COVID's Effect on Ad Tech

Declan Murray

Declan Murray

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COVID's Effect on Ad Tech

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unusual time for everyone, changing almost everything about how we live, work, shop, and spend our free time. For as long as it lasts, it will be probably the fastest and most profound change in human behavior in living memory. It has of course affected the ad tech industry as it has many others. Some of these changes will no doubt prove to be temporary, but some are trends that were happening anyway, that have been accelerated by the pandemic. 

In this article, we will have a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the ad tech industry, from the ways advertising is consumed, to the formats used, to the type of advertising that works. 

It goes without saying that the pandemic has led to a huge increase in people working from home and spending much of their leisure time there, as well as changing their travel possibilities and general outlook on the world. This huge (hopefully temporary) change in how we live, is having several effects on people’s behavior. Some of the key changes are:

  • Overall there has been a considerable increase in impressions over the course of the pandemic, as people spend more time online overall: At EXADS we have seen a 46% increase overall from Q1 of 2020 to Q1 of 2021. 

 

  • People are browsing more during working hours, particularly on mobile devices: At EXADS we have seen Monday and Tuesday become peak browsing days during the lockdown. 

 

  • People are staying up later and browsing later in the evening (possibly as many have no commute the next day). 

 

  • People are gaming more on devices than normally.

 

The Rise of Mobile

Mobile use is one of those areas where the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for a trend that was already in progress. In recent years mobile devices have become the predominant way that users access online content. People have been moving towards using their phones for most day-to-day tasks from browsing to shopping and ordering food. 

As a result, mobile is no longer seen as simply an offshoot of desktop. Advertisers and Publishers are becoming increasingly aware that mobile is the most likely way that their content will be consumed. At EXADS, 69.92 % of all impressions were on mobile before the pandemic, which has increased 8.7% during 2020, and it now accounts for 75.98% of all impressions as of Q1 2020. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the move to mobile has been accelerated, for obvious reasons. During the lockdown, online engagement has become people’s primary way of engaging with the world, as literally the only possible source of shopping, entertainment, dating, socializing, and more during lockdowns. And most of this browsing is being done casually, on mobile devices. 

However, there has been some difference in how different forms of mobile device usage have changed. Tablet usage seems to have declined a little in 2019 and fell even more during the pandemic. Another change is that the use of mobile devices has increased during the working day. As well as this, people are browsing until later in the evening than before.  

This move towards mobile affects everything from the formats used to the content of the ads:

  • Video advertising works much better than text on mobile devices. Mobile users are less likely to engage with text-heavy websites, and more likely to engage with video than on desktop.  
  • Vertically orientated video (e.g. 900x1600) is becoming the standard over previous desktop-orientated 16:9 formats. 

 

So the move towards mobile is interdependent with the move towards video. In 2021 EXADS will release a new video format called Outstream Video, which aims to respond to the move towards video, by allowing Publishers to put videos in the body of their website that play automatically when scrolled over.

This is a great format for creating engagement on mobile, as users can simply pause their scrolling to watch some of the video, and click to watch it with sound if it catches their interest. It is also a great way for publishers without video content of their own to start displaying video ads - as it does not require them to have a video ad to insert it into. 

In the early days of the pandemic, we also released our Mobile Fullpage Interstitial Ad format, which shows a 900 x 1600 banner overlay on vertical mobile screens. This banner leads to a destination URL, and has a Close button on the top right. It is preloaded and triggered when the user clicks on a link on the Publisher’s site. Mobile Fullpage Interstitial ads can also show videos in place of an image, which gives yet another option for hosting video without having to invest in pre-roll. 

 

Increasing Evening Browsing

The pandemic has seen a sharp increase in evening time browsing for a number of reasons. During the lockdown, people are forced to spend their evenings at home and cannot go out socializing. Furthermore, with less commuting going on in general, many people feel they can stay up a little longer the night before work. This inevitably results in more impressions happening at this time of day than was the case before.

At the beginning of the pandemic, EXADS released their Impressions Delivery Mode feature, which allows Advertisers to set limits on impressions and distribute them more equitably throughout the day. This feature can be used to ensure that impressions are not used up by users browsing during the day, so they can still reach users browsing in the evening. Advertisers are using this to reach and target segments of users that browse in the evening, especially if the content is tailored towards them. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic has been a strange and uncertain time for everyone, and our industry has been affected by it, in both positive and negative ways. Overall, the pandemic has meant people spending more time online, which has increased impressions overall and had some effect on the time that people are browsing at. 

 

Changing Strategies

The pandemic has seen many Advertisers changing their strategies to meet the changes in their user’s lives. Some Advertisers have moved towards using more games and entertainment-based content, bearing in mind that many of their users are bored and looking for things to do. Others have focused on interactive experiences such as dating products to meet people’s natural desire for human connection in an isolating time.

Similarly, users are more likely to be interested in trying new apps or software, now that they are at home all evening. This has led to an increase in in-app advertising. 

 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hopefully, as mass vaccinations begin, we are beginning to see a return to some sort of normality on the horizon. The COVID-19 Pandemic has been a strange and uncertain time for everyone, and our industry has been affected by it, in both positive and negative ways. Overall, the pandemic has meant people spending more time online, which has increased impressions overall and had some effect on the time that people are browsing. 

This increased reliance on the online world for so many things has acted as a catalyst for several trends that were happening before the pandemic. Mobile has become the primary way that people interact with online content, and spending more time at home has only increased this. Additionally, the move towards video advertising has been affected in turn by the rise of mobile. It seems likely at this point that even as we see light at the end of the COVID tunnel, that the trend towards mobile and video will continue into the future. 

Whether people’s increased interest in gaming and entertainment products will outlive the pandemic is an open question. Most likely there will continue to be more interest in those areas now that many users have been exposed to them. 

Whatever happens, it seems that our industry has weathered this storm well, and even managed to make hay from it in some ways. In all sorts of areas, the COVID pandemic has led to people rethinking many things in radically new ways, from the rise of homeworking, to how our cities are planned, to the future of the ad formats we use. Let's hope, that as the world emerges from this dark time, that this spirit of innovation and willingness to improvise continues to move our industry forward. 

 

Further Reading

Traffic Increases and Vertical Tips During COVID-19

Stats Roundup: The Impact of COVID-19 on Marketing and Advertising

Changing Consumer, Digital Marketing and Impact of COVID-19

2021 Predictions: Mobile and In-Game

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Declan Murray

Declan Murray

Technical Writer, EXADS

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