Megan Keane

Associate Director of Integrated Strategy | dentsu Americas

This week’s trends touch on several emerging media consumption habits gaining steam, before jumping into a deep dive how the pandemic has laid the groundwork for both an embrace of more virtual lives as well as a resurrection of analog pastimes.

Accelerating Adoption of ‘Fringe’ Media

Recessions tend to accelerate transitions in media consumption that were already underway, giving rise to the most defining media of their respective decades: Radio in the 1930’s, broadcast TV in the 1950’s and social media in the 2010’s. Today, we’re facing a recession coupled with a pandemic. Many media consumption habits are in flux, including:

  • The Rise of TikTok: Transition into Collaborative Media Spaces. TikTok, the app for making and sharing short videos, is gaining new audiences as quarantined families seek entertainment and quality-time. From January to March 2020, TikTok’s user base grew by 44% among the US population.
  • Lockdown has increased streaming TV usage occasions. Streaming had recently cemented its status as a mainstay in consumer’s media habits - subscriptions surpassed cable TV for the first time in March 2019. Now, amid stay-at-home orders, streaming volume is rising rapidly:
  • Grocery delivery may accelerate eCommerce behavior. Grocery shopping had long resisted the transition to eCommerce, yet, that changed in a few short weeks. April online grocery sales of $5.3 billion smashed the previous record of $4 billion set in March. Not only that, but shoppers placed more frequent orders (1.6 online orders, up from 1.2 in March). Regardless of whether online ordering remains at this height post-pandemic, threshold comfort-levels for purchasing online have been permanently shifted.

Virtual Worlds Are Gaining Traction

One highly “fringe” behavior – engaging with virtual worlds or ‘the metaverse’ – is not new but now feels more plausible and mainstream amid shutdowns and transformed social interactions.

  • COVID-19 has accelerated the use of virtual shared space. Students from Brown, MIT, Penn, and more rebuilt their college campuses in Minecraft, parents are hosting Roblox playdates and Fortnite just added a new mode called "Party Royale" to encourage players to spend more time hanging out. 
  • Consumers invest time and money in ‘looking good’ online. An interior design service launched in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, offering to spruce up virtual homes for $50/hour, lifestyle organization 100 Thieves just made its notoriously hard to get streetwear collection available in the game and designer Sandy Liang recently sponsored an in-game pop-up shop. 
  • Consumers are using screens as a window to travel: Airbnb announced that it will offer remote tourism through entirely digital experiences with hosts and in early April, the Jamaica Tourist Board kicked off its “Escape to Jamaica” series on Instagram Live, inviting virtual visitors to participate in dance parties, cooking demos and more.

Simultaneously, People Pull Back into Analog Pastimes

Despite culture embracing virtual lives, that doesn’t mean people want to be “on” all the time. As The New York Times: On Tech puts it, “Many of us are finding that it’s easy to overload on the virtual professional and social obligations… As we settle in, though, we need to lower our expectations for virtual life, figure out new social norms and sometimes fall back to old-school ways of connecting.”

  • Illustrating that, the humble phone call has made a comeback: AT&T reports that the number of cellular calls had risen 35% and Verizon reports that the length of calls was up 33% from an average day before the outbreak.
  • People are also revisiting old-school activities to unwind and connect with each other: Hasbro reported that its collection of board games, video games, and card games grew 40% from a year ago, 136-year-old puzzle maker Ravensburger has been selling puzzles at a rate of nearly 20 per minute, and U.S. book market sales were up 14% week-over-week, according to NPD BookScan.

What does this mean for modern marketers?

  • Understand what channels/tactics need to move from an afterthought to a first thought and which need to be deprioritized. Streamlining marketing is in some ways easier to do during a downturn. The challenge is using the added pressure to make strategic decisions about where to cut spending, where to hold it steady, and where to increase it.
  • Think about how to level-up consumers’ virtual experience. Current trends around virtual travel and the importance of virtual goods as communities go digital may well extend beyond the lockdown. As consumers start to consider their physical-/virtual-selves holistically, brands can tap into those wants/needs.
  • Consumers are recognizing that disconnecting can result in more quality-time. Renewed interest in low-tech, contemplative activities offer brands distinctive ways to help facilitate or become a part of consumers’ ‘break-time’ as so much of our lives moves online.

Download our latest Dentsu Pulse for recent industry trends & insights >

Download our latest Crisis Navigator Report, a weekly consumer survey >