and survive this period of radical change, will come out stronger on the other side.

Daniel Knapp, Chief Economist, IAB Europe

Increased gaming a small consolation

In general, day-to-day work could become slightly harder as people tend to be more difficult to reach when not in the office and it is imperative that companies swiftly enable their teams to have access to competent video conferencing facilities. This will ensure that we continue ‘business as usual’ – same conversations, different platforms. The good news for us personally is that we are a global digital company and our employees can perform their work from home, as we are already set up for remote working. The second benefit is that consumers are now staying home and will be playing more games than ever; providing advertisers with a channel to reach and engage with their consumers. It is a small consolation in what are incredibly hard times for the industry, but we are known for being flexible, adaptable, innovative and above all resilient.

Niklas Bakos, CEO, Adverty

Demand for streamed content risks funding piracy

One of the stand out effects of the Coronavirus on the adtech and martech industry is that more people are staying at home. This will naturally lead to a significant increase in how much consumers are watching on TV and digital platforms, and we expect to see a dramatic increase in more streamed content being consumed. Worryingly, this also means that more pirate content is becoming more readily available. In Italy, the lockdown led to an increase in internet traffic of 30% (according to Cloudflare) with a spike in pirate sites and Google reported search trends for large pirate streaming services in Italy increasing. What is concerning is that more eyeballs means more advertising and more revenue for pirate sites. At a time of crisis in the economy, it is essential that we do not fuel income into the hands of criminals and that marketers remain vigilant on ensuring that their ad spend only ends up in the hands of legitimate players.

Peter Szyszko, CEO and Founder, White Bullet Solutions

Collaboration, partnership and support will be essential

The impact of the Coronavirus has led to many of our clients and partners reaching out to us over the last couple of days. They have specifically been requesting advice and asking questions on how they should act when it comes to advertising on Youtube around this specific content. We understand that some clients absolutely don’t want to advertise around this content whereas other clients think it’s OK and for a few clients, they will actually want to target this content.

At Channel Factory, we have liaised with key agencies, partners and clients and based on their feedback, we have decided to block this content as default; with the flexibility that an individual client can change this if requested.

We have also decided to give out our blacklist/targeting list to all clients and non-clients for free, enabling ad buys to be protected. This is for the wider industry beyond our client base and we hope helps in some small way. These are challenging times for the industry as a whole and collaboration, partnership and support are going to be essential in the coming weeks and months.

Mattias Spetz, MD EMEA, Channel Factory

The power of partnership and community is vital

What is paramount for every company in the ad tech and martech industry is to continue to focus on a continuation of service for advertisers and publishers; making sure they can still execute during this difficult time. At Impact, we are focusing on actively working with advertisers to show them the long term value of their partnerships and working collaboratively with them on how to sustain their partnerships; without severing ties. For certain advertisers, times are tough and they’re just trying to save money wherever possible – but there needs to be a united approach that this challenging period will pass and that they should keep working on retaining and nurturing their key partnerships.

Despite the economic challenges some industries are facing due to the virus, we’re seeing many of our clients offer free or discounted products and services to help those that have transitioned to working from home or are otherwise affected: a virtual yoga class, free weeks of educational streaming services for children now at home with working parents, complimentary memberships to delivery services providing food and other essentials. Times of crisis can also bring out the best in people and businesses, and the power of partnership and community is now more important than ever.

On a more personal level, Impact CEO David A Yovanno sent a company wide email which was a very powerful and incredibly human approach to how companies should manage this unique situation: “If a roommate happens to walk by or a kid pops into view of the Zoom camera, that’s ok, don’t freak-out and push them away! Instead, hug your kid, introduce them to those on the call and make sure they don’t need something important. And note that this applies to external calls as well. The entire world is experiencing this together, it can be a good opportunity to get to know the “human” who is our customer or potential client. This is our new normal for a while and we need to do the best we can to manage through it together.” Well said, and that is a great sentiment that hopefully will be reflected throughout our industry.

Owen Hancock, Marketing Director, Impact

Ad tech companies have a role to play

During this critical time in the history of the world, where billions of people are adversely affected by the pandemic, Cavai is committed to making its world-class engineering, data science, and product development teams available for fighting the coronavirus. It’s an honour to be in a position to go out of our way and participate in high-impact voluntary technical development work to help fight the virus. Outside of handling client requests and maintaining the world-class quality of service Cavai is known for, our people will work actively to support projects that focus on reducing the negative impacts of the coronavirus crisis. As of today, we are encouraging our technically skilled employees to actively participate in high-impact coronavirus projects. We call on all advertising technology companies with the time and resource to consider doing the same.

