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Hannah Walley 

When the future is foggy, dynamic media planning is the only way to ensure impact

When the future is foggy, dynamic media planning is the only way to ensure impact

The days of annual media planning should be behind us, argues Kantar's Hannah Walley, as she analyses the 2020 strategies of Christmas advertisers

In a normal December, advertisers would have already planned most of their campaigns for next year, setting out when their ads will run and on which channels.

This year, we barely know what the following week has in store, never mind the next 12 months. In this environment, flexibility in media planning is essential. Advertisers need a precise understanding of where ads will work, and to tightly focus their often-depleted budgets.

The challenge has been intensified in the run-up to Christmas, as advertisers found their plans impacted by a second lockdown. This required a lot of rethinking; not least to ensure that messaging and tone would be in sync with public mood and current restrictions.

Lockdown also took a number of key channels off the table – and these are the channels consumers are most receptive to.

Kantar’s Media Reactions study finds that consumers prefer offline channels for advertising, viewing them as better quality, more trustworthy, less intrusive and less excessively targeted than online. At the top of the list are cinema ads, sponsored events, magazine ads, digital out-of-home (OOH) ads and newspaper ads – all of which have been heavily impacted by closures, and by people not going out or commuting to work.

The inability to take advantage of these favoured channels has forced brands to be inventive, finding new and more efficient ways to reach and engage people.

Retailers that focus on in-store activation have had a particular challenge. In the absence of the usual footfall past its legendary window displays, Selfridges has sought to create the same buzz and experience online. The displays launched both offline and online in November, to keep this important marketing tradition alive. It has also hosted a number of online events including ‘Dial a Santa’ virtual meet-and-greets.

M&S decided to drop its clothing TV ad altogether to focus entirely on the food side of its offering, relying on digital and influencer activity to promote clothes and homeware. This was astute: while last year’s Go Jumpers Christmas campaign drove an increase in the sales of jumpers, by August this year the retailer’s clothing and home goods arms were struggling.

So what can brands learn from the strategies of the Christmas advertisers to prepare for continued disruption in 2021?

Gather information and data relentlessly

The ability to make decisions fast requires an understanding of how consumers’ behaviour, attitudes, priorities and media habits are changing – and they will change, rapidly and frequently. Testing and evaluation of creative across platforms and formats is critical, to determine impact on campaigns, sales, and the brand itself.

Assume nothing!

There’s clear evidence that brands’ platform priorities are at odds with consumers’ preferences and media consumption. Data from Media Reactions shows advertisers are allocating significantly more budget to digital channels – especially online video ads, and ads in social media stories and news feeds – and pulling back on investment in offline media, which consumers prefer.

The focus on digital engagement appears to make sense looking at the surge in in-home media consumption through the first months of the pandemic. In April, Kantar’s Barometer research showed that web browsing had risen by 70%, TV viewing by 63% and social media use by 61% over normal usage rates. However, by September this had fallen considerably.

Brands need to question how long current habits will last when they’re seeking to optimise their media buys.

Perfect dynamic media planning.

During the pandemic, 60% of businesses report having cut their marketing spend, with 30% having reduced it a lot. Reallocating media budget to more efficient channels – as M&S has done – makes it possible to increase impact with maintained or reduced spend.

By redistributing investment from channels that have been hit by restrictions into those they know work best for the brand, advertisers can still build brand equity and volume share.

Optimise social engagement

Although generally less popular than offline formats, brands do need to rely more on online. Social is one of the environments best suited to dynamic planning, allowing brands to act fast to respond to disruption as it happens.

Again, an understanding of where ads will ‘land’ best is crucial. According to Media Reactions, consumers feel more favourable towards influencer branded content, podcast ads and streaming TV ads, while TikTok came out on top of the digital platforms, with consumers finding ads here more fun, entertaining and innovative.

Be ready to flex and innovate

If data indicates that running an ad in a specific environment won’t deliver against objectives, think how you could create a similar experience using an alternative channel or format. This may require the breaking down of internal silos to create campaigns that reach across channels.

The campaign’s core idea should always be strong, clear and versatile, lending itself well to being adapted for different executions. Great storytelling is more important than ever; a compelling narrative will tie a campaign together and make it highly memorable, while building key brand metrics such as engagement and love.

An opportunity to improve

The disruption of recent months arguably presents an opportunity for marketers to refine and improve their media planning approach, and try something new.

The shifts of 2020 look set to accelerate further in 2021, especially for online video. We expect TV to bounce back, along with digital OOH, but most other offline media will continue to be challenged. In this environment, brands need to become more open-minded and dynamic.

By understanding and adapting to consumers’ media behaviour, they can increase impact even with reduced investment by focusing on the platforms that will deliver best value. This requires a deep understanding of the impact different channel choices will have on brand goals. Marketers will also benefit from better comprehending the factors which make offline advertising more attractive to consumers.

The days of annual media planning should be behind us. In a post-Covid world, dynamic planning should be the norm.

While the industry has been battered by the ongoing disruption, it could prove to be the catalyst for more effective campaigns in 2021.

Hannah Walley is joint head, media & digital UK at Kantar

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