What media needs to know about how the pandemic changed advertising

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Greetings from London UK as usual.

Well, no, actually! I would normally be writing this newsletter in London, but today I can reveal I am writing this with a drink in one hand and palm tree above my head. I am currently on vacation in Barbados, enjoying the sunshine. However, that’s no reason to stop bringing you some thoughts on the advertising industry and what I was contemplating on the long plane journey over here. 

On the flight, I was noticing the change in mood of passengers now that COVID masks are no longer compulsory. There was an excitement, a “buzz,” and a sense of freedom I haven’t seen for a while as people began to relax into their holiday. As they should. 

This got me thinking about how the ad industry had changed, too, in recent times. And today, I want to share with you my thoughts. 

Also in this newsletter, I want to highlight some industry insights on the third-party cookie deprecation set for later this year. Some interesting findings on the implications for the publishers’ ad sales teams going forward. If COVID wasn’t enough to cope with, the so called “cookie apocalypse” will bring challenges of its own, too. 

How the pandemic changed the ad industry

Now the dust is (hopefully) settling “post-COVID” — if that’s where we are. How did all that happened change the industry we all work in/with? What implications are there for us in all this? 

A “work from home” two-three years meant a big progression in areas like Connected TV (CTV) and in e-commerce, where the “pieces of the jigsaw” were already in place for growth pre-pandemic but which the COVID-era help accelerate. 

The way the ad industry has emerged may have also changed the way it works, too — something we need to be aware of. 

During COVID, we saw that many advertisers paused their ad campaigns. In the early days of the pandemic, it was said that digital advertising was at a big disadvantage. It was seen to be easy for advertisers to “flip the switch” and stop ad spending as they tried to figure out what to do next. 

But by the time we got to 2022, when advertising money triggers started to flip back on, it became clear they were starting to flow again online — but in a different way than we had seen before in certain areas. 

Everybody became more data-driven and more agile during this period of a desperate desire to recover, mainly because every penny of ad spend now had to count. 

On the positive side, agency ad buyers realised how certain parts of their industry were catapulted forward as consumers stayed in their homes during the pandemic. Digital began to come to the fore.   

Generally, flexible buying and an ability to switch messaging and direct-response buys (that showed encouraging ROI) were in high demand by many advertisers. These are people who, through COVID, had no idea what the next week or month was going to look like.  

There seemed to be two immediately obvious, overarching areas where the ad industry saw leaps ahead during the pandemic.

1. Connected TV  

As soon as pandemic began, the streaming binge began. Platforms launched as people were forced to stay in their homes. Trading desks and media expected this streaming revolution to happen over several years. It ended up taking just a few months.  

Consumers changed their watching behaviours during the pandemic and CTV advertising is still adjusting.
Consumers changed their watching behaviours during the pandemic and CTV advertising is still adjusting.

Since then, its sped up even more. Everyone was at home watching more video, and “commuting to work” time was in many cases given over to more media consumption. 

That consumer behaviour has permanently shifted. And advertisers are now having to adjust. Yes, the likes of Netflix saw subscribers decline in 2022 (maybe due to the proliferation of platforms suddenly available), but they have an answer in the form of a range of subscription offerings — some with ads, some without.

Time will tell as to success, but with the combination of Googles announcement around cookies and identity and CTV being outside of their control, we may see ad spend start to flow there.

2. E-commerce  

Advertising brands have worked for many years on getting customers relaxed with the idea of buying something they havent touched, tried on, or even seen. But during COVID, many consumers didn’t have much choice and have turned online to order groceries, essentials, household accessories, and other such items. 

Shopping at physical stores may pick up again, but the retail industry has changed forever. There seems to be a different consumer behaviour that’s now been built. If you’ve ordered “stuff,” — takeaway food, for example — many times from your smartphone, the provider’s app is probably on your phone, and you’ve adopted the corresponding behaviour. 

Consumer comfort in buying through their mobile phones changed drastically during the pandemic.
Consumer comfort in buying through their mobile phones changed drastically during the pandemic.

It took a pandemic to get people to use their phone “en masse” to buy things with. Something I, personally, had been trying to enable for years prior. Who would have thought? 

The rise of e-commerce was evident in companies like Snap and Amazon, where advertisers used, for example, Augmented Reality (AR) for virtual trying-on as the changing rooms in many retailers remained closed. 

Pinterest was another platform to note as consumers searched the platform for ideas and inspiration, shopping along the way.

A new baseline seems to have been laid down. Much of what e-commerce embraces is reducing friction and helping people save time/effort, which is a tangible benefit that doesn’t go away — even when people can shop in-store again if they want to. 

From my own observations in the ad industry, post-pandemic, creativity seems to beburgeoning. It’s encouraging young creative talent wanting to work in a new flexible way that suits them. And that’s good for agencies and for media, as we — if we approach it correctly — will all reap the rewards of more investment.


We in news media stand to benefit from the above if we have the right mindsets, right talent, right approach, right skill sets, and right relationships. 

Can we use the CTV model to our benefit with our own range of subscription offerings? Ultimately, can we create more areas to gain first-party data and use it to produce insights for advertisers alongside a range of new ad products our advertisers want to buy into?

And what about e-commerce? Many publishers the world over are looking for extended revenue streams and are focusing efforts on e-commerce as being one of the major sources of new revenue.

Are we using the above observations around new tech, new thinking, and new working environments to firstly show our advertisers that we understand it all? And secondly, to deliver to those advertisers a suite of ad products and services that play into the newly created field of play?

Once again, knowledge is power. Do you have the power to influence and change your operation to suit? I hope so. 

Cookies or no cookies? 

Which leads me onto the cookie apocalypse.

I am a firm believer that our destiny is in our own hands. A robust, first-party data strategy can alleviate many issues. And we take back control by extracting, manipulating, and exploiting data that’s in our own domain and use the resulting insights that all gleans to our and our advertisers’ advantage. 

In a recent survey, 61% of digital media/marketing team members in Australia expect a 10% to 25% drop in revenue as a result of the phaseout of third-party cookies.
In a recent survey, 61% of digital media/marketing team members in Australia expect a 10% to 25% drop in revenue as a result of the phaseout of third-party cookies.

However, research by Lotame, a data solutions provider looking “beyond the cookie” and the future of advertising, examined how organisations are beginning to plan for the phaseout of third-party cookies. They surveyed hundreds senior decision-makers in digital media and marketing in Australia and found there is a belief the cookie deprecation will hurt revenue: 

  • 53% of marketers say the loss of cookies will reduce ad-targeting opportunities.
  • 61% expect a 10% to 25% drop of revenue as a result.
  • 68% of publishers anticipate having to reduce their workforce due to revenue loss brought on by third-party cookie deprecation. 

Luke Dickens, managing director at Lotame, said: “Digital advertising is changing. Addressability and connectivity are at greatest threat in the post-cookie world … (there is a need to) future proof a business’s ability to connect with consumers in meaningful and respectful ways.” 

Never a truer statement. Meaningful and respectful ways. Contextual, personalised, and careful targeting linked with privacy and trust will be the order of the day. I believe a robust, first-party data strategy can solve many of the issues we will face.

But if the research above shows us anything, it’s that, in certain quarters at least, there may be a period where uncertainty and readjustment may lead to lost revenues at first. 

Being forewarned is being forearmed? 

And I say all this as I sip on my pina colada under the Barbadian sun. 

Back to London soon. Meanwhile, cheers everyone.

Further reading

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at Inma.mark@gmail.com with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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