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Marketing Strategy

Five Ways a Global Pandemic has Changed the Face of Marketing

Insights from NBC, P&G, Unilever and The Trade Desk

There’s no question that Covid-19 changed the world in dramatic ways, the effects of which we are still trying to understand. For businesses it marked a watershed moment as consumers shifted their behavior, much of that now focused online. That change forced a ripple effect as marketers scrambled to recalibrate their relationship to this new reality. The message had to change, according to Jeff Green, the CEO of The Trade Desk. “What you said in February, you could no longer say in April.”

In two opening keynote sessions for The Trade Desk’s Groundswell conference, Jeff was joined by Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising and Partnerships at NBCUniversal; Susan Vanell-Charpentier, Senior Director of Global Data, Analytics, Media, MarTech and Store at Procter & Gamble; and David Porter, Vice President of Global Media at Unilever. Here are five ways that the pandemic has accelerated change in the marketing world, according to these experts.

1. Move over Don Draper – Data-driven skills become key in proving ROI

Don Draper, the lead protagonist in AMC’s period television drama Mad Men, was celebrated as the swaggering creative director of a fictional advertising agency. Draper had an uncanny knack for tapping into the desires of others, able to dream up ad campaigns that always hit their mark. But that kind of broad-brush approach is no longer feasible in a world where ad budgets have to be data driven. “We have to justify what we’re doing to the CFO so that we can spend and grow at a time when it’s really important to show efficacy,” says Green. “So data-driven skills, analytical skills are replacing the Don Drapers, more so in 2020 than in any year since 1963.” From a brand perspective, Porter stresses how 2020 is pushing marketers to embrace data. “This has just sped up the digitization and modernization agenda,” he says. 

2. Integrating the magic and the math – creativity and data science

Marketers are more aware than ever that they can reach different audiences, and thanks to data-driven campaigns, they are able to target those audiences with relevant advertising. “There’s enough data and enough tech that enables [marketers] to be very specific about the consumer that they know they could convert and get a great return on their investment, someone who’s going to buy their product,” says Yaccarino. She sees an advantage to coupling data-driven messaging with well-tailored intuitive marketing that understands each audience.

3. Consumers have shifted to Connected TV

In the Covid-19 era, consumers turned to streaming and Connected TV in bigger numbers than ever before. Connected TV reached over 80 million households for the first time and cable television is projected to drop below 80 million for the first time, according to data from The Trade Desk and eMarketer, respectively. “I see it on the horizon and it is huge,” says Green of this cable-free future of television. Green predicts that CTV will open up the marketplace for advertisers and impact the walled gardens of Facebook and Google. For major companies, the CTV model marks a new way of thinking. According to Vanell-Charpentier, we’ve reached “an inflection point leading to a whole new realm of media that frankly would have been another 5 years if we had not had the pandemic.”

4. Upfronts will never be the same

In the pre-Covid era, deals between television executives and advertisers revolved around an annual May event held New York known as the TV upfronts. The major television networks would preview their primetime fall season shows to the heads of the ad industry, as well as members of the press. This year, of course, that never happened. Instead it has led marketers developing a more “consumer focused process,” says NBCU’s Yaccarino. That change, says Vanell-Charpentier, is for the good. “We partnered with Linda [at NBCU) and other networks and came out with deals that we’re much happier with,” she says. “I’m glad we had the impetus and the confidence and the right conditions to facilitate this.” From the perspective of The Trade Desk, this marks another permanent shift toward Connected TV and away from the old-school traditions of broadcast television, nostalgia notwithstanding.

5. Cultivating brands with purpose has never been more important

Unilever has long believed that brands need to have purpose. Porter stresses that now is the time for brands to not just talk the talk but walk the walk. “It’s about being positive and going for growth with purpose,” he says. “We need to drive performance without forgetting about brand health.” He highlights how brand marketing for Lifebuoy Soap has evolved this year to incorporate the importance of hand sanitization regardless of the product used. “There was an ad written overnight that said that this isn’t an ad for Lifebuoy, it’s a public information film, just buy the nearest soap you can get and wash your hands.” This approach helped Unilever build new relationships with their media partners, some of whom used this as a platform to create native content that Unilever could amplify.

Watch the full keynote sessions here:

North America