2020’s Effect on Media Consumption Habits

The Year of Constant Change

This has been an unprecedented year for many reasons – the largest being the effects of COVID-19.

From a societal perspective, states’ stay-at-home orders changed our school and office environments overnight and dramatically shifted the way we work. Our news cycles informed us of the physical symptoms of the virus, of the developments in case numbers, and testing capabilities/capacity happening state by state.

From a marketing perspective, we don’t have any historical comparison to our current COVID-19 climate. From quarter to quarter – and even month to month – consumers fundamentally have changed their media consumption habits. These changes demonstrate the definition and importance of being agile and responsive in marketing today.

We’ve looked at the impact to our partners and clients, marketers in general, and also our media team’s specific experience over the last several months. In order to assess current media consumption, we must start back in 2019 when most marketing plans for the 2020 calendar year were finalized.

Prime example, FY2020 TV Upfronts occurred in Q2 of 2019, mirroring the Upfront schedule from previous years. The strategic plan to purchase media during the Upfront season was based on personas’ known media consumption habits, personas that were also similar to previous years’ personas. Earlier this year, an average 30-year-old adult was working a full-time job in an office Monday through Friday ~9am to 5pm. His/her children attended school Monday through Friday ~8am to 2pm. Their family traveled freely via planes, trains and automobiles, and even on cruise ships. The ways to reach and engage with those consumer targets were infinite as they interacted with different forms of media ranging from OOH to Cinema to in-venue to transit on top of the traditional activations including TV, radio and digital.



Using our NDP employees as an example target audience, we created the “Sara” persona as a way to demonstrate a day in our target audience’s media consumption life during early Q1 2020.



Our national awareness of the virus started to change on January 15 when the first confirmed case of COVID was identified in Washington state. While the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30, it took approximately 6-weeks for the United States to declare National Emergency on March 13. After that declaration, individual states initiated various stay-at-home orders, closure of non-essential businesses and restrictions on public gatherings.

These measures thoroughly disrupted the “normal routine” of most everyone in the US. Schools and daycares shut down overnight. Restaurants and bars closed dining rooms and provided takeout only, if they remained operating at all. Office buildings closed and a significant portion of the workforce became telecommuters, while unemployment multiplied exponentially.

Because of the changes outside of her home, Sara’s behaviors adapted – specifically, she and her family stayed home. Sara turned her dining room table into the boardroom and classroom in a matter of days. She listened to music earlier in the day and more consistently to try to help her kids (and herself) concentrate on the tasks at hand. The latest news updates took priority over leisure reading and professional networking. Going out to the movies or for dinner turned into ordering takeout/delivery and renting a movie through Amazon Prime.



Once Sara settled into her new routine, the activities she was able partake in changed drastically and that had a trickle-down effect on the media she consumed.



We hypothesize that many can relate to this type of drastic change in behavior patterns. The challenge of parents now “wearing many hats” was a regular segment on news outlets through April and May. While teaching-need situations changed somewhat come the end of the school year (May or June depending on the area of the country), exacerbating the change was the fact that many states were going through phases of reopening during this time as well. In some ways, it felt like at just the point you’d set a new routine, states provided an opportunity for new disruption.

Brands have reacted differently as to how to deal with not only these shifts in behavior, but also the change in economic status for many individuals as unemployment rates continued to rise. Many brands pulled marketing efforts all together, opting to push off advertising to later in the year once there was a “better understanding” of what was happening and how it would affect consumers. Some stayed the course.

While we wait to see the full effect on brands, this year has already demonstrated the need for agile marketing on a scale not seen before. In the past, agile marketing needs depended strongly on supply line considerations and technology developments. Now – and moving ahead – marketers need to take into account larger environmental situations out of human control, as well as geographical variances that could impact the consumer.

In our next media habits analysis, we’ll provide our insights on baseline behavior patterns and their impact on media consumption in the 2nd half of this year.