Steffen Svartberg , CEO, Cavai

A crucial time to connect with audiences

The outbreak presents marketers with tough decisions about what is the best message to have in market, and when and where is appropriate to deliver it. For many, this may be the most crucial time in their company’s history to stay connected to audiences. It’s no secret more audiences are turning to digital media for critical content and information, and this is presenting a unique opportunity for brands to share how they are being helpful and attentive to daily human needs.

Given that messaging needs to be communicated fast and wide, as well as changed often, ad tech vendors can play an essential role in helping brands stay visible and relevant in the right way. Brands need to be focusing on marketing activity that provides helpful services in advertising environments that are suitable. The ad tech sector has a unique opportunity to help brands to meet these challenges, especially in consideration to how the sentiment of consumer behaviour and content will change over the coming weeks and months.

Mario Diez, CEO, Peer39

Surges in gaming offers a new avenue for brands

The general public are being encouraged to self-isolate and work from home in a number of areas at the moment and many of them are turning to gaming as they are kept indoors. Gaming has seen a massive surge in user numbers in the affected areas so far and for many it has had a positive effect during what is a difficult time. It has certainly had a hand in breaking social isolation through communication between gamers who are playing online with friends and watching their favourite streamers on services like Twitch. Gamers are even donating their computing power for researching diseases – including the Coronavirus – to Stanford University.

With audience needs and behaviours evolving as people adapt to the new restrictions, gaming is emerging as an alternative for brands to reach consumers and get their messages across in-game. I think we will see more collaborations between brands and the gaming industry. Advertisers will be on the lookout for new ways to interact with a growing and engaged audience that have become difficult to reach through many of the traditional channels.

Lewis Hadley, Head of Insights and Digital Marketing, Bidstack

Helping consumers should be ad tech’s prime focus

A recent study revealed 54% of millennials have changed or altered their purchase decisions because of COVID-19. And as the news agenda shifts daily, so do consumer spending decisions, meaning ‘brandformance’ is vital in navigating the current shift in the purchase journey. It is the role of the ad tech industry to support in simplifying online shopping experiences, rather than building brand awareness. By actively working with e-commerce businesses, ad tech providers can help reach users with the right products during this time.

Advertising platforms too have a role to play in offering their services to help prevent the spread of rumours and misinformation around the pandemic. At MGID we are offering our platform free of charge to health agencies and organisations, to help share accurate information. The ad tech and martech community has a duty in helping not only brands and publishers, but everyday consumers during this difficult time.

Nickolas Rekeda, CMO, MGID

Brands should be going back to basics

Since early March, Nativo’s exchange has seen an acute and continuous surge in content consumption – a direct correlation to COVID-19 concerns and consumer reliance on digital as a source of research, productivity, entertainment and solace. Attention to the virus lagged in January and February, prior to the full realization of the scale, severity and impact of the outbreak. This mindset abruptly changed when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic on March 11.

Addressing the current situation directly isn’t a realistic strategy for all brands, nor should it be. The decisions made in the next few weeks will likely have a lasting impact on brand equity, both during and after the pandemic. Instead, brands should be going back to basics. Each piece of their COVID-19 plans should be evaluated against three main questions: (1) Is this content authentic to my brand?; (2) Does this content address a core concern for my central audience?; and (3) Does this content deliver value? Doing so will ensure that the connections they create with their audience are authentic, impactful and lasting.

Chao Liao, VP of Solutions & Activations, Nativo

Martech and ad tech are pivotal to accurate messaging

The digital space is experiencing a surge of traffic from people searching for reliable information and services to stay safe and healthy. Now more than ever publishers of trusted content are a lifeline to the local and global communities they serve. Understandably, brands need to be cautious under these exceptional circumstances, especially in regard to messaging and placement, which is why martech and adtech operators play a pivotal role in bringing publishers and advertisers together to ensure effective and accurate messaging. We’re working closely with our publisher partners to make it easier to personalise visitor experiences for the influx of first-time visitors and loyal customers, while connecting those visitors to providers of relevant products and services.

Chris Hogg, Managing Director, Lotame

Agile strategic planning and execution will be essential

A positive but pragmatic approach must be adopted, particularly on the tail of an already slowing Australian ad market. The initial slowdown had encouraged local media businesses to develop new strategies, explore innovation and apply careful management. Now we are seeing further examples of this as some publishers extend free trial periods for premium access and the very best-in-class technology vendors are really going the extra mile for their clients in terms of service, support and value. These and many other types of agile strategic planning and execution will be even more important in the coming months to ensure viability.

We’re confident that our entire industry will support each other collaboratively, meaningfully and positively over the coming months – in the same communal manner that we must maintain in a responsible and functional modern society. Hopefully we can all emerge from this current ordeal in time for a resurgent run into the pre-Christmas period as a stronger, wiser and more collaborative industry than ever. We’ve managed it before and we can adapt again to face this and further challenges to come.

Jonas Jaanimagi, Tech Lead, IAB Australia