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People are paying as much as 23% more attention to ads during the lockdown, and brands that stop advertising could be missing out

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  • Advertisers across industries have cut their budgets due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a study from tech company Playground XYZ found people are paying more attention to ads as they spend more time online.
  • Attention paid to ads in certain categories, like finance and food, went up by more than 20%, according to the study.
  • Playground XYZ CEO Rob Hall said brands that pull their ads could miss the chance to make a lasting impression.
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Ad agencies and marketers are scrambling to retool their strategies as the coronavirus pandemic leads to campaign cancellations, furloughs, and layoffs.

But a new study by ad tech company Playground XYZ found that as people spend more time online during the lockdown, their attention paid to ads grew 6% in March, with some ad categories increasing as much as 23%.

People are paying more attention to ads in categories like finance and food

A recent study by Global Web Index found that 87% of US respondents are consuming more content during lockdown, with nearly 50% reading more news stories.

Playground XYZ CEO Rob Hall said his company, whose primary product is a programmatic ad buying platform that it sells to brands and media agencies, used smartphone cameras to track eye movement responses to 1,200 ads over the past six months.

It found people are not only seeing more ads despite brands' efforts to avoid appearing near virus-related news but spending more time looking at the ads themselves — especially in categories, like personal finance, food and drink, and ecommerce, that have grown more relevant during this time.

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Consumer attention to ads for sports, education, and travel dropped by 20%, 13%, and 9% in March, respectively, as those industries have all but shut down. Health and fitness ads also took a hit.

Meanwhile, attention paid to style and fashion ads increased by 20%. Hall theorized that this was because consumers have more time on their hands.

Context also mattered, with ads that appear in stories about business, technology, and lifestyle topics garnering the most attention.

The coronavirus is reversing people's efforts to reduce mobile time

A 2019 study by Omnicom media-buying agency Hearts and Science found 67% of people were trying to use mobile devices less to avoid wasting personal time.

But new research from mobile platform Kochava showed a big uptick in app downloads and time spent on browsers, social, gaming, and video since the pandemic struck.

Brands that stop advertising will miss out on a chance to make a lasting impression because people are spending more time online, said Renee Cassard, chief audience officer for Hearts and Science, which was not involved in the Playground XYZ study. Making sure the messaging is right is especially important now, though, she added.

In another example of an opportunity for brands, she said Omnicom research shows that ad revenue for Amazon streaming platform Twitch has nearly quadrupled over the past month.

Cassard said some of these trends will continue post-pandemic. News consumption may die down, but new apps that prove popular — some of which are ad-supported — will stay around.

Still, the data might leave some advertisers unconvinced. Even if consumers are paying more attention to ads, 88% of publishers said brands have canceled recent campaigns, according to a new report from the Internet Advertising Bureau. 

SEE ALSO: Platforms for ad creatives are thriving in the pandemic, and their rise could further erode advertising agencies

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