Capturing the consumer mood across Europe: lockdown advertising

Brands face the challenge of how to adapt their ad campaigns to a different world, as Europe rises to the task of slowly and safely emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown...

As advertisers attempt to capture the mood of the current situation, they need to understand how the lockdown impacts media consumption habits, how consumers feel about advertising, what types of messaging audiences want to see and whether ads should directly reference the Covid-19 situation.

To this end, FreeWheel undertook studies in France, Germany and the UK to provide a snapshot of consumer behaviours, perceptions and expectations during this time. Compiling and comparing results across the three markets answers some of these pressing questions, supporting brands in making informed choices around the right messaging, tone and delivery channels for campaigns. Here are the key insights:

TV is central
With housebound consumers seeking both information and entertainment during lockdown, it’s not surprising media consumption is increasing significantly across all three markets. This trend is most apparent in France where 72% of adults are consuming more media on screens than they did before the pandemic, followed by the UK at 68% and Germany at 58%.

Overall linear TV is still the most popular choice for media consumption, with 80% of French consumers, 72% of German consumers and 70% of UK consumers watching content via this platform. In each region, linear TV comes top as the first choice of platform and is particularly popular with the 55+ age group, while catch-up TV is the most popular second choice. UK consumers are the most likely to explore alternative platforms, with viewing split evenly between paid streaming services, catch-up TV, broadcast TV and free online videos.

Mention Covid – but only if you mean it
Whether or not to integrate the current Covid-19 context into ad messaging presents brands with a dilemma; consumer opinion varies significantly across markets. UK consumers are most receptive to messaging that relates to the current situation with three quarters believing it is necessary for brands to address the pandemic in advertising. German opinion is split with almost half (49%) saying it’s unnecessary for brands to reference the current context. France sits between, with 61% saying brand advertising should mention the Covid-19 situation.

Among consumers who want to see ad messaging tailored to the current context, there is a feeling that brands should do so if they are authentically committed to fighting the consequences of the virus, if they are directly involved in the situation or if they are using the advertising to support prevention messaging. Across all three markets, people feel this applies most to food and grocery marketing, while Germans also want ads in the automotive and banking sectors to reference current events.

The top three sectors people want to hear from
Advertising remains an effective way to reach and engage audiences, with over half of consumers across all regions paying more or as much attention to ads as they did before lockdown. So, what products do they want to see? The top three sectors are the same across all markets: food and grocery; high-tech product ads, particularly for help with home-working and entertainment; travel, as people seek inspiration for a time when we can get away.

These three sectors place in the same order of popularity in Germany and the UK; food first, high-tech products second and travel third. But priorities are different in France, where ads for travel and airlines soar to the top, favoured by 42%. The current situation may hit the travel sector hardest but across the world, travel companies such as Accor, Claridge’s and Intercontinental Hotels Group are finding ways to help local communities fight the virus and in doing so may be building loyalty.

For German consumers, an additional sector ties with travel for joint third place. Automotive brands are particularly popular in Germany, with 22% of consumers wanting to see their ads. This continued interest in car buying is positive at a time when manufacturers including Ford, Kia, Volkswagen and many others are rolling out relief programmes and financing measures to help customers impacted by the pandemic, as well as adapting their messaging to reinforce ‘stay home’ messaging.

The right tone varies by sector
Setting the right tone with ad messaging is a balancing act. At a time of global crisis it may feel risky to bring humour into campaigns but consumers across all three markets are looking for light relief – with 68% in France, 58% of UK consumers and 51% of Germans preferring ads that make them laugh. As long as ads respect the severity of the situation and align authentically with brand values, humour is a positive way to connect. In both the UK and Germany, special offers or discounts ads are second most popular, while in France people favour ads that make them dream, tying in with the market preference for travel advertising.

Delving deeper into the results, it is clear people expect a different tone from brand ads depending on sectors. For brands in the food and groceries sector, people from all three regions want ads that either create an emotional connection, offer a discount or relate to the current news. For the travel sector, on the other hand, the preference is for ads that make you dream. In the high-tech products sector, the French and British look for ads that offer discounts, while Germans prefer ads that move them, creating an emotional connection.

Maintaining momentum
Ad campaigns are still more than welcome across all three countries and media consumption is particularly high, so if brands continue to advertise, bearing in mind channel, context and tone, it is a powerful initiative to support both consumers and publishers. Media owners are making unprecedented efforts to support advertisers and reduce friction in the buying process, with broadcasters waiving some fees, making premium placements more accessible and helping out with production to ensure ad campaigns continue.

Many are getting involved in "business for good" initiatives, including Scottish broadcaster STV, which is offering free advertising to charities and local businesses at this time. French broadcasters have joined forces to run a TV campaign thanking the advertisers who are maintaining campaigns during the crisis and are, in turn, supporting local media.

Brands inevitably need to revise their advertising and communication strategies during this unique period, but as Europe gradually eases out of the Covid-19 lockdown there is still ample opportunity for informed brands to reach audiences with impactful, engaging and appropriate messaging.

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Methodology: The FreeWheel study was carried out in partnership with independent third party Happydemics, using 10 questions answered via in-app mobile forms. The study was carried out among 1,082 respondents on 25th March 2020 in France, among 1,141 respondents on 15th April 2020 in the UK, and among 1,144 respondents between 16th and 20th April 2020 in Germany.

FreeWheel, a Comcast company, is a provider of comprehensive ad platforms for publishers, advertisers, and media buyers. Powered by premium video content, robust data, and advanced technology, the company is revolutionising the way publishers and marketers transact across all screens, data types, and sales channels.