Advertising during lockdown: Capturing the consumer mood across three European markets

Virginie Dremeaux Executive Director, Product and Sales Marketing International

As Europe rises to the task of slowly and safely emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown, brands are facing another challenge: how to adapt their ad campaigns to a different world.

As advertisers attempt to capture the mood of the current situation, they need to understand how the lockdown is impacting media consumption habits, how consumers feel about advertising, what types of ads audiences want to see, and whether ads should directly reference the Covid-19 situation or not.

To this end, FreeWheel undertook studies in France, Germany and the UK to provide a snapshot of consumer behaviours, perceptions and expectations during this unprecedented time. The results have been compiled and compared across all three markets to answer some of these pressing questions and to support brands in making informed choices around the right messaging, tone and delivery channels for their campaigns. Here are some of the key insights:


TV’s central role during lockdown

With housebound consumers seeking both information and entertainment during the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s not surprising media consumption is increasing significantly across all three markets. This trend is most apparent in France where 72% of adults are consuming more media on screens than they did before the pandemic, followed by the UK at 68% and Germany at 58%.

Overall linear TV is still the most popular choice for media consumption, with 80% of French consumers, 72% of German consumers and 70% of UK consumers watching video content via this platform. In each region, linear TV comes top as the first choice of platform and is particularly popular with the 55+ age group, while catch-up TV is cited as the most popular second choice. UK consumers are the most likely to explore alternative platforms, with video consumption split fairly evenly between paid streaming services, catch-up TV, broadcast TV and free online videos.


Mixed views on the Covid-19 context

Whether or not to integrate the current Covid-19 context into ad messaging presents brands with something of a dilemma, and consumer opinion varies significantly across markets. UK consumers are most receptive to messaging that relates to the current situation, with 75% of UK consumers believing it is necessary for brands to address the pandemic with their advertising. At the other end of the scale, German consumers are divided on the subject with almost half (49%) stating it is unnecessary for brands to reference the current context. French consumers sit somewhere in between, with 61% feeling that brand advertising should speak to the Covid-19 situation.

Among consumers that do feel brands should tailor ad messaging to the current context, there is a feeling that brands should do so if they are authentically committed to fighting the consequences of the virus, if they are directly involved in the situation or if they are using the advertising to support prevention messaging. Across all three markets, consumers particularly want ads in line with current context for the food and grocery sector, while German consumers also want ads in the automotive and banking sectors to reference current events.


Consumers want food, tech and travel ads

Advertising remains an effective way to reach and engage audiences, with over half of consumers across all regions paying more or as much attention to ads as they did before the lockdown began. So, what sectors do they want to see advertising for? The top three sectors are the same across all markets with food and grocery ads naturally welcomed by consumers, high-tech product ads helping shoppers make decisions around technology for remote working and entertainment and travel ads giving consumers inspiration for their future travel plans.

These three sectors are placed in the same order of popularity in Germany and the UK; food first, high-tech products second, and travel third. But priorities are different for French consumers, where ads for travel and airlines soar to the top of the list and are favoured by 42% of consumers planning future adventures. The travel sector may be disproportionately impacted by the current situation, but across the world, travel companies such as Accor, Claridges and Intercontinental Hotels Group are finding ways to help local communities fight the virus and in doing so may be building loyalty among audiences.

For German consumers, an additional and perhaps unexpected sector ties with travel for joint third place. Automotive brands are particularly popular in Germany, with 22% of consumers wanting to see their ads. This continued interest in car purchases is positive at a time when car manufacturers including Ford, Kia, Volkswagen and many others are rolling out relief programmes and financing measures to help customers impacted by the pandemic, as well as adapting their messaging to reinforce ‘stay home’ messaging.


The right tone varies by sector

Setting the right tone with ad messaging is a balancing act for brands. At a time of global crisis it may feel risky to bring humour into ad campaigns, but consumers across all three markets are looking for a little light relief – with 68% of French consumers, 58% of UK consumers and 51% of German consumers preferring ads that make them laugh. As long as ads respect the severity of the situation and are authentically aligned with brand values, a little humour can be a positive way to connect with consumers. In both the UK and Germany, ads that deliver special offers or discounts are the second most popular type, while in France consumers favour ads that make them dream, which ties in with the market preference for travel advertising.

Delving deeper into the survey results, it is clear consumers expect a different tone from brand ads depending on sectors. For brands in the food and groceries sector, consumers from all three regions want ads that either create an emotional connection, offer a discount or relate to the current news. For the travel sector, on the other hand, all consumers prefer ads that make them dream. In the high-tech products sector, French and UK consumers are looking for ads that offer discounts, while German consumers prefer ads that move them, creating an emotional connection.


Maintaining momentum with advertising

Ad campaigns are still more than welcome among consumers across all three countries and  media consumption is particularly high, so if brands continue to advertise, bearing in mind channel, context and tone, it would be a powerful initiative to support both consumers and publishers during this time. Media owners are making unprecedented efforts to support advertisers and reduce friction in the buying process, with broadcasters waiving some fees, making premium placements more accessible, and helping out with production to ensure ad campaigns continue. Many are getting involved in “business for good” initiatives, including Scottish broadcaster STV, which is offering free advertising to charities and local businesses at this time. French broadcasters have joined forces to run a TV campaign thanking the advertisers who are maintaining campaigns during the crisis and are, in turn, supporting local media.

Brands inevitably need to revise their advertising and communication strategies during this unique period, but as Europe gradually eases out of the Covid-19 lockdown there is still ample opportunity for informed brands to reach audiences with impactful, engaging and appropriate messaging.


Methodology: The FreeWheel study was carried out in partnership with independent third party Happydemics, using 10 questions answered via in-app mobile forms. The study was carried out among 1,082 respondents on 25th March 2020 in France, among 1,141 respondents on 15th April 2020 in the UK, and among 1,144 respondents between 16th and 20th April 2020 in Germany.