Sometimes You Get What You Need… – Marketplace Pulse: May 28

Header image of May 28, 2020 IX Marketplace Pulse Newsletter with photo of Will Doherty

Sometimes You Get What You Need…

It’s funny how you don’t know you need something until you get it. I really didn’t think an extra day off for Memorial Day would matter all that much. I wasn’t going anywhere. I am in the same place I have been for the last 10 weeks. Days are still brisk, and only moderate changes indicate summer is around the corner: it’s as if even the weather is sheltering in place. What would a long weekend even look or feel like when you can’t really change your circumstances all that much? It turns out quite a bit.

I had three glorious days of nothing. And nothing has never been more something than now. Despite the prognications to my team to unwind, set proper work boundaries, and get away from screens, I didn’t realize how much I needed to heed my own advice. It was a good time for reflection, gratitude, and rest. I hope those that had a day off had the same experience. The world is slowly getting ready for us again, but until then, make sure to take care of yourself.

Some self promotion: I was thrilled to be on the What Happens in Adtech podcast. We talked about this very newsletter and all the ups and downs of Ad Spend during COVID. Even though I cannot stand to hear the sound of my recorded voice, you should check it out! Thank you, Erik and Ryan, for having me. I had a great time.

Hope you are Staying Safe, Healthy, and Happy.

Will Doherty
EVP, Global Marketplace Development
Index Exchange

The Data

Graph displaying Buyer category spend trends from March till May.
*Tom Hanks is when this got real. Wilson is when things went flat. SNL aligns with hope starting to return, albeit slowly.

Momentum is a funny thing. It can be jarring when you lose it quickly (see April), but it’s also harder to notice when it slowly builds back up and accumulates — not in an explosion but a carbonated acceleration; noticeable without being overwhelming. That is a lot of words to say things are picking back up. While I try not to cover the same sector two weeks in a row, it’s hard to ignore that the Retail category (Ad Spend) is back to pre-COVID levels. And CPG is not far behind. The more categories that reach the baseline (or breach above it), the better – and the sooner we can call recovery on Ad Spend overall.


Retail sub-category Buyer spend trends for the month of May.

Group Deals and Consumer Electronics are leading the charge, but virtually all Retail categories have shown strength since April 1.

It may be tempting to hope this signals a return to normalcy. However, it’s far more indicative of a change in behavior than anything else.

I will keep hammering this nail until I break the wood, but Retail is never going back to ‘normal.’ While we are seeing many legacy outfits falter under the strain of COVID, this change predates the pandemic. COVID only supercharged it. If we look at actual spending, not Ad Spend, it helps to contextualize the change.

Visual Capitalist article on the change in consumer trends during COVID-19.
Source: Visual Capitalist, Iman Ghosh (Researcher and Writer)

There are a number of categories that experienced sharp spikes once lockdown measures were announced, but then they stabilized. However, grocery delivery still remains 4x its normal rate. This is not a category that will simply go back to normal. Once consumers discover the ease of grocery delivery, many will continue to shop this way permanently. It’s sometimes hard to imagine old reasons for not embracing change – habit is a powerful thing. When habits are broken, not by choice but necessity, mental barriers are removed, and you can enjoy the advantages of your new routine.

Visual Capitalist article on the change in consumer trends during COVID-19.
Source: Visual Capitalist, Iman Ghosh (Researcher and Writer)

Consumer confidence is starting to head in the right direction as well. As more of our communities reopen, this too will increase. These changes in behavior will also necessitate changes in how brands reach consumers, and digital will be at the forefront of consumer acquisition. Brands that build meaningful relationships with consumers right now will keep them once stay at home orders are lifted.

CNBC Article on Target earnings during COVID-19.
Source: CNBC, Tyler Clifford (Associate Reporter)
“We’re building market share and I think most importantly… we built trust with American consumers during the pandemic.”
Brian Cornell, CEO, Target

Summer Reading

It’s a short week for me, so it’s also a shorter newsletter. Since summer is around the corner, I thought it couldn’t hurt to add a few good books to read while being socially distant. I’ll drop one a week. My promise is that none of them will have anything to do with advertising or digital marketing.

It’s a bonkers story and a completely unexpected page turner. It’s almost impossible to explain without wearing a tinfoil hat. Enjoy the beach read, with, or without, the beach.

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