It’s Gonna Be May – Marketplace Pulse Insights: April 30

Header image of April 30, 2020 IX Marketplace Pulse Newsletter with photo of Will Doherty

It’s Gonna Be May – Marketplace Pulse Insights: April 30

We are about to cross the finish line of the first full calendar month in quarantine. Congratulations — getting out of April is a notable milestone. And, It’s Gonna be May. Back in January when China decided to shut down Wuhan and other dense population centers, I remember thinking I didn’t know if it was possible to do that in the US. We just seemed too autonomously fragmented. The amount of cooperation required was just hard to fathom. Suffice to say, I was wrong. Not only are we capable, but we are a lot more organized than we give ourselves credit. The collective efforts, especially here in New York City, appear to be working. While this has been an incredibly challenging time, I am proud of how we have responded — and the rest of the world for that matter.

Our lives are starting to take on a different texture as the physical dimensions of our personal space have become so literal. Needing some space in the COVID era is just that. Less walls, more exploration, and screenless abandon. Days and weeks are more fluid without the ways in which our commutes and travels define our internal calendars. Movement is something many of us are learning is essential to our sense of things. Even the most gentle easing of restrictions will feel like a welcome shot of adrenaline. Be patient, appreciate the progress as it’s made, and enjoy the small freedoms as they return. It’s going to keep getting better, but don’t take the small things for granted.

Hope you are Staying Safe, Healthy, and Happy.

Will Doherty
EVP, Global Marketplace Development
Index Exchange

The Data

Graph of buyer category and ad spend trends for April 2020
*Tom Hanks is when this got real. Wilson is when things went flat. SNL aligns with hope starting to return, albeit slowly.

April Chart

Graph of ad spend trends by industry in April 2020.
Image of ad spend data across industries for April 2020.

A Different Look: Number of Advertisers by Category

In one of our first newsletters, we talked about the need for Advertisers to retool and restrategize their campaigns for a COVID world. During this time, we expected a drop, if not an outright pause, in Ad Spend. If we look at the total number of unique Advertisers within a category, it can serve as a proxy for how many of these Marketers have successfully made the pivot and started to reinvest. Trend lines are showing continued improvement across almost all sectors with the exception of Travel and Entertainment.


Even with plenty of earned media in the news this week for disinfectants and vitamin D, CPG continues to ramp up its investment in programmatic. The category is showing strong growth not only in terms of Ad Spend, but in the total number of Advertisers we see advertising on the exchange. Every category within CPG has seen an increase in Advertisers over the course of April. We are also seeing a lot more creative messaging come from this group in the past couple of weeks.

Source: Ads of the World

As a child of the 90s, this was a wonderfully nostalgic bit of repurposing from Budweiser.

Video of Budweiser ad from the 90s.
Source: Ads of the World


This continues to be the most vibrant category on the exchange. Spend and total number of Advertisers are up. B2B, in particular, continues to rise and is helping to fill the gap left by other performance Advertisers, like Travel. To provide additional context here, Brands like Salesforce, Shopify, HP, and Adobe are driving much of the strong performance in this category. In some cases, spend is up above pre-COVID levels.


Recovery is in striking distance! This category took a decent COVID-induced dive that accelerated into the new quarter. What’s interesting is that while the total number of Advertisers has been flat, total Ad Spend in Retail is starting to approach numbers we saw in the beginning of March, pre-COVID.

USA Today article covering Retail stores become shipping hubs to battle Amazon.
Source: USA Today, Alistair Barr

Larger retailers are picking up the load, and increasingly driving more Ad Spend week over week. We are also seeing the ways in which this sector is transforming as it turns into an eCommerce-only category. Large store footprints, once a liability, are being weaponized to provide quick delivery and service. This bodes well for the programmatic space as a whole as our channel offers the flexibility that’s crucial to success in an unstable world:

One of the more prevalent themes we are now hearing from Buyers is that nearly all long-term planning is compromised. Normal seasonality will serve as a poor guide for the foreseeable future as many decisions are being made strictly for the short-term. Marketers, much like the rest of the population, are trying to understand what happens next. As more discussion around opening up sectors of the economy happens, Buyers are staying nimble so they can react to the changes. I would not be surprised if May is characterized by some moments of volatility as Brands attempt to adjust in real-time to the situation on the ground.

Spotlight: Japan

Image of ad spend trends in Japan for March to April 2020
Graph of total ad spend trends in Japan for March – April 2020.
Image of graph of ad spend in Japan across industries for March and April 2020.
Graph of ad spend trends in Japan across industries for March and April 2020.

Overall Ad Spend impact in Japan has been remarkably flat. While some industries are experiencing significant losses, namely Travel, Auto and Entertainment, the market as a whole has been quite strong throughout the pandemic thus far. The laggards are for now being replaced by Retail, Media, CPG and Business. Like other markets, we have also seen large government campaigns urging people to work from home. Dentsu, who represents a significant share of advertising activity as well as being one of the largest employers in Japan, is following this directive. This change has the chance to leave a lasting impact on the culture of work in Japan. Watch this space.

History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but it Does Rhyme

Image of a tweet by Tim Mak: Thread: history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes: a thread about the **Anti-Mask League** of 1919.
Source: Twitter, @timkmak

I do believe our current situation is without precedent, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons or insights to be gained from the past. This was a wild Twitter thread from Tim Mak at NPR.

A hundred years ago, some folks in San Francisco had a similar reaction to restrictions imposed due to the 1918 influenza outbreak. This is oddly comforting to me to know that there will always be some social unrest and an agitated cohort loudly decrying said interventions. It was true a 100 years ago. And it’s true today. These are the kinds of outliers that you can set your watch to – they aren’t a unique circumstance of social media or cable news. Some of the herd will always lash out. It’s easy to place blame on whatever form of communication is most dominant, but the truth is this is just the normal course of things.

Economic impacts from this time also look similar with businesses reporting declines of 40-70%, depending on the sector, while some experienced an uptick or growth in business (drug stores). However, there appears to be a correlation to those communities that implemented necessary social interventions and their economic rebound. Positively, the declines are erased over a medium-term view. This is all somewhat anecdotal to our situation, but I find the perspective helpful. I do believe we will recover even if we don’t know how long or what form it will take. And recovery could depend on the steps we are taking right now. As antsy as many of us might be at the moment, our ability to stay at home could very well determine how successfully (and quickly) we recover. I’m hoping for a V – not a U.

Article: "Social distancing won't just save lives.  It might be better for the economy in the long run." - A study
Source: Vox, Dylan Matthews (Senior Correspondent)


We are starting to see countries, states and local municipalities discuss how and when to start the process of re-opening. This will be a staggered approach. It won’t be smooth. We will have success and setbacks in equal measure. We will be watching how our sector reflects these changes and how they manifest in terms of Ad Spend. I am not very optimistic our industry will return to offices anytime soon, but I am also not sure it matters. At least for right now. We have proven we can handle this disruption despite its many inconveniences. The larger, more important question is how our communities begin to relax restrictions and the subsequent ways in which the economy responds. No one believes it will be instantaneous. Some of the effects of the shutdown have not fully presented themselves either. Turbulence can be its own kind of momentum, however. We are still making progress towards our next destination – May.

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