Writing this from my home in Prairie Village (Kansas) rather than the emfluence office in the Crossroads (Kansas City, Missouri), I can only muse that the old saying “the only constant in life is change” seems like a huge understatement. COVID-19 has certainly upended all of our lives, especially those in the service, healthcare, & hospitality industries. I’m left to reflect on how this crisis is affecting the Paid Media landscape, not because it’s the most important aspect of our lives, but because sometimes it’s good to focus on what you know.

As I write this on March 19, we’re still in a measurement period for our paid media campaigns. A “wait and see” time if you will. Here are the big ideas I’m mulling over while we consider our steps forward.

Stretching Paid Media To Replace Lost Lead Generation From Tradeshows

At emfluence, we implement quite a few paid media campaigns to support tradeshow efforts for clients and for ourselves, the last of which shut down about 10 days ago. The in-person event may be off, but our job as marketers is just beginning.

First off, the event may be postponed, which offers time to nourish your Tradeshow marketing strategy. Make sure to update the event page on your website, so it’s authoritative and informative for the sake of organic traffic. If you had an email strategy, spread out those touchpoints to make sure your prospects are hearing from you. Both of these strategies can feed your paid media strategy once the postponement date arrives, either through audiences created through pixel fires or prospects who have raised their hand to receive more information.

Additionally, just because the Tradeshow is canceled does not mean customers don’t still need the advertised services. If you have the list of attendees, you can use paid media through Social channels such as LinkedIn & Facebook to continue the conversation. Use your creative to acknowledge the strange circumstances we’re all under, but suggest a path forward for customers to engage. Calls to action could include having a phone conversation, demo, joining a webinar or downloading a whitepaper.

Speaking to a Tradeshow strategy in the wake of COVID-19, eMarketer wrote “The core component of events for most marketers is the distribution of some form of content, whether it’s information about new products, a new business strategy or a chance to build thought leadership.” Treat your ongoing strategy as a Virtual Tradeshow of sorts, with content exchanged for conversation.

The Impact of COVID-19 on eCommerce Businesses

Paid Media strategy for eCommerce is at a crossroads, with divergent strategies based on an individual company’s circumstances.

On the one hand, there’s never been a better time to be an eCommerce advertiser. Customers are increasing the amount of time spent online (and buying online is a preference if not a requirement). As long as the supply chain holds, product stock is maintained, & campaign performance meets goals, sales can continue online.

Therein lies the issue on the other hand. There’s no guarantee that campaign performance will hold up. If your company sells toilet paper or hand sanitizer, your paid media campaigns are likely going to win case study awards in 2021. For other products, consumers may tighten their buying behavior at a time like this. The counterpoint – if they’re not interested in buying, they’re not searching, and if they’re not searching, you’re not paying. Keep an eye on your campaigns and adjust to their performance – it’s Paid Media 101.

There’s also no guarantee that the supply chain would hold. From eMarketer: “Companies with supply chains dependent on China might begin to reduce their ad spend as a way to mitigate economic losses.” If product stock drops, paid media will need to be reduced in order to align with the challenges of operating eCommerce amidst the outbreak.

Using Paid Media to Build Loyalty & Awareness With Customers

These wild times we’re living in are also an ideal time to build loyalty & awareness. Have you noticed all the companies sending their COVID-19 updates? Aside from overwhelming and annoying you, they’re looking to keep you aware of them & build your loyalty to keep doing business with them now and when we start our new normal. These are tactics to keep in mind when determining how to pivot your paid media. A few tips:

  • Don’t annoy people. There are going to be a lot of impressions out there, specifically on streaming audio & video services. Set your frequency caps so your loyalty campaign doesn’t backfire.
  • Update your messaging. Marketing is never in a bubble, and that’s very true at this moment. If your store is open to visitors, acknowledge how that might be novel and use it as a Call-to-Action. If your services can be bought or fulfilled online, scream that from the mountaintops. If the message is that your brand is there for people, say that.
  • Establish new baselines. No one knows how the next few weeks are going to play out, and predicting it is about as reliable as getting my dog to be quiet once a client call begins. Check your data, watch your bids, and be willing to cut it off if that’s the decision that needs to be made.

A Changing Paid Media Landscape

The truth is that not all advertisers are going to be able to stay active. Some will have to drop out due to pure economics. Some are hyperlocal, so their objective is unjustified at this time. Others might run out of supply for their eCommerce efforts.

For those that can stay active, we can expect a changing landscape. While I was reading one of the COVID-19 updates on Washington Post with my Adblocker paused, I noticed something strange. There was a LinkedIn Audience Ad, but instead of an advertiser, it was the generic Audience Network ad they show in the mockup tool. This is premium branded inventory that sells for $10+ ECPM during normal times. In this example, LinkedIn won the auction but had no advertiser to fill the inventory.

We’re beginning to see trends in Search as well! We’re observing that Impressions are increasing while Cost Per Click is decreasing, attributed to increased screen time for our prospective customers. This trend could continue if competitors begin dropping out, which we have not observed yet but could begin happening in the coming weeks.

Closing Thoughts

All advertisers will have different circumstances, and some will need to make tough decisions over the coming weeks, but life does go on despite the global pandemic. While increased investment and ramp-up will be rare, there can be room in our marketing strategies for continued or scaled-down paid media efforts.

I’ll leave with one final note from Michael Lehman on AdExchanger: “Advertising continues to be an essential practice, even in a weakened economy, and digital is likely the most resilient outlet for media in a softening market.”

Stay safe out there and wash your hands!


  1. What a well written, thoughtful article. Thanks for your perspective, Erik. Yours are thoughtful considerations for today (and every day!)

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