IX Perspectives

Some Things Can’t Be Shipped, for Everything Else Use Programmatic – Marketplace Pulse Insights: May 7

Marketplace Pulse May 7 with Will Doherty

Some Things Can’t Be Shipped, for Everything Else Use Programmatic

Now that we have a full calendar month wrapped under COVID, my optimism largely remains intact. When preparing for April, it was hard to predict how advertisers would respond. Remember – it was not just the start of a new month but a new quarter, which meant resetting budgets, booking new creative, and updating strategies. With no real precedent to help guide us, there was a fair amount of hand wringing and guessing about what Marketers would do. Would they stop everything? It was a real “our pets’ heads are falling off” moment in time. We knew April would feel different, but just how different was anyone’s guess. I am happy to say that many of the worst-case scenarios didn’t happen. There was a substantial impact on ad spend, but it was tolerable. 

I am not expecting any significant changes in May. A few weeks ago, I espoused ‘Flat Is The New Up,’ and that still holds true. We may see some new budgets come back in markets where social distancing rules are being relaxed, but it will be a slow, cautious rollout. We also continue to see retooled brands return with messaging and creative that matches the times. I will continue to monitor vertical trends, but in future newsletters, I’ll try to shift some of our analysis into other changes I’m observing. There are all kinds of interesting things happening as behaviours change. Device usage, consumption habits, and time shifts all are being impacted. 

Hope you are Staying Safe, Healthy, and Happy.

Will Doherty
EVP, Global Marketplace Development
Index Exchange

The Data

Buyer Category Spend Trends (Indexed to March 1, 2020)
*Tom Hanks is when this got real. Wilson is when things went flat. SNL aligns with hope starting to return, albeit slowly.

Buyer Category Spend Trends (Indexed To April 1, 2020)

The second half of April accelerated over the first half which is the kind of progress that we all need right now. Retail, Business, Entertainment, and even Auto and Travel had stronger finishes than starts, although both are still relatively muted compared to pre-COVID (see the first chart).

Deeper Look: CPG SubVerticals

CPG Category Spend Trneds (Indexed to April 1, 2020)

We’re officially reaching the vice stage of the pandemic. From data alone, absent context, it could look like folks are ending their runs and living room yoga sessions with a shot and a smoke. Sadly, it’s probably nothing as fun. As many of us adjust to the new normal of WFH, our health and overall wellness have been upended. Some are trying to use the time to become our best selves by changing diets, introducing workout programs, and doing some much needed deep cleaning around the house (these people are probably posting on social media as well). Others are just trying to cope and make the best out of a tough situation. Regardless of which camp you find yourself, CPG wants to talk to you and help you.

Deeper Look: Auto SubVerticals

Auto Category Spend Trneds (Indexed to April 1, 2020)

Source: Apple Inc.
Source: Apple Inc.

Auto is not anywhere near what it was, but there are some interesting trends to note. Parts and service are up 50% relative to the first half of the month. For many folks still on the road, because their jobs are deemed essential, wear and tear is still an unfortunate consequence of commuting. Car rentals have started to spike as a new way of selling has emerged. Many companies will literally bring the car to you in a branded hazmat suit (I made up the suit part, but you get the idea). This is one of those changes I think might survive post-COVID. The old way was inconvenient at best. I want anything that can be delivered to be delivered now.

Sidenote: I have noticed quite a bit more cabin fever amongst friends and family. Getaways to more rural locations are becoming more normal. Driving around in a car technically complies with social distancing requirements, provided you don’t have to get out of it. Car rentals clearly are an important part of that equation with mass transit somewhat out of the question. Air Travel, per TSA data, is still down 95% year on year. Expect cars and local tours to continue to pick up the slack for the foreseeable future. This is also supported by Apple Mobility data which is registering an uptick in Driving:

Programmatic: Think of a V, not a U. 

Source: Ad Age, Jeanine Poggi (Senior Editor)
Source: Ad Age, Jeanine Poggi (Senior Editor)

Pamela Drucker Mann, Chief Revenue Officer, Condé Nast, captures a lot of the sentiment and bullishness I have around programmatic. “Programmatic is going to do very well this time.” She cites the ease of doing business as a primary reason. I couldn’t agree more.

I said this before, but while programmatic is the easiest to turn off, it’s also the easiest to turn back on. Our recovery is going to look a lot different than other sectors of the advertising industry. Events are on pause, and linear and analogue mediums have vastly different operational burdens and commitments (i.e. it’s now harder to invest long-term and harder to get the short-term value). Digital was transforming many industries before COVID, but it has accelerated that shift into warp speed. What other sector is able to effectively align itself to the short term realities and needs of its constituents than programmatic right now?

The acceleration of a delivery-based economy and its impact is captured really well in this article from The Atlantic:

The Pandemic Will Change American Retail Forever
Source: The Atlantic, Derek Thompson (Staff Writer)
“In the past month, online shopping has gone from a regular habit for a minority of consumers to a crucial part of America’s recreational infrastructure. One-third of Americans bought groceries online in the past month, and tens of millions of them did it for the first time.”

It’s not just groceries either. Restaurants will focus as much on food prep and delivery as a place to eat. Experiences will be shipped. The internet always claimed it could bring the world to you – well now we need it to do so in the most literal way possible. While I don’t believe the changes will be as drastic as described in the article, any sectors already in the midst of change will be pushed over. Programmatic advertising will provide fuel for the change because of its scale, efficacy, and flexible nature.


Regardless of technology, there are some things just too innate to the human condition to ever be made more convenient by technology or economies of scale. Bars have never been the most efficient way for folks to knock a few back. Certainly not economically anyway. Concerts and sporting events can be streamed with amazing ease and in the comfort of your home, but we still pay top dollar to go to crowded stadiums. Although technically – they are also better live and in person. Therefore, we will likely return to live events as soon as we are able. We just can’t help it. There is a social gravity buried deep into all of us always pulling us into crammed, loud places, and it doesn’t take long to miss something we used to complain about when it’s taken away. There are still some things that can’t be shipped. For everything else, use programmatic.

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