Media Buying for 2021: Strategies for an Unpredictable Time

Insights
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Media Director
Nov 16, 2020

It’s no secret that, in general, 2020 has thrown all of us some curveballs. From the COVID-19 pandemic to a contentious election, all aspects of daily life have been upended. And media buying and planning is no exception. 

As a media buyer I can tell you, I am so ready to leave 2020 behind. The only benefit of this tumultuous year has been everything we learned.

Thankfully, looking ahead to 2021, we now have a promise of a COVID vaccine, an end in sight for the pandemic along with a new administration and hope for less volatility in all aspects of our lives. But we would be remiss to assume that there may not be a new disruption around the corner. At the very least, it’s smart to plan as if there is.

So how do you plan for a new year of marketing when so many things are in the air? Let’s take a look at what’s ahead for media buying in 2021. But first:

What Has 2020 Looked Like for Media Consumption?

As we think about media management for next year, it’s important to monitor the changes that have occured in consumer behavior and lifestyles and the media trends that have taken place as a result. These shifts should be considered when planning 2021 and analyzed continually throughout the year.

Most prominent is the media consumption habits that have changed through the course of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, with free time becoming more abundant usage is up almost across the board:

  • Over 51% of Gen Z increased their online video consumption
  • Millenials have increased consumption across online video, digital TV and broadcast TV
  • Gen X has increased their TV consumption more than any other age group, but nearly all of it is online
  • Boomers have changed their consumption habits the most of any demo when it comes to streaming and on-demand video. Viewing is up for both along with traditional broadcast TV.

Trends show this will continue as long as the shutdown lifestyle is in place. Now more than ever, with individuals spending less time in their cars and more time at home, radio is shifting from broadcast to podcast, and billboards aren’t nearly as effective given the decrease in cars driving by. 

All signs point to digital advertising becoming the invaluable asset to businesses’ marketing strategies in 2021.

What Should We Expect for 2021 Media Buying?

When planning for next year, a strategic, well-balanced approach is needed. Avoid jumping back into the same tried-and-true strategies. Instead be mindful of the "new normal" of consumers working at home, commuting less and other shifts that require marketers to re-think how to reach their customers in the months ahead.  

For media buyers, 2020’s uncertainty, chaos, anxiety and continual need to "pivot" should begin to ease as we head into 2021. As a business, uncertainty can cause you to pull back on advertising, but it’s more important than ever for you to stay the course and top-of-mind in order to garner clients and sales and to avoid brand awareness decay. 

Traditional media buying predictions and strategies for 2021 are scarce. There are just too many unknowns, such as:

What Does a New President Mean to the Economy?

A new administration means there may be a shift on the economy and a looming recession.

Will consumers continue spending or tighten their belts? Will unemployment figures decline and more consumers return to work? If so, how long will it take for consumer spending in all areas to bounce back?

In addition, a new president may impact our nation’s COVID-19 trajectory, which leads us to ...

What Will COVID-19 Look Like?

The pandemic is still up in the air as we head into next year. 

The easing of media may start slow then pick up speed in the second half of the year as fewer COVID restrictions allow for more normal consumer activity and the economy to rebound.

How Should I Plan My 2021 Media Spend?

Many marketers have cut back or stopped advertising completely. This means lots of available inventory and lower media costs. As you think about your media buying strategies, here’s how popular channels are looking for next year:

Local Broadcast TV

Local news outlets have seen a resurgence in viewership as individuals tuned in for local COVID-related and election-related news. This is a bonus for marketers who are continuing to advertise. Due to COVID’s impact on traditional media, this channel is exceptionally affordable and widely viewed.

Connected, Live, VOD and Digital TV

Viewing of video content on all platforms has increased significantly, and the cost-per-thousand on digital TV has gone up. These channels continue to be in demand in 2021.

Older demographics searching for video content took to watching connected TV and VOD (video on demand) in record numbers. Now that they've found it, they'll stick with it.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is emerging again as a strong traditional option as consumers are holed up in their homes. Consider an omnichannel marketing strategy that ties your direct mail in with a digital ad campaign for a connected user journey and better trackability. 

Radio

This is one area we recommend being cautious of for next year. While video content is seeing a boom, radio listenership is not. Granted people have shifted to at-home listening however the levels of listening that take place during commutes are not happening. 

Out-of-Home Media

Where daily commutes have been minimized outdoors DEC (daily effective circulations) have suffered. The second half of 2020 DEC should improve.


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Decreased demand on most traditional media inventory has made it exceptionally affordable for now. A return to normal demand and costs will be determined by when the pandemic ends and our economy recovers. Most likely towards the end of 3Q 2021.

If your doors are open, you need to keep your voice out there one way or another.

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Integrity’s media buying team can help create a tailored media buying strategy that works toward your goals and stays on top of trends. Contact us today to get started.

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