The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. To name a few: for those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs, it’s changed how we work; it’s changed how we care for our kids; it’s changed how we entertain and inform ourselves. 

If you find yourself streaming more TV through Netflix or Hulu because you’re home almost 24/7, or listening to fewer podcasts because you’re no longer commuting to work, you’re not alone. As Americans stay at home, simultaneously searching for the latest information on the virus as well as seeking a respite from it all, media consumption habits have shifted dramatically in favor of the on-demand accessibility and endless supply of digital content. 

According to a March study done by the digital advertising tracking company Integral Ad Science, 88% of people are changing the types of content they consume online because of the coronavirus situation. Political organizations need to adapt to this shift in real-time by focusing on the most seismic changes in audience consumption behavior and what that means for how we plan and buy media online. With less than 200 days until Election Day, there is no time to lose.

First, prioritize news content, especially local news, both as a place to reach voters and as a creative message.

The same Integral Ad Science study I mentioned above found that 59% of people are consuming more news, generally speaking, because of the evolving coronavirus situation. Similarly, recent Comscore data shows that the month of March contained the highest week of visits to news sites in 2020, by far – there were more than 100 million more news site visits than the next highest week.

Certainly, big news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post are seeing a moderate increase in traffic thanks to this trend. But even as media conglomerates slash the staff of local media outlets, these sites are also experiencing a huge surge in web traffic. According to a New York Times analysis of website traffic data from SimilarWeb, sites like SeattleTimes.com, BostonGlobe.com, SFChronicle.com, and BeaconJournal.com have experienced a growth in traffic anywhere from +50% to +150% during the month of March.

Courier Newsroom, a progressive digital media company in which ACRONYM has a majority investment, has seen a similar spike in readership thanks to its original reporting and locally focused coronavirus content. Courier’s portfolio of eight sites collectively saw growth of 79% in the month of March, and Apple featured the UpNorthNews Daily Coronavirus Update in Wisconsin in their “COVID-19: Essential Listening” collection on Apple Podcasts.

At ACRONYM, we’ve also found that featuring news content itself in digital ad campaign creative can give power and credibility to the message, especially during these times when so much seems uncertain. During March, PACRONYM’s Trump accountability campaign, Four is Enough, saw an engagement rate that was 338% higher (‼️) on coronavirus boosted news content versus more traditional digital ads that were shown to the same audience.

Americans everywhere, myself included, are hungry for the latest news about the pandemic and we’re bound to our homes, where we’re consuming more news than ever. In a media environment where the news changes by the hour every day, political organizations and campaigns can reach these voters with digital ads that give them the news content they’re craving while packaging it to show them who’s singularly responsible for fatally exacerbating this crisis: President Donald Trump.

Second, we need to take advantage of the fact that entertainment media consumption is shifting into high-attention environments like connected TV, audio streaming, and gaming.

Americans are sheltering in place across the country and many of us are looking to entertainment to help distract them from our frightening new reality. Previously reliable escapes like catching an NBA game on primetime TV or listening to the local radio morning show during the commute to work have altogether vanished. Sports aren’t being played. People aren’t commuting. Now, in their place, connected TVs, smart speakers, and gaming consoles reign.

Just a few weeks into this crisis, we’re already seeing the shift take hold, as OTT platforms like Roku, HBONow, and Tubi are all experiencing a surge in video viewership. A Roku analysis of Nielsen data shows that OTT streaming grew 5.5%-11.5% in March compared with the beginning of January. Daily binge viewing of three or more episodes on HBO Now increased by 65% in the past month. Tubi has seen a 50% spike in new users in the past two weeks. 

And in lieu of live sports, people are satiating their competitive spirits through video games. According to Verizon, gaming saw a 75% surge week over week in data usage in the U.S. last month. Usage of the video game streaming platform Twitch, where users watch and connect with other people playing video games – like Minecraft and Fortnite – live, has grown nearly 20%.

Listening to music has also sharply increased as families hunker down together at home. According to an internal user survey, Pandora reports that 42% of its listeners say they are spending more time streaming music (60% alone and 35% co-listening) with 82% saying it has helped improve their mood. But more importantly to us, the way they listen has changed. Typically mobile listening is what drives Pandora’s scale, but with the current environment, droves of listeners are signing in on their smart speakers for the first time,  averaging 30k-70k new connected devices per day.

The political industry has always valued video and audio ad formats at a premium because of their captive audience and their ability to achieve persuasion goals that social media graphics or display advertising just can’t accomplish alone. Thanks to this significant shift in voter behavior, ad inventory availability has opened up and ad pricing, as a result, has gone down. Adobe Ad Cloud’s trends data reports digital CPMs are down 5-10% while the volume of valuable video inventory like Connected TV is up 7-15%. This means that campaigns and organizations can reach more voters more efficiently with these already impactful ad formats.

Finally, we need to maximize this unprecedented moment when Americans’ willingness to engage in political or issue-based content is heightened.

We’ve already established that Americans are now Very Online with so many of us are homebound. Indeed, messaging across Facebook’s platforms has increased by 50 percent, and YouTube views are up 500 percent. But more importantly to campaigns and political organizations, Americans are now also much more tuned in to what our elected officials are doing – or failing to do – to keep us safe.

While a lot of media attention has been given to in-person protests in state capitals, we know that there’s an increase in civic engagement online as well. In ACRONYM’s programs targeting persuadable voters online, we saw a 230% increase in engagement in March across all of our media, including messaging around taxes, offshoring jobs, medicare, and Trump-coronavirus messaging.

Other progressive groups are also trying to capitalize on increased online civic engagement. MoveOn.org, which has seen significant membership growth since the pandemic hit America, is continuing on its momentum with a #FlattenTheCurve list building campaign. NextGen America this week launched a list building pledge to fight for climate action and marijuana legalization by engaging young voters and organizing where they spend their time now, like having a virtual Earth Day Rally “in” the wildly popular online video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Right now, you’d probably have a hard time finding a single American who’s content with how our lives have upended so quickly and so drastically, which is why so many more of us are seeking more information from news outlets and unwinding through more digital entertainment. None of us are pleased, and homebound Americans are itching to do literally anything that takes us out of our homes and back into normalcy. Encouragingly, many are channeling that eagerness into civic engagement, giving progressive campaigns and political organizations a unique opportunity to reach and engage people through our digital ad campaigns.

Now is the time to get into the fight. With the clock ticking quickly toward Election Day, it’s time to spend your money and make the big asks of both our strongest supporters and persuadables alike. Our democracy literally depends on it.

Shannon Kowalczyk is the Chief Marketing Officer at ACRONYM.

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Shannon Kowalczyk

